When I finally showed some real interest in my own heritage, I had a horrible time trying to find anything about the Chamorro peoples or Guam; my sole resource was Daddoo, and while he’s a fine Daddoo and a good storyteller, there are some things he just doesn’t know. For example, no matter how much we may tease him, he wasn’t actually alive during the Spanish colonization of the island and, therefore, cannot tell anyone what life might have been like for the Chamorro people prior to the arrival of the Spanish. He was born after the U.S. reclaimed the island from the Japanese, and while he could tell me my grandmother was one of many who were held in the Manenggon concentration camp, he couldn’t tell me anything else, because she herself had refused to speak about anything from that period (and I don’t blame her, either).
While I am well aware that the history of who the Chamorro were prior to European conquest and colonization is primarily one big pile of detective work (since all of the documentation was obviously written by the conquerors), and while I do realize that the relationship Guam and the U.S. now have with Germany, Japan, and the other islands is vastly different, I am a huge nerd for history as well as a firm believer in the philosophy that “a people without the knowledge of their past history, origins, and culture is like a tree without roots.”
So, for anyone looking for information about Guam, its history, its language, its culture, and its people, this is a collection of resources I’ve used and have found to be the most helpful… besides Daddoo, of course. I’ve already claimed him.
I’ll be updating this as I find new and interesting resources, and if you know of something not on this list, please let us know about it in the Comments section below!
An Account of the Corvette L’Uranie’s Sojourn at the Mariana Islands 1819, by Louis Claude de Freycinet (2003)
Louis Claude de Freycinet spent three months in Guam as a guest of the Spanish with unlimited access granted by the Spanish governor to observe the native Chamorro people. His original purpose was to research the colonial administration (taxation, personnel, equipment, etc.), as well as the geography, oceanography, and climate of Guam and any other islands he visited. But what makes this book stand out for me is that de Freycinet’s observation skills extended to taking detailed notes about the customs and environment of Guam, the economy of the Marianas as a whole, and the health and medicine, physical characteristics, nutrition and diet, village organization, social systems, and farming and fishing methods of the native population. Not only that, but he also collected and compiled all of the information he could about the customs and laws of the people prior to the arrival of the Spanish.
Ancient Chamorro Society, by Lawrence J. Cunningham (1992)
If you’re not inclined to liking history books in general, this is a good one with which to begin. It lacks all of the “dryness” that puts so many people off of history while still telling the basic story of the ancient Chamorro people, their culture, and their customs.
The Account of Fray Juan Pobre’s Residence in the Marianas 1602, by Marjorie G. Driver (1993)
The story of how Fray Juan Pobre’s observations were ever made is almost as interesting as those observations themselves. To sum it up, he was on his way to the Philippines with a group of Catholic missionaries but received orders to stop in the Marianas to pick up the survivors of a Spanish galleon that had been destroyed during a typhoon. He had specifically been told that he could not leave missionaries on the islands, because no guarantees could be made for their safety; however, upon reaching the shores of the island of Rota, Pobre cleverly held out a knife to lure the Chamorro canoes closer (they greatly desired iron) and then he and another Franciscan lay brother, Fray Pedro de Talavera, jumped in!
This account details the observations Pobre made during the seven months he remained in the Marianas, along with what he was told by one of the Spanish shipwreck survivors, a man named Sancho who had lived on Guam for some time. Between the two of them, this is a handy compilation of information about the lives, customs, education, values, and culture of the Chamorro people in the early 17th century.
The Chamorro: A History and Ethnography of the Mariana Islands, by Georg Fritz (1986)
This is an insanely short read, totaling all of 95 pages, but it’s definitely an interesting one. The author was the District Officer of the German Mariana Islands (now the Northern Mariana Islands), so he naturally tends to give a very broad, sweeping outlook on the Chamorro people as a whole with emphasis on Saipan (where he spent eight years) and a bit of information about the Carolinian culture. Originally published in the German journal Ethnologisches Notizblatt in 1904 under the title Die Chamorro: Eine Geschicte und Ethnographie der Marianen, it’s comprised of the first-hand observational notes Fritz made during his tour of the islands in the late 1800s. If nothing else, it’s a text worth reading if you’re interested in what the Mariana Islands were like prior to the rapid westernization that followed WWII.
Destiny’s Landfall: A History of Guam, by Robert F. Rogers (Rev. Ed. 2011)
The entire contents of this selection are focused on Guam and its history and cover a decent span of time, from the discovery of the island by Magellan in 1521 all the way into the early 2000s. It has fairly interesting information and is easily accessible to casual readers, especially with its linear narrative approach, and the author has an impressive resume that includes an almost twenty-year tenure as a professor at the University of Guam.
But – and this is a pretty big but –
There’s a huge part of me that wanted to leave this book off this list for one reason: Rogers comes across like a nineteenth-century Victorian hell-bent on receiving appreciation for having brought England’s brand of civilization to the “barbarian heathens” of India and Africa. In even the introductory notes, he makes sure to say, “… there is no inherent superiority of ‘insider’ (i.e., someone indigenous to a place today) versus ‘outsider’ viewpoints…” – a statement which I think says more about the author than anything else: he feels like an outsider, and he doesn’t like it. So, if you’re truly interested in the history of Guam in particular, this is worth the read – provided you keep in mind that this is a book about a conquered people written from the viewpoint of one of the conquerors.
History of Micronesia: A Collection of Source Documents, by Rodrigue Lévesque (1992)
This is actually six volumes in one and is extremely pricey – unless you can get it on loan or find it in the library (of course, each book runs about $100 if bought individually, so you do save about $100 right now if you buy this entire collection). I would only recommend it to hardcore, die-hard history buffs who want to focus on all of the far Pacific islands as a whole – Guam, the Northern Marianas, and Micronesia – as it does contain a wealth of information about how the entire region was found, settled, found again, and conquered.
Magellan’s Voyage Around the World: Three Contemporary Accounts, edited by Charles E. Nowell (2012)
This collection includes the writings of contemporaries who either made up the crew of Magellan’s 1519 – 1522 expedition to the Indies (which completed the first circumnavigation of the world) or reported on the voyage during the time it was occurring: the Italian scholar and explorer Antonio Pigafetta, the Portuguese historian and author Gaspar Correia, and the Flemish author Maximilianus Transylvanus. It’s another one that I would recommend to people who prefer their history to be provided from an academic rather than narrative prospective – the primary interest to me with this was to learn how “outsiders” viewed the arrival of Magellan to the Marianas and how the natives were reported back to Europe.
This is actually just a single article that was published in the American Journal of Human Biology in 2012, but it does have a wealth of information about the migration of the people who would eventually settle on the islands.
The Phoenix Rises, by Julius Sullivan OFM Cap. (1957)
This is another one that almost didn’t make this list, and you could probably skip out on it altogether – it’s primarily here for sentimental reasons, since my paternal grandmother gave it to my dad and he gave it to me. It’s rather outdated, to be honest, and primarily focuses on the history of missionaries on Guam. I’m not personally religious, so I had a hard time getting through it, since it does have an undertone of “isn’t it a good thing we brought Christ to the hell-bound heathens and saved all their souls from eternal damnation?” But it does give you a glimpse of how the missionaries viewed the indigenous people from the beginning of the Spanish conquest through the 1950s, as well as their viewpoint on the struggle of Christianizing a population that initially had little or no interest in buying what they were selling and who, even up until the day it was published, insisted on holding onto some of their native superstitions and practices.
Remember Guam, by Paula A. Lujan Quinene (2009)
I actually love this little red book for quite a few reasons. The author, a Guamanian Chamorro living on the mainland, is obviously proud of her heritage and says early in the book that her entire purpose in writing it was to share the stories and memories of Guam that she either experienced first-hand or collected from various sources. The brief stories themselves are laid out by decade (beginning with the 1940s) and are recorded in such a way that they remind me a lot of sitting with Daddoo, just chatting away about life on the island and his childhood on his family’s farm. It also contains a few recipes as well as a brief pronunciation guide.
Tiempon I Manmofo’na, by Scott Russell (1998)
This is a great one for those of you looking for a focus on the ancient and pre-European history of the Marianas as a whole. It’s not for the faint of heart – besides being rather dry, I’ve looked for a copy to link to here, and the going rate seems to be at least $100 for a used edition or up to $260 for a new one. It does have a vast amount of information contained in its 400 pages, so it’s well worth the price if you’re desperate to find a manuscript about the Chamorro people prior to the influence of the Spanish.
The thing about cookbooks and recipes is that everyone has a favorite style of making things. Daddoo’s kelaguen, lumpia, and fina’denne’ are not exactly the same as the versions made by his siblings; like so many traditional dishes, everyone has their “take” on things. But these are some of my favorite cookbooks, which can provide you with at least a foundation upon which to build.
Leblon Fina’tinas Para Guam, by Y Inetnon Famalao’an (1985)
Last year, Le Mumz gave me an edition of this book which she had purchased around the time I was born and which clocks in at only about 60 pages or so (the 1985 edition is 118 pages), but this newer edition which I bought recently contains all of the recipes from its predecessor along with a few variations and additions. The main compiler from Y Inetnon Famalao’an (a women’s organization which was composed of cabinet wives and women executives in the government of Guam) is now the current U.S. House of Representatives Delegate of Guam, Madelein Z. Bordallo; my dad has an issue with her that I’m not entirely clear on – something to do with the corruption scandal involving her late husband, and everything I can find on my own about that matter seems to indicate that most people were just fine with the whole thing in the end – they even named an administrative building after him seven years after his suicide. At any rate, the group compiled a fine list of traditional recipes that can’t really be found anywhere else (except maybe a Guamanian kitchen!).
A Taste of Guam, by Paula A. Lujan Quinene (2006)
As with Remember Guam, a big part of my love for this wee blue book is the author’s “voice” – she is proud of her culture and heritage, and I can appreciate her purpose: she wanted to see a Chamorro cookbook on the shelves of bookstores across the U.S. I don’t know if she managed getting this selection to Barnes & Noble, but both this book and her second publication (Remember Guam) are available on Amazon Prime – and if worldwide accessibility with two-day shipping isn’t “making it,” well, I just don’t know what is. Be warned, though: this is a random collection of recipes, so it’s missing quite a few of the traditional faves (such as the traditional comfort food tinaktak) and approximately half of the dishes are distinctly not Chamorro (these are separated in the Table of Contents so you know ahead of time what’s authentic and what’s not).
Chamorro-English Dictionary, by Donald M. Topping (1975)
There are quite a few dictionaries available, including online interactive ones, but I personally always seem to refer back to this one. It has a Chamorro-to-English section as well as an English-to-Chamorro section and contains quite a bit of information in the beginning about grammar, pronunciation, numbers, the alphabet, and sentence structure.
Everyday Chamorro, by M.B. Dallocchio (2015)
The author is a Chamorro artist as well as an author, not to mention an Army veteran and all-around badass femme who’s tackled other weighty issues such as imperialism, women in war, gender equality, and indigenous rights. This book is in no way intended to teach you how to carry on a fluent conversation, but it is a great tool for beginners who want a crash course in common phrases, tips for pronunciation, and a bit of cultural highlights. Be warned, though: the author is from Saipan, and while most of the words and phrases provided are the same across the board, there are a few differences here and there (which is common – English has various different forms and accents). If you specifically want to learn more about Guamanian Chamorro, it’s best to talk to a Guamanian Chamorro who can verify for you what applies and what does not. And, as with any language, there are different accents (for example, even the accent used in northern Guam differs from that heard in the southern part of the island).
Nihi, by Various
Nihi translates as “Let’s” and is a child-based educational program that can be great for all ages with an interest in learning Chamorro. You may feel a little silly singing along with the kiddies, but the truth is that if you’re considering going to this site then you must realize you could use the help – and there’s no shame in it. You’re in the privacy of your own home, and you can take comfort in the fact that somewhere out in the world I’m singing right along with you.
Siha, by Various
This translates as “They” and is really just a soap opera available on YouTube. While I’m not actually a fan of soap operas in general, the draw about this one is that it’s Guamanian Chamorro people speaking Chamorro – and you can even hear the two very distinctly different accents used on the island (the more sing-songy version that rises and falls is more typical of the south), so it gives you a chance to immerse yourself and brush up on your language lessons.
Speak Chamorro, by NicheCreatives
Want to learn to speak Chamorro with a handy-dandy daily word lesson? The good news is that there’s an app for that! The bad news is that as of the date of this publication, it doesn’t work with newer-model phones (post-Android 5.0), and the content doesn’t look like it’s been updated since March 2015.