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.
Our island has been enjoying a steady population growth. The 1990 census reports a population of 133,152, a 20.4 percent increase since 1980. Population estimates for 2009 indicate Guam has grown to 177,000 people.