Although Guam is today a territory of the United States, the small island has been claimed and conquered by many different nations throughout its long history. From the Chamarro natives who have populated the island for the last 4,000 years, to the various tourists that continue to visit the area to this day, Guam has seen an incredible amount of traffic and the history of Guam reflects this exposure.
At only 210 square miles, some visitors may wonder at the popularity of Guam and its attraction to foreign conquerors. The key to understanding the beginning of colonization on the island and the history of Guam lies in observing its strategic location in the Pacific Ocean as well as its proximity to Japan and other Asian countries. Guam culture has arisen out of the mix of Chamorro, Spanish and other influences.
Chamorro culture in Guam however, was the first culture to make its mark on the history of Guam. Guam history reflects the influence of the Chamorro culture in Guam to this day through art and the people who still inhabit the island. The Chamorro culture in Guam is one that honors elders and matriarchs in particular. Many of the traditions and stories of the Chamorro people have been remarkably well preserved, despite many attempts over the years to squelch this culture by foreigners. Visitors will find that Chamorro culture in Guam still permeates the island, and dance and art festivals can still be enjoyed.
The Chamorro people were first visited by Western civilization in 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan passed through while circumventing the globe. This event in Guam history was soon followed up when Guam was claimed for Spain in 1565 and later colonized by the Spanish beginning in 1668. Guam was in perfect position to become a resting place for Spanish traders traveling between Mexico and the Philippines, and served this purpose until 1898. The Battle of Guam in this year was notable in Guam history and marks the date when the United States claimed Guam as its own territory.
Guam's location again proved to be strategically important during World War II, and it was during this war that Japanese forces invaded Guam and treated the inhabitants as occupied enemies. The Chamorro people in particular suffered during the war and were often used as translators for the Japanese forces. The island was recaptured by US forces in 1944, and the Guam Organic Act of 1950 officially established Guam as an unincorporated organized territory of the United States.
Today, Guam is governed by an elected governor and a 15 member legislature, with one delegate to the United States House of Representatives. The island is divided into 19 villages, and today relies heavily on tourism for its economy. Guam culture continues to reflect the traditions of the Chamorro people as well as Spanish colonization. Guam culture is unique among Pacific island due to its turbulent history, and any visit to Guam is enriched by a trip to a museum, beach or other historical attraction.