Guam (Courtesy Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia)

Guam (Chamorro: Guhan), officially the U.S. Territory of Guam, is an island in the Western Pacific Ocean and is an organized unincorporated territory of the United States. The Chamorros, Guam's indigenous inhabitants, first populated the island approximately 6,000 years ago. It is the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands. The island's capital is Hagta, formerly Agana. Guam's economy is mainly supported by tourism (particularly from Japan, Korea and Taiwan) and United States armed forces bases. The United Nations Committee on Decolonization includes Guam on the United Nations list of Non-Self-Governing Territories.


See History of Guam for more information Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan, sailing for the King of Spain, reached the island in 1521 during his circumnavigation of the globe. General Miguel Lpez de Legazpi claimed Guam for Spain in 1565. Spanish colonization commenced in 1668 with the arrival of Padre San Vitores, who established the first Catholic mission. The islands were then governed as part of the Spanish East Indies from the Philippines. Between 1668 and 1815, Guam was an important resting stop on the Spanish trade route between Mexico and the Philippines. Guam, along with the rest of the Mariana and Caroline Islands, was treated by Spain as part of their colony in the Philippines. While Guam's Chamorro culture is unique, the cultures of both Guam and the Northern Marianas were heavily influenced by Spanish culture and traditions. Also, many native men of Guam were brutally slaughtered by the Spanish during their occupation,and the Spanish men then raped the native women.

The United States took control of the island in the 1898 Spanish-American War. Guam came to serve as a way station for American ships traveling to and from the Philippines, while the northern Mariana islands passed to Germany then Japan.

During World War II, Guam was attacked and invaded by the Japanese armed forces on December 8, 1941. Before the attack, all military dependents were transported from the island and away from imminent danger. The Northern Mariana Islands had become a Japanese protectorate before the war. It was the Chamorros from the Northern Marianas who were brought to Guam to serve as interpreters and in other capacities for the occupying Japanese force. The Guamanian Chamorros were treated as an occupied enemy by the Japanese military. After the war, this would cause some resentment by the Guamanian Chamorros towards the Chamorros in the Northern Marianas. Guam's occupation lasted for approximately thirty-one months. During this period, the indigenous people of Guam were subjected to forced labor, family separation, incarceration, execution, concentration camps and prostitution. Approximately a thousand people died during the occupation according to Congressional Testimony in 2004. The United States returned and fought the Battle of Guam on July 21, 1944, to recapture the island from Japanese military occupation. The U.S. also captured and occupied the Northern Marianas. After the war, The Guam Organic Act of 1950, which established Guam as an unincorporated organized territory of the United States, provided for the structure of the island's government, and granted the people United States citizenship.


Guam is located at 13.5N 144.5E and has an area of . It is the southernmost island in the Mariana island chain and is the largest island in Micronesia. This island chain was created by the colliding Pacific and Philippine tectonic plates. The Marianas Trench, a deep subduction zone, lies beside the island chain to the east. The Challenger Deep, the deepest point on Earth, is southwest of Guam at deep. The island of Guam is long and to wide. The island experiences occasional earthquakes due to being on the edge of the Pacific Plate. In recent years, quakes with epicenters near Guam have had magnitudes ranging from 5.0 to 8.7. Unlike the Anathan volcano in the northern Marianas, Guam is not volcanically active. However, due to wind direction and proximity, volcanic ash activity does occasionally affect Guam.

The northern part of the island is a forested coralline limestone plateau while the south contains volcanic peaks covered in forest and grassland. A coral reef surrounds most of the island, except in areas where bays exist that provide access to small rivers and streams that run down from the hills into the Pacific Ocean and Philippine Sea. The island's population is most dense in the northern and central regions.


The climate is characterized as tropical marine. The weather is generally warm and humid with little seasonal temperature variation. The mean high temperature is 86F (30 C) and mean low is 74F (24 C) with an average annual rainfall of 96 inches (2,180 mm). The dry season runs from December through June. The remaining months constitute the rainy season. The highest risk of typhoons is during October and November.

An average of three tropical storms and one typhoon pass within 180 nautical miles (330 km) of Guam each year. The most intense typhoon to pass over Guam recently was Super Typhoon Pongsona, with sustained winds of 180 miles per hour, which slammed Guam on December 8, 2002, leaving massive destruction. Since Super Typhoon Pamela in 1976 wooden structures have been largely replaced by concrete structures. ) During the 1980s wooden utility poles began to be replaced by typhoon-resistant concrete and steel poles. In the 1990s many home and business owners installed typhoon shutters.


According to the U.S. census conducted in 2000, the population of Guam was 154,805. The 2007 population estimate for Guam is 173,456. The largest ethnic group are the native Chamorros, accounting for 57% of the total population. Other ethnic groups include Filipino 25.5%, Caucasian 10%, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and others. Today, Roman Catholicism is the largest religion with 85% attesting to it. The official languages of the island are English and Chamorro. The annual population growth is 2.89%.


Traditional Chamorro culture is visually manifested in dance, sea navigation, unique cuisine, games (batu, chonka, estuleks, and bayogu), songs and fashion influenced by the migration of peoples from other lands. Spanish policy during colonial rule (1668-1898) was one of conquest and conversion to Roman Catholicism. This led to the gradual elimination of Guam's male warriors and displacement of the Chamorro people from their lands. In spite of the social upheavals, Guam's matriarchs - "I Maga'hga", successfully kept continuous the indigenous culture, language and traditions.

Historian Lawrence Cunningham in 1992 wrote, "In a Chamorro sense, the land and its produce belong to everyone. Inafa'maolek, or interdependence, is the key, or central value, in Chamorro culture ... Inafa'maolek depends on a spirit of cooperation. This is the armature, or core, that everything in Chamorro culture revolves around. It is a powerful concern for mutuality rather than individualism and private property rights."

The core culture or Pengngan Chamorro is comprised of complex social protocol centered upon respect: From the kissing of the hands of the elders (inspired by the kissing of a Roman Catholic bishop's ring by those whom he oversees), passing of legends, chants, and courtship rituals, to a person requesting forgiveness from spiritual ancestors when entering a jungle. Other practices predating Spanish conquest include Galaide'-canoemaking, making of the Belembautuyan {a string musical instrument}, fashioning of cho' atupat-slings and slingstones, tool manufacture, Mtan Guma'-burial rituals and preparation of herbal medicines by Suruhanu.

Master craftsmen and women specialize in weavings, including plaited work (Niyok-coconut and Nipa-pandanus-leaf baskets, mats, bags, food containments and hats), loom-woven material (Kalachucha-hibiscus and banana fiber skirts, belts and burial shrouds), and body ornamentation (bead and shell necklaces, bracelets, earrings, belts and combs made from tortoise shells). Today only few masters exist to continue these traditional art forms.

Recently the people of Guam have been feeling the impact of globalization with the fading of traditional culture.

Government and politics

See Politics of Guam for more information Guam is governed by a popularly elected governor and a unicameral 15 member legislature. Guam elects one non-voting delegate to the US House of Representatives, currently Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo. During U.S. Presidential elections, citizens in Guam vote in a straw poll for their choice of president--which doesn't count toward the general election results.

In the 1980s and early 1990s, there was a significant movement in favor of the territory becoming a commonwealth, which would give it a political status similar to Puerto Rico and the Northern Mariana Islands. However, the federal government gave no response to Guam's request for commonwealth status for a decade before Guam leaders gave up the quest in the late 1990s. Competing movements with less significant influence exist, which advocate political independence from the United States, statehood, or a combination with the Northern Mariana Islands as a single commonwealth. These proposals however, are not seen as favorable or realistic within the U.S. federal government, which argues Guam does not have the financial stability or self sufficiency to warrant such status. The same sources quickly provide evidence of Guam"s increasing reliance on federal spending, and question how commonwealth status or statehood would benefit the United States as a whole.


See Villages of Guam for more information Guam is divided into 19 villages.

The U.S. military maintains jurisdiction over bases comprising approximately one quarter of the island's area:

  • Andersen Air Force Base, Yigo
  • Naval Air Station, Tiyan (now administered by the government of Guam)
  • Naval Base Guam, Orote peninsula
  • Ordnance Annex, South Central Highlands (formerly known as Naval Magazine)
  • Naval communications station, Barrigada and Finegayan


Guam's economy depends primarily on tourism, the United States military base presence, and other federal spending. Although Guam receives no foreign aid, it does receive large transfer payments from the general revenues of the U.S. federal treasury into which Guam pays no income or excise taxes; under the provisions of a special law of Congress, the Guam treasury, rather than the U.S. treasury, receives federal income taxes paid by military and civilian federal employees stationed in Guam.

Sometimes called "America in Asia," Guam is a popular destination for Japanese, Korean, and Chinese tourists, and with over 20 large hotels, a DFS Galleria, Pleasure Island aquarium, SandCastle Las Vegas shows and other shopping and entertainment features in its chief tourism city of Tumon. It is a relatively short flight from Asia compared to Hawaii, with hotels and golf courses catering to tourists. About 90 percent of tourists to Guam are Japanese. Significant sources of revenue include duty-free designer shopping outlets, and the American-style malls: Micronesia Mall, Guam Premium Outlets, and the Agana Shopping Center.

The economy had been stable since 2000 due to increased tourism, mainly from Japan, but took a recent downturn along with the rest of Asia. It is expected to stabilize when US Marine personnel and operations currently in Okinawa (appr. 8000, along with their 10,000 dependents) will transfer to Guam sometime in 2007-2008. Guam has a 14% unemployment rate, and the government suffered a $314 million shortfall in 2003.

"The Compact of Free Association" between the United States of America, the Federated States of Micronesia, and the Republic of the Marshall Islands was signed in 1982, and ratified in 1986. It accorded the former entities of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands a political status of 'free association'" with the United States. The Compact was an agreement to which Guam was not a party. Over the years, it was claimed by some in Guam that the territory has had to bear the brunt of this agreement in the form of public assistance programs and public education for those from the regions involved, but was never compensated by the federal government for its expenditures.

Transportation and communications

See Communications in Guam for more information Most of the island has mobile phone service and high speed internet is now widely available through cable or DSL. Cell phones are used by a majority of residents, and the telephone service is extremely reliable, as compared to 20-25 years ago when phone outages were common. Guam was added to the North American Numbering Plan in 1997, removing the barrier of high cost international long-distance calls to the U.S. Mainland.

As Guam is also part of the U.S. Postal System (the postal code is GU), mail to Guam from the mainland is considered domestic and no additional charges are required. Private shipping companies such as UPS, DHL or FedEx also regard Guam as domestic, although this is often not reflected in the shipping charges of many mail-order companies or websites. Mail takes approximately 1-2 weeks to travel between Guam and California. Express mail and Fedex takes a minimum of three to four days to reach the U.S. Most residents use post office boxes, though home delivery is becoming increasingly available.

Guam is served by the Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport. There are no direct flights to Guam from the U.S. Mainland. Flights to Guam go through Hawaii, Japan, or Korea first and generally requires a layover and a plane transfer. To fly to Guam from the mainland, through Hawaii, requires a five-hour flight from San Francisco or Los Angeles, and another 7.5-hour flight from Hawaii to Guam. To fly to Guam from the mainland, through Japan or Korea, requires a 10-12-hour flight from the mainland to Korea or Japan, and another 3-4-hour flight to Guam. There are two direct flights a day to Manila, Philippines.

Most residents travel in Guam using personally owned vehicles. A limited bus system for residents exists but is relatively unused.

Ecological issues

The brown tree snake

This island also exemplifies the effects of bioinvasion: thought to be a stowaway on a U.S. military transport near the end of World War II, the slightly venomous, but rather harmless, brown tree snake (Boiga irregularis) came to Guam and killed a large percentage of the native bird population on an island that has one native species of snake which is blind. This snake has no natural predators on the island. Although some studies have suggested a high density of the brown tree snake, residents rarely see these snakes. Prodigious climbers, the snakes were blamed for frequent blackouts in the 1980s by shorting across lines and transformers.

Other invasive animal species

From the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, the Spanish introduced pigs, dogs, chickens, the Philippine deer (Cervus mariannus), black francolins, and water buffalo. Water buffalo, known as carabao locally, have cultural significance. Herds of these animals obstruct military base operations and harm native ecosystems. After birth control and adoption efforts were ineffective, the U.S. military began euthanizing the herds leading to organized protests from island residents.

Other introduced species include cane toads imported in 1937, the giant African Snail—an agricultural pest introduced during WWII—and more recently frog species which could threaten crops in addition to providing additional food for the brown tree snake population. Reports of loud chirping frogs that may have arrived from Hawaii have led to fears that the noise could even threaten Guam's tourism. Introduced feral pigs and deer, over-hunting, and habitat loss from human development are also major factors in the decline and loss of Guam's native plants and animals.

Threats to indigenous plants

Invading animal species are not the only threat to Guam's native flora. Tinangaja, a virus affecting coconut palms, was first observed on the island in 1917 when copra production was still a major part of Guam's economy. Though coconut plantations no longer exist on the island, the dead and infected trees that have resulted from the epidemic are seen throughout the forests of Guam. Also during the past century, the dense forests of northern Guam have been largely replaced by thick tangan tangan brush (Leucaena-native to the Americas). Much of Guam's folliage was lost during World War II. In 1947, the U.S. military introduced tangan tangan by seeding the island from the air to prevent erosion. In southern Guam, non-native grass species also dominate much of the landscape.


Wildfires plague the forested ("boonie" or "jungle") areas of Guam every dry season despite the island's humid and harsh climate. Most fires are man-caused with 80 percent resulting from arson. Poachers often start fires to attract deer to the new growth. Invasive grass species that rely on fire as part of their natural life cycle grow in many regularly burned areas. Grasslands and "barrens" have replaced previously forested areas leading to greater soil erosion. During the rainy season sediment is carried by the heavy rains into the Fena Lake Reservoir and Ugum River leading to water quality problems for southern Guam. Eroded silt also destroys the marine life in reefs around the island. Soil stabilization efforts by volunteers and forestry workers to plant trees have had little success in preserving natural habitats.

Aquatic preserves

As a vacation spot for scuba divers, efforts have been made to protect Guam's coral reef habitats from pollution, eroded silt, and overfishing that have led to decreased fish populations. In recent years the Department of Agriculture, Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources has established several new marine preserves where fish populations are monitored by biologists. A federal Guam National Wildlife Refuge in northern Guam protects the decimated sea turtle population in addition to a small colony of Mariana fruit bats.

Reef fish of Guam.


Primary and secondary schools

The Guam Public School System serves the entire island of Guam. In 2000, 32,000 students attended Guam's public schools. Guam's public school system has been criticized for having poor management and inadequate facilities. Lack of funding and corruption are often cited as the causes. Recent losses in federal funding may lead to further problems. Private schools had a total attendance of 6,000 in 2000, though attendance has increased in recent years.

In 1998, the U.S. Department of Defense opened schools for children of American military personnel. DODEA schools had an attendance of 2,500 in 2000. The four schools operated by DoDEA are Andersen Elementary School, Andersen Middle School, McCool Elementary/Middle School, and Guam High School.

Colleges and universities

The University of Guam, Guam Community College, and Pacific Islands Bible College offer courses in higher education.

See also

  • List of radio stations in Guam
  • Scouting in Guam
  • Guam Police Department
  • History of Guam

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