The Chamorro people of Guam

Presents an overview of the colonial history and culture of the Chamarro people of Guam. Discusses the psychological implications and responses of the Chamarro to this history — with emphasis placed on the current effort to relocate (by 2014) U.S. Marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam, and associated support services and personnel, which would result in increasing Guam’s population by 80,000 persons (i.e., 45%).

By Patricia L. G. Taimanglo, PhD

Patricia L. G. Taimanglo, PhD
Tamuning, Guam

Chamorros are the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands of which Guam is the largest and southernmost on an island chain. Archeological evidence identified civilization dating back 5,000 years.

Historical background

In recorded history, the Chamorro people have, as a community experienced traumatic periods that remain unresolved (Pier, 1998). These include the near total genocide and colonization by the Spanish (1521-1898). It had been a possession of the United States from 1898 to 1941 until Guam was attacked and occupied by Japanese forces from 1941–1944. The island was once again assaulted by the United States to recover Guam from the Japanese, but what followed was more destructive than any of actions made on the island previously, including death and destruction wrought by war. It was reoccupied in 1944 and in 1950 became an unincorporated territory of the United States. Consequently, Guam is one of the few remaining colonies of the world and as a colony has no power.

The destructive effects of colonization, possession, and Guam's current political status include numerous losses — especially the loss of the cultural practices such as the arts, crafts, and those practices passed on by men, as the focus of genocide was directed toward their control and elimination. The gradual elimination of the dances, chants, and songs of the past was also painfully noted. The loss of the language was destructive to their identity and how Chamorros viewed themselves within the dominant culture, as English was strictly imposed as the language of instruction and business. Loss of the Chamorro people's voices continue to be evidenced as their concerns are consistently ignored and silenced throughout history. Worst yet, they are not invited or considered in the current arena in which the United States and Japan are at the table deciding the destiny of the island without regard to the effect on the people of Guam and specifically on the Chamorros. This loss of power is one of the most destructive effects of colonization.

Current predicament

Negotiations have been waged between the United States and Japan in the last few years and most significantly in this last year. The focus had been the relocation of 8,000 Marines and their dependents from Okinawa to Guam. These negotiations are without input from the indigenous people of Guam. In order to accomplish this massive build-up, the U.S. military will require the importation of people to make the relocation possible. In other words, the build-up includes a projected population increase by some 80,000 people in 2014. This constitutes a 45% increase from Guam's current population of 180,000 people.

The federal Environmental Protection Agency has stated their concerns related to the significant and adverse environmental and social impact. The social impact includes overcrowding and over use of limited resources including the educational system, as well as social/human service agencies. Competition for housing, jobs, medical care, psychological and psychiatric care will further exaggerate the gap between that haves and the have nots. In addition, the plans for the build-up include taking of more land.

Most indigenous people have a deeply rooted and emotional relationship to the land and sea. Both provide sustenance; hold the stories and way of life of the people that are passed on from one generation to the next. The projected land taking includes taking land in an area called Pagat. This location encompasses the richest and largest archeological evidence of the Chamorro people, their way of life, as well as a fresh water source. Incredibly, this land is earmarked for use as a firing range. The disregard for the meaning of such sacred sites is abhorrent to the people of Guam and has been the focus of the collective and historical hurts and energies.

Open forums to educate the islanders of the impending change evidenced calmly articulated responses to highly and emotionally charged accounts of why the islanders are in favor of or in opposition to the military build-up. Interestingly, these forums were scheduled after decisions have been made about the build-up.

Social and cultural responses: Pathways to healing

Some Chamorro people sleep soundly on the pillows of denial, lack of awareness, and/or struggling to meet their family's basic needs. Others work intensely to address the history of losses and to the meet the challenges of the present and future. To address the loss of language, Chamorro language instruction is a part of the educational curriculum in the public schools. Chamorro language competitions are held annually. To address the loss of cultural practices, a cultural renaissance is evidenced in the use and making of shell jewelry by artists whose art is based on archeological evidence. Several cultural groups that nurture the development of a positive ethnic and cultural identity have blossomed throughout the island. These groups encourage the youth and adults to learn about the Chamorro history, culture, songs, and dances. Such groups also provide a natural venue to practice and speak Chamorro.

Cultural activists have been a part of island life over the years, however, the need to address concerns were not wholly embraced by all members of the Chamorro community. Ironically, the anticipated military build-up has elicited growing collective voices and presence of young and older Chamorro people who are willing to share their thoughts and feelings from a passionate as well as objective perspective. The act of speaking out, although historically viewed as negative behavior within the Chamorro culture, is now viewed as acceptable.

The young Chamorro people are at a great advantage because they are bicultural and not bound by the strict rules of behavior that include silence and accepting directives from authority without question — both behaviors, ironically, that enabled Chamorros to survive over the centuries. These young people are educated in both cultures, and are armed with the skills of media and technology. In addition, the fourth year of a Chamorro conference that is inclusive of the Chamorros living in the Mariana Islands, is a forum for learning, sharing, and support to nurture a psychologically healthy and informed Chamorro people on Guam and throughout the Mariana Islands.

The greatest benefit of the military build-up is that people are standing up and expressing their thoughts among themselves but also at national and international forums to inform others of our current plight. It has promoted increased awareness, empowerment — both pathways to healing as a people.

References

Pier, Patricia Taimanglo (1998). An Exploratory Study of Community Trauma and Culturally Responsive Counseling with Chamorro Clients. A dissertation submitted to the Graduate School of the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Patricia L.G. Taimanglo, PhDPatricia L.G. Taimanglo, PhD is a Chamorro woman of the Island of Guam. She currently resides on her island home and has a vibrant private clinical practice.