Hafa Adai! - WELCOME TO GUAM
Guam is a U.S. island territory in Micronesia, in the Western Pacific. It’s distinguished by tropical beaches, Chamorro villages and ancient latte-stone pillars. Guam’s WWII significance is on view at the War in the Pacific National Historical Park, whose sites include Asan Beach, a former battlefield. The island’s Spanish colonial heritage is evident in Fort Nuestra Señora de la Soledad, atop a bluff in Umatac.
Guam is a challenging place to summarize in just a few words.
It’s so much more than its miles upon miles of sandy beaches, waterfalls, coconut trees, and coral reef ready for you to explore. Our unparalleled sunsets, starry night skies, and rolling mountains and valleys help paint a picture of what you’ll find here but don’t go nearly far enough. Experience a thrilling adventure on land or at sea.
Unravel 4,000 years of intriguing history — ranging from pre-colonial culture and archaeological sites and the site where Magellan’s ships landed, to Spanish forts and WWII battle sites — Guam has many stories to tell.
But this is not an island stuck in the past. Our culture and history live on with a cosmopolitan twist, as seen through our eclectic cuisine, great places to stay, fun and unique festivals, and vibrant art, music, and fashion scenes rooted in pride of place and heritage. Our people’s eyes are fixed on the horizon while their feet are firmly planted in their native soil.
Words fall short. There’s only one way to truly understand the beauty and magic of Guam: first-hand experience.
We invite you to come experience for yourself why Guam is a destination like no other.
History of Guam
Guam, the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands chain, has a unique and complex cultural history. Located in the Western Pacific in the geographic region known as Micronesia, Guam is well known for its strategic military and economic position between Asia and the North American continent, but is less known for its remarkable history and resilient people.
Inhabited for thousands of years archaeological evidence indicates that the Marianas Islands were one of the first places to be settled by seafaring peoples, possibly from Island Southeast Asia, over 4000 years ago. The Mariana Islands appear to have been continuously occupied by people who shared the same culture and language that eventually became known as Chamorro.
Guam’s history is also one of multi-colonialism, with the last 400 years of Guam’s history marked by administrations of three different colonial powers: Spain, the United States and Japan.
The ceding of Guam to the United States as an unincorporated territory after the Spanish-American War in 1898 introduced Chamorros to democratic principles of government and the modern American lifestyle, while keeping them subjects of a sometimes oppressive US Naval administration.
Guam also had a unique position in World War II, when Japan invaded the island shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor in December 1941. For the next three years, Guam was the only US territory occupied by Japanese forces until the Americans returned in 1944 to reclaim the island.
The political maneuverings after World War II and the post war buildup led to even more expansion of US military interests in Guam and the rest of Micronesia, with Guam becoming a hub for economic and commercial development. The easing of military restrictions for entering Guam and the establishment of a local, civilian government, have made the island an ideal place for people from all over the world to visit, go to school, find jobs or pursue a variety of economic interests. Today, Guam has a diverse population that enjoys a rich, multicultural, modern and urban lifestyle, yet continues to carry the indigenous spirit, language and culture of its people.
Nature of Guam
Guam’s beautiful landscape and abundant flora and fauna possess a magnetic beauty that must be experienced to be believed. With average daily temperatures of 85 degrees Fahrenheit, visitors can explore Guam’s great outdoors in sun-drenched comfort. Experience Guam’s natural wonders in exquisite detail on dives, hikes, and submarine tours, and take in sweeping views from overlooks such as Two Lovers Point, Cetti Bay, and Sella Bay.
A One-of-a-Kind Paradise
Formed by the union of two now-extinct volcanoes bridged by a limestone plateau, Guam’s geography is as unique as the people who call the island home. A coral table reef with deep channels surrounds a majority of the island. Sandy beaches, rocky cliff lines and mangroves characterize the coastline areas.
Guam is home to 32 waterfalls and the highest mountain on earth, Mount Lamlam. If that sounds unbelievable, consider that the mountain’s base starts in the deepest part of the ocean, the Marianas Trench. Even though Lamlam (or “Lightning” in the Chamorro language) juts only about 1,300 feet out of the water, technically speaking it beats out the more famous Himalayan peaks known for their imposing height.
Keeping Our Island Beautiful
Blessed with warm temperatures and good soil, Guam is a place where people can live in utmost harmony with nature, growing and feasting on crops of papaya, mango, calamansi, breadfruit, avocado and banana.
The people of Guam take seriously our responsibility to care for our island’s beautiful environment. A popular annual road race in honor of the endangered ko’ko bird (also known as the Guam Rail) raises awareness about the flightless bird’s struggle for survival against snakes, pesticides and other threats.
Guam’s policymakers, environmental conservationists, and the Guam Visitors Bureau have made concerted efforts to protect our sea heritage in 5 marine parks. Wildlife refuges and sanctuaries ensure that the development that makes Gum luxurious and modern does not overtake our island’s magnificent natural setting.
A large variety of Guam’s indigenous species of plants and animals, including some marine life, can be found at Cushing Zoo, located in the heart of the Tumon tourist district.
As if Guam’s warm waters and sea breezes weren’t alluring enough, our island is also home to an underwater paradise teeming with life in an array of vivid colors.
Over 300 types of coral, 950 fish varieties, and 220 species of benthic marine algae can be found here. Swimming in the crystal clear water that draws divers from all over the world are puffer fish, butterfly fish, soldierfish, squirrelfish, and trumpetfish, to name just a few. Garden eels, giant clams, and reef sharks share an underwater home that is every bit as magnificent as Guam’s beaches.
Guam’s five protected Marine reserves are Pati Point, Piti Bomb Holes, Sasa Bay, Achang Reef Flat, and the unparalleled Tumon Bay, where 200 coral species and 500 marine species thrive in the pure environment of this dedicated habitat.
Eagle Rays and whale sharks have been spotted around Blue Hole, a 300-foot shaft cut in a limestone reef. Nearby at Barracuda Rock live octopus, lionfish and sea turtles. At Shark Pit, pelagic creatures including sharks and pilot whales roam the waters. Cocos Island’s east wall boasts abundant yellow sea fan colonies, soft corals and invertebrates, plus larger fish such as full-grown tuna and barracuda.
Despite its isolation from major land masses, Guam has a number of interesting forms of animal life. Introduced deer and wild pigs inhabit jungle areas, as well as domesticated Carabao, or water buffalo, that can be seen lounging in cool streams on sultry days.
We have shorebirds, such as the American Golden Plover, Gray-tailed Tattlers, and the Mongolian Dotteral. Rare and beautiful birds, such as the rose-crowned fruit dove, king fishers, and the Guam Rail, are endangered species. Catch a glimpse of the Mariana Swiftlet or the Mariana Mallard. Other native birds of Guam include the Mariana Fruit Dove and the Micronesian Megapode. Wild chickens make every neighborhood their home, and their early morning cries serve as alarm clock for many island residents. Enjoy more paintings by H. Douglas Pratt of Guam’s seabirds, shorebirds and waterbirds, as well as forest birds and land birds.
Small, harmless lizards called geckos, blue-tailed skinks, and chameleons patrol our homes and gardens, searching for insects. Occasionally, monitor lizards known locally as hilitai, can be seen darting across roads, especially in the northern part of the island. Despite their popularity on the dinner table, the endangered fruit bats (fanihi) still dwell in caves in the northern tip of the island, though in greatly reduced numbers. Coconut crabs (ayuyu) prowl the grounds at night. Exotic African land snails leave silvery trails on garden paths and multicolored butterflies flutter from one exotic flower to another.
Although Guam has a tremendous amount of fauna diversity, the non-poisonous brown tree snake, introduced to the island sometime after the Second World War by cargo ships has become an unwelcomed predator and pest. According to biologists, these brown tree snakes indigenous to Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands have virtually eliminated many bird species. The government has spent millions of dollars in attempts to eradicate the pest, and it looks as though it is beginning to work.
Guam territorial tree: is the ifit, or ifil (Intsia Bijuga), and has a proliferation of coconut and other palms, ornamental and betel nut trees and countless acres of tangan tangan – a hardwood, easily grown tree useful for building and firewood.
Among the largest of Guam’s trees are the monkeypod, which would normally tower over all and provide a wealth of shade, save for the destruction of typhoons over the years.
Guam tropical forests are also home to ironwood pines and other conifers, trees with medicinal uses, ornamental trees, pandanus, hardwoods, softwoods and more, all of which play an instrumental role in Guam’s ecology.
Chamorro Culture of Guam
In addition to its inviting beaches, elegant hotels, and great bargains, Guam has another vital attraction- its unique culture. The traditions and customs of Guam’s proud island heritage thrive, despite invading conquerors, wars and epidemics, and changing governments. Forged from a neolithic foundation and molded by historical events, Guam’s living culture has expanded into a vibrant, modern way of life.
Since the 17th century, Catholic churches have been the center of village activities. Even today, every village has its patron saint whose feast day is celebrated with an elaborate fiesta, which the entire island is invited to attend. Family groups still hold christening parties, fandangos (weddings, novenas, funerals, and death- anniversary rosaries). All are flavored by the rich Spanish heritage.
Spanish influence may also be seen in the mestiza, a style of women’s clothing, or, in the architecture of Guam’s southern villages.
Countless Americans, Europeans, Asians, Micronesians, and other visitors have left their imprints on the island’s pastimes and tastes, but nowhere is the island’s multi-cultural influence more evident than in its food.
At a fiesta or other island party, families prepare heavily laden tables of local delicacies, such as red rice, shrimp patties, a Filipino style noodle dish called pancit, barbecued ribs and chicken, and taro leaves cooked in coconut milk. Another mouth-watering treat is kelaguen, usually prepared from chopped broiled chicken, lemon juice, grated coconut, and hot peppers. Fiery finadene sauce, made with soy sauce, lemon juice or vinegar, hot peppers, and onions, is sprinkled over the food for a truly memorable dish. After a hearty meal, Chamorros often enjoy chewing pugua (betel nut), mixed with powdered lime and wrapped in pepper leaf.
Music is an integral aspect of an island lifestyle, and performances using traditional instruments, such as the belembaotuyan, are highlights of cultural presentations. The belembaotuyan, made from a hollow gourd and strung with a taut wire and pressed against ones bare stomach, creates a melodic sound enjoyed by all. The nose flute, once a long forgotten instrument, is now making a hearty return.
The Kantan Chamorro style of singing has been a favorite form of entertainment for generations. Additionally, it has been used to lighten long hours of group work activity, such as weaving, corn husking, and net fishing. One singer would begin the familiar four-line chant, referring romantically or teasingly in the verse to another person in the group. The challenged person would then take up the tune and the song might continue in this fashion with different singers for hours.
Contemporary music is an important element of social gatherings, ranging from fiestas and fandangos to casual backyard parties. Musicians usually sing Chamorro, American, Filipino, or a variety of Asian songs.
Legends and folklore about village taotaomo’na (ancient spirits), doomed lovers leaping to their death off Two Lovers’ Point (Puntan Dos Amantes), and Sirena, a beautiful young girl who became a mermaid, are portrayed in many of Guam’s enriching cultural dances.
Guam’s traditional arts are very much alive. During cultural fairs and exhibitions, visitors often have the opportunity to watch master weavers, carvers and even a blacksmith at work.
Weavers, using the traditional pandanus or coconut fibers, fashion baskets of various sizes, purses, hats, floor mats, and wall hangings. Carvers hew tables, plaques, figurines of people or animals, and household implements using ifil wood, or pago woods.
The traditional ways are being passed along to the younger generations through apprenticeship programs in order to preserve the island’s art heritage. A master blacksmith, for example, recently graduated three pupil, who have learned how to make useful steel farming and fishing implements, such as coconut graters, hoes, machetes, and fishing spearheads. Other hand-forged items include betel nut scissors, tools for weaving, and knives.
A trip to Guam is like visiting the four exotic corners of the globe. Guam is considered the hub of the western Pacific and undeniably Micronesia’s most cosmopolitan destination – a true example of the great American melting pot. In addition to the indigenous Chamorros and ‘stateside’ Americans, Guam boasts large populations of Filipinos, Chinese, Japanese, Koreans, and Micronesian Islanders, as well as a few Vietnamese, Indians, and Europeans.
As the 1990 census figures indicate, the ethnic composition of the island is 43 percent Chamorro, 23 percent Fllipino, 15 percent other ethnic groups, 14 percent Caucasian, and 5 percent other Pacific Islanders. Approximately half of all Guam residents were born on Guam, and 70 percent of these are under the age of 34.
Festival of the Pacific Arts
The Festival of the Pacific Arts is held every four years since 1972, and brings together artists and cultural practitioners from around the Pacific region for two weeks of festivity. It is recognized as a major regional cultural event, and is the largest gathering in which Pacific peoples unite to enhance their respect and appreciation of one another.
Learn about the Chamorro Culture
The idea of a Festival of Pacific Arts was conceived by the Conference of the South Pacific Commission (now the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, SPC) in an attempt to combat the erosion of traditional customary practices. Since 1972, delegations from 27 Pacific Island Nations and Territories have come together to share and exchange their cultures at each Pacific Arts Festival. A delegation of 2,500 performers, artists and cultural practitioners is expected, in addition to thousands of visitors from Asia and festival followers who see to it they are part of the festival every four years.
The 27 Pacific Island Countries and Territories expected at the festival are: American Samoa, Australia, Cook Islands, Easter Island, Federated States of Micronesia, Fiji Islands, French Polynesia, Guam (2016 Host), Hawaii, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Nauru, New Caledonia, New Zealand, Niue, Norfolk Island, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Pitcairn Islands, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Vanuatu and Wallis and Futuna.
Guam made its bid to host the 12th Festival of Pacific Arts and was awarded this distinction at the 10thFestival held in American Samoa, in 2008. It was during the 11th Festival of Pacific Arts held in the Solomon Islands, July 2012, where Guam officially received the festival flag. The 2016 festival is Guam’s opportunity to showcase its unique Chamorro culture that has survived colonization of the past and modernization of the present.
If you do nothing else when you visit Guam, discover the essence of Chamorro culture through the intriguing array of cultural presentations available on the island. This living heritage is at the heart of the friendly, welcoming atmosphere that makes vacationing on Guam the ideal travel experience.
Today, Chamorro people make up about 37 percent of Guam’s population. Their ancestors were the first inhabitants of Guam, expert seafarers who probably traveled from Southeast Asia by canoe to the island more than 3,500 years ago. They built fast-sailing outrigger canoes called proas for travel and trade with the surrounding islands, and navigated by the stars, waves, and ocean flora and fauna with ease. In addition to their seafaring tradition, early Chamorro people were expert weavers and pottery-makers, evidenced in cultural artifacts and architecture that remain today.
A Living Culture
Guamanians and our visitors from around the world are benefiting from an ongoing cultural resurgence here. A desire to reconnect more deeply with the past is awakening.
This is significant because although there was a degree of cooperation and friendship between the original Chamorro inhabitants of Guam and the Spanish newcomers who arrived in the 16th century, the conflict and disease that followed European contact took a heavy toll on the local population. These deaths eroded Chamorro customs, traditions, and knowledge of the old ways. Many Chamorros converted to Christianity, took up Spanish customs, and intermarried.
Storytelling in Guam is an important method of passing knowledge from one generation to the next. The Chamorro culture is rich in myths and legends that trace roots through several millennia. This oral tradition is an affirmation of existence that carries on today. Storytellers have long been respected members of society because of their ability educate and entertain. That tradition continues with storytelling events throughout March, when Guam celebrates Chamorro month.
You can witness Chamorro builders’ ingenuity firsthand amid the thatch-palm roofs of historic monuments designed to transport you back in time as if by magic. As you stroll the grounds, consider how, through millennia, the Chamorros crafted unique structures such as the latte stone (a support pillar carved of limestone or basalt), built traditional huts known as Guma’ Higai, and raced through warm ocean waters in speedy proa canoes. Their distinct architectural innovations are only found within the Sinahi archipelago, the crescent-shaped island chain in which Guam is both the largest and southernmost island.
A number of privately owned eco-cultural retreats are located along Guam’s northwestern beaches and jungles. Each site offers a unique perspective as to what eco-cultural tourism is all about.
Simple Chamorro Greetings
The Chamorro language is experiencing a resurgence, and we Guamanians are proud. At St. Francis School, students order their lunches in Chamorro. Guests at a popular hotel are treated to both solemn and thunderous Chamorro chants during nighttime entertainment. And one business leader holds Chamorro language classes twice a week for his employees. In fact, he attends them himself and has become fluent in the language.
Culture in Guam is alive and genuine. The Chamorro people who were the island’s first inhabitants still make up over 37 percent of Guam’s population, and their language is celebrated by people from many ethnic groups. Don’t be surprised if business owners and restaurant staff greet you with a hearty “Håfa Adai” (Chamorro for “Hello”).
Give your best “Håfa Adai” to anyone you meet on your journey, or take an extra step and try out these simple Chamorro greetings. After all, the casual and friendly atmosphere of Guam is the ideal place to practice a new language!
Over the last ten years, Guam has seen a renewed interest in the handcrafting of traditional Chamorro jewelry. The dedication of several longtime local jewelry artists, as well as apprenticeships for newcomers to the trade, ensure that this important aspect of Chamorro culture endures.
This wearable art form is characterized by the widespread use of local natural materials such as clamshell, bone, spiky Spondylus shells from the peach- and rose-colored mollusks of the same name, and wood from the ifil tree indigenous to Guam. In the pre-contact era, tortoiseshell was also commonly used.
Guam’s jewelry artists, some of whom have decades of experience, often imbue their work with graceful shapes celebrating traditional subsistence practices or Chamorro architecture. Fish hooks and latte stones are just a few of the forms that can be seen decorating the wearers of this eye-catching artwork. If clients are inspired to commission them, some artisans may also craft custom pieces.
Also unique to Guam is a style of gold and silver jewelry bearing images of bamboo or rose blossoms. These pieces are commonly regarded as status symbols, much in the way that traditional jewelry once was.
The wearing of traditional Chamorro jewelry today is a sign of respect for the culture. Historically, it was used in marriages and other religious ceremonies and as a signifier of rank.
In distinct styles for men and women, Guam’s jewelry art represents a unique form of body adornment. Its fidelity to the island landscape will captivate your attention with a beauty rivaling nature itself.
Music, Dance & Arts
A remarkable number of painters, dancers, musicians, playwrights, poets, and artists of all stripes populate Guam’s vibrant cultural scene.
Our island has long been home to thriving and innovative artistic communities, but local art in Guam has become more visible lately thanks to increased organization, institutional support, and above all, the dedication and entrepreneurial spirit of its artistic leaders.
Chamorro music can be heard at dance events and festivals across the island, or tune in to the radio in your rental car or hotel room for channels featuring traditional tunes just about any time. The night market in Chamorro village is another great place to hear the lively rhythms of this proud island art form.
Although it would be impossible to describe all of Chamorro music’s incredible variations, one notable form is chanting, sometimes performed call-and-response style and often accompanying traditional dances. With the use of slapping and stomping, performers use their bodies as percussive instruments.
Music is one of the central tenets of Chamorro identity and its fluidity has allowed it to remain so. Chamorro music has undergone several distinct transformations, including after the pre-contact era during Spanish rule, during World War II and again in the post-War activist era, as well as in the 1980s when Guam’s dance scene underwent a major revival period.
Venerable dance groups such as the collective Pa’a Taotao Tano’ and the folk dance team Inetnon Gef Pa’go enliven Guam’s movement arts scene. Dancers on the island can be seen jumping, shouting, and wielding long tunas sticks in the Bailan Uritao (Young Man’s Dance) and whirling in sadi’s, thus and coconut leaf skirts in the Bailan Lina ‘la’ (Dance of Life).
Schoolchildren have a wealth of opportunities to get involved at a young age in Guam’s dance culture. They are well prepared to continue the island’s proud tradition of winning over audiences and judges in international performances and competitions. Don’t miss the opportunity to see Guam’s talented dancers perform on their home island.
Public art at Guam’s bus stops and village murals inspires all who pass by, while institutional forums such as the Isla Center for the Arts at the University of Guam, the Guam Gallery of Arts at the Chamorro Village, and the Guam Council of the Arts and Humanities Gallery draw crowds with diverse exhibits to satisfy the most eclectic tastes.
MORE ART FORMS
Storytellers, weavers, jewelry makers, blacksmiths, and more: Guam’s arts community is as colorful and active as the sea life teeming in our warm waters. We invite you to include our formal arts venues in your Guam vacation plans. And remember to welcome that spontaneous sense of discovery that just might drop you into the center of our arts scene when you least expect it!
Ancient Architecture Unique to Guam and the Marianas
The ancient latte stones, or simply latte, are a modern symbol of Chamorro strength and identity. Arranged in parallel rows of six to 14 pairs, the Chamorros used latte as a foundation for houses and other important buildings.
Constructed between 1200 BP to 300 BP (before present), latte are as old as the Mayan Pyramids and were in use up until around the time the Spanish colonized the Marianas in the 1600s. Spanish missionaries referred to the latte as Casa de los Antigos or “Houses of the Ancients.”
Each latte is comprised of two stones. The shaft stone on the ground is the haligi, and the cap stone is the tasa. The pillars are made of limestone, basalt, or sandstone and vary in height from about 60 centimeters to more than three meters. Latte are prominent remnants of ancient Chamorro culture found in Guam, Saipan, Rota, and Tinian. No other culture is known to have used this particular form of stone architecture.
One of the best places to see latte is at the Angel Santos Memorial Park in the capital village of Hagåtña. Visitors will find eight latte stones that were built and used by ancient Chamorros to support their wood and thatch homes. The park is one of the stops along the Walking Tour of Hagåtña. The largest latte, the Latte of Freedom, rises 80 feet above Guam and is a welcoming symbol of freedom in the Western Pacific. The monument was built using pennies collected by Guam schoolchildren and provides a panoramic view of Guam’s western shores.
Before contact with Europeans, Chamorro makanas, or shamans, helped facilitate contact between the living and the spirits of the ancient known as taotaomo’na.
By the second half of the 17th century, Guam would begin to be settled by Spaniards and the missionaries who accompanied them. The Chamorro culture which had developed over thousands of years underwent rapid transformation. Among the changes were shifts in faith practices. The Spanish brought new ways of worshipping and introduced Roman Catholicism to the island.
Over 85 percent of Guam’s population is Roman Catholic. The island is home to over two dozen Catholic churches, including one in each of Guam’s 19 villages. Some of these churches are excellent examples of the Spanish-influenced architecture seen around Guam.
Guam also has at least seven Baptist churches, including in the villages of Agana Heights, Upper Tumon, Tamuning, Dededo, Barrigada, Chalan Pago, and Mongmong.
There are multiple Episcopal and Bahai’i houses of worship on the island, as well as Presbyterian, Filipino Christian, Nazarene, Lutheran, and nondenominational churches. Guam’s religious population also includes Jehovah’s Witnesses.
Languid, crystal-clear lagoons, pure white sand, quiet stretches of time, and the best diving and sport fishing waters on the planet: this is Micronesia. From the sport fishing mecca of the Marshall Islands to Palau’s legendary Rock Islands, Micronesia is a glimmering stretch of Pacific Ocean populated by sunny isles and smiling people.
“Micronesia” means “many small islands.” Among these pinpoints of land dotting the sprawling sea, there is something for everyone. Visitors enjoy the unhurried pace and Western feel of the Northern Marianas and delight in the ethereal manta rays and spectacular wreck-diving in the Federated States of Micronesia.
More than 2,000 islands spread some 2,040 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean comprise a land area of approximately 2,350 square kilometers.