One of the things that draws many people to Guam is its rich and fascinating culture. Throughout Guam’s human history, arrivals from other locations, colonization, immigration, and even wars have shaped the beliefs, traditions, and way of life that have come to define the day-to-day existence of Guam’s inhabitants.
Below, we’ll share with you our ten favorite ways to immerse yourself in Guam’s culture. Through these experiences, you’ll get a deeper sense of the island and the people who call it home.
But, first, let’s rewind a little to where the story of Guam’s culture truly begins: with the Chamorro people.
Is it “Chamorro” or “CHamoru?”
The spelling of the word “Chamorro” has gone through a number of different variations, including “Tsamoru,” “Chamorru,” and “Camuru.” Most recently, the spelling “CHamoru” was adopted by the Kumision I Fino’ CHamoru (Chamorro Language Commission). In this article, we’ve used “Chamorro,” which remains a common spelling for this word.
A Brief History of Guam
Guam’s human history started with the arrival of the Chamorro people around 2,000 BCE from Southeast Asia—likely Taiwan, Indonesia, or the Philippines. In 1565, Spain claimed Guam as part of its empire, and the island was colonized by the Spanish in the 17th century. During the Spanish-American War, the U.S. captured Guam, and the formal handover to the U.S. was finalized at the end of the war. The island was invaded by the Japanese in 1941 during World War II, then retaken by the U.S. in 1944. In 1950, the Guam Organic Act established Guam as a U.S. territory and the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 granted U.S. citizenship to those born on Guam. All of these events significantly shaped life on Guam to this day.
Throughout its history, Guam has seen arrivals from many different parts of the world, including neighboring Pacific islands and Asia. Today, if you look at all the languages spoken on Guam, you can see many of the threads that make up the complex tapestry of Guam’s culture. In addition to English, you’ll find Chamorro, Philippine languages, Pacific Island languages, Asian languages, and others from different regions of the world. The result is a rich blend of different traditions, built on the foundation set by the Chamorro people.
Now that you have an understanding of the events and people that influenced Guam’s modern culture, we’ll share our top list of ways to experience it for yourself.
10 Ways to Immerse Yourself in Guam’s Culture
Spend a Wednesday Evening at Chamorro Village
Although this outdoor mall is open every day, we recommend stopping by Chamorro Village in Hagatna on Wednesday night. That’s when you’ll be able to catch cultural shows—including music and dancing—and snag some famous Chamorro barbecue, plus other traditional foods served on Guam. It’s also a great opportunity to peruse crafts and artwork from Guam-based artisans, all at reasonable prices. Between the entertainment, the food, and the local art, you’ll get a strong sense for the color and the spirit of life on Guam.
Kayak Through the Valley of the Latte Adventure Park
If you’d like to learn more about the Chamorro people, the Valley of the Latte Adventure Park is a great place to start. Take a river cruise or rent a kayak/paddleboard. Both include a guided tour that incorporates the cultural history of Guam. You’ll also get the opportunity to visit an original Chamorro settlement site, complete with the distinct latte stones that the Chamorro are known for. Finally, the serene jungle river setting will give you a deeper appreciation for Guam’s natural beauty, which infuses the everyday experience on Guam.
Brush Up on Your World War II History
As we mentioned earlier, the events of World War II impacted Guam significantly. The Japanese occupation, which lasted from 1941-1944, was a time of harsh rule that included frequent threats of punishment, death, or hard labor for anyone suspected of pro-U.S. sentiments. At the War in the Pacific National Historical Park, visitors can take a glimpse into that time through seven sites that commemorate the role the island played in World War II. Even if you’re not much of a history buff, the park still offers an noteworthy glimpse into one era of Guam’s history.
If you do happen to be a World War II history enthusiast, you’ll find a number of interesting landmarks and waypoints scattered around Guam. Some of our favorites include the Guam Pacific War Museum, the Asan Beach overlook, and Yokoi’s Cave, a reproduction of a bamboo-lined shelter where a Japanese soldier hid until he was discovered in 1972. Unsure that the war had ended, he stayed hidden in the jungle for nearly thirty years until two fishermen spotted him. His original cave has collapsed, but you can still see a reproduction today.
Enjoy Some Delicious Traditional Food
Food occupies a central role in Guam’s culture. When you’re celebrating a big event like a birthday or simply sharing time with friends and family, you’ll almost always find a massive spread of food nearby. So if you want to immerse yourself in the island’s culture, start by tasting as many different foods as possible.
You’ll find plenty of traditional Chamorro dishes served on Guam. (Fina’dennen birenghenas and tinala’ katni are among our team’s favorites!) Alongside classic Chamorro offerings, you’ll also find the culinary traditions of Guam’s varied immigrant groups. Japanese, Korean, Filipino, and foods from other Pacific Island traditions are common. Guam even has its own German restaurant, a favorite hangout of the DeWitt Guam team! Read more about our team’s favorite foods and restaurants on Guam. We’ll help you kick off a memorable—and tasty—culinary adventure on Guam!
Explore Traditional Chamorro Arts at Gef Pa’go Cultural Village
At Gef Pa’go Cultural Village, you’ll take a step back in time to experience Chamorro life before European arrival. A guided tour will take you along a series of huts on the beach, staffed by Chamorro elders who walk visitors through a number of traditional Chamorro arts, including making rope, sea salt, and more. Don’t miss the gift shop, which has unique treasures you won’t spot anywhere else on the island.
Bonus Excursion: While you’re down in the area, stop by the Inarajan Pools. This series of natural salt water pools will only increase your appreciation for Guam’s many natural wonders.
Hit the Mangilao Night Market on Thursday Nights
Fresh produce, traditional Chamorro specialties, local artists, and more await you at the Thursday Night Mangilao Night Market. The fun starts at 5:00 pm, and many parents bring their kids to enjoy the family-friendly atmosphere. Don’t miss the barbecue, which is some of the best around. Although you’ll find some of the same vendors at Chamorro Village on Wednesday nights, the Mangilao Night Market does have its share of unique offerings. Make sure to stop in to soak up something a little different.
Explore the Journey of the Chamorro People at the Guam Museum
In 2016, the Guam Museum officially opened in its new, permanent location. The crown jewel of the location is what the museum calls “the most complete display of Guam’s history and culture in the Chamorro language to date.” Stop by the beautiful, modern building to peruse the artifacts, images, audios, and short films assembled to tell the story of the island of Guam and its original inhabitants. Descriptions are written in both English and Chamorro, with options for translations into Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and Korean. If the history of Guam—and the surrounding islands in the Mariana Archipelago—interests you, a visit to the Guam Museum is a must.
Join in One of the Island’s Many Celebrations
Fiestas and festivals are an important cultural tradition in Guam. They’re so important, in fact that each of Guam’s 19 villages has its own fiesta day. One of Guam’s biggest celebrations centers around Liberation Day, which recognizes the day the Japanese occupation ended in 1944. It would be hard to miss since it’s also a public holiday on Guam. In Hagatna, you’ll find a parade and a carnival, plus other smaller celebrations all over the island.
Many of Guam’s fiestas pay tribute to a particular saint. The Malojloj Fiesta in May is thrown in honor of San Isidro. On December 8, the island honors its patron saint, Santa Marian Kamalen (an aspect of the Virgin Mary, named for a legend surrounding a statue of Mary that was stored in a tool shed, or kamalen in Chamorro). The Santa Marian Kamalen celebration centers around the Cathedral-Basilica in Hagatna, although you’ll find other processions in other spots on the island.
If you’re on island during one of these celebrations, make sure to stop by. What better way to discover Guam’s culture than gathering with the community to celebrate meaningful events, traditions, and beliefs?
Explore Guam’s Legends at Two Lovers Point
You can learn a lot about a culture through its legends. One of the more famous stories on Guam centers around Two Lovers Point, also known as Puntan Dos Amantes. As the story goes, two Chamorro youths fell in love, but because they were from different castes, they were forbidden to be together. They were cast out and wandered in the jungle by themselves, starving and in despair. Rather than find themselves parted, they tied their hair together, and jumped off the cliff together.
Interestingly enough, versions of this story have emerged that incorporate the Spanish occupation of the island. Alternate versions tell of a young woman born to a wealthy Spanish father and a Chamorro mother whose own father was a Chamorro chief. This young woman was pledged to a Spanish captain, but instead fell in love with a young Chamorro warrior. As with the lovers in the other version, societal expectations meant that they could not be together, so they jumped off the cliff together.
Whether you come to Two Lovers Point to honor the idea of devoted love, to contemplate how an island’s history changes its culture and its legends, or simply to enjoy the breathtaking views from the cliff, Two Lovers Point has a lot to offer in terms of appreciating the island of Guam.
Walk the Hagatna Heritage Trail
Take a stroll through Guam’s capital city past seventeen historical sites that tell the story of the Chamorro people. In a little over a mile and a half, you’ll get a peek at Guam’s Latte Period, Spanish colonization, Japanese occupation, and its more modern position as an island with a complex and storied history.
You’ll see ancient stones put into place hundreds of years ago, World War II fortifications, the church holding the famous statue of Santa Maria Kamalen, and many more fascinating sites. It’s a fun and engaging walk through Guam’s history that will give you an appreciation for all the events and influences that shaped Guam’s culture today.
Experience Guam Culture, One Stop at a Time
Whether you’re new to the island or you simply want to get a more profound sense of the history and culture of Guam, these ten spots will offer you the opportunity to truly immerse yourself. You’ll learn about the events that impacted the island and its people, as well as the arrivals and influences that created Guam’s modern culture today. Ultimately, it will all give you a deep appreciation for Guam—an island that’s like nowhere else.
Considering a move to Guam? We’d be happy to help you with a safe, easy, and affordable move. Just reach out to our Tamuning-based team for a complimentary quote.