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.