Catholic church: San Dimas
Merizo skirts Guam’s scenic southern shoreline on a long strip of land between mountains and sea.
Cocos Lagoon, several miles square and enclosed by a large triangle of reef, extends about three miles out from the village. Cocos Island Resort draws day visitors to the small, densely vegetated, low-lying strip of land along the lagoon’s southern exposure. The lagoon is distinguished from the deeper water outside the reef by an array of vivid blues and greens that signify shallow water over sand flats and protected coral gardens. Mama’on Channel, the lagoon’s deep main pass, runs west to east past Merizo Pier and the village boat ramp, gradually shallowing as it cuts farther into the lagoon.
Fiestan Tasi (Festival of the Sea) is held annually in Merizo, and celebrates the importance of the ocean to Guam’s past, present and future. It often includes boat races and other water sports competitions and exhibitions. Dates of the festival vary from year to year.
On the other side of the winding main coastal road, Route 4, several rivers flowing to the sea from the nearby mountains cut lush valleys through dry savanna foothills. Much of the population lives in these rural valleys, which are mainly residential areas dotted with a few farms and ranches, shadows of the community’s agrarian past.
While there are few accounts of the pre-Spanish colonial era on Guam, Merizo’s abundance of fresh water, its protected lagoon, extensive reef and shorelines, and its fertile valleys suggest that the area likely sustained a large population. By 1833, however, the population was estimated at only 318. By this time, disease, calamity and the Spanish-Chamorro wars had reduced the native Chamorros.
Despite the dramatic decrease in the Chamorro population during the Reduccíon (efforts to subdue Chamorros into accepting Christianity and Spanish rule), the population of Merizo was significant enough for Father Diego Luis de San Vitores to order the building of the fifth mission on Guam in Merizo in 1672. No trace of the original mission structures exists today. The restored Malesso’ Kombento, home to the parish priest, and the Kampanayun Malesso’ (Merizo Belltower), both Spanish-era structures, as well as the new church dedicated in September 2002, attest to the church’s enduring place in village life.
The Japanese occupation of Guam set Merizo on a course that, in July 1944, would make the village a locus of infamous brutality and stirring heroism. Almost four years after the Japanese invasion and occupation of Guam, their situation began to grow desperate as American ships bombarded the island in preparation for the July 21 landing and retaking of Guam. The Japanese troops stationed in Merizo rounded up two groups of thirty Chamorros each. Forty-six Chamorros were slaughtered with grenades, bayonets, and sabers.
At Tinta, in the Geus River valley, some escaped death by lying still under the corpses of their relatives and friends, while others were able to flee. Not one of the thirty in the second group survived the massacre at Faha, just behind the village cemetery. Each year in July, people hike for prayer services to the original massacre sites in remembrance of the forty-six villagers. Similar massacres took place in Fena, near the present day Santa Rita, and Yigo.