The Chamorro are the indigenous inhabitants of the island of Guam and the surrounding Southern Mariana Islands. The present-day descendants of the precontact Chamorros have a syncretic culture, greatly influenced by Spanish, Filipino, Japanese, and especially American culture. The Chamorro language is classified as an Austronesian language. Guam is now a U.S. territory. The Chamorro occupied the five southernmost islands of the Marianas in Micronesia. In 1978 the Chamorros numbered 75,000, with 52,000 in Guam and 13,500 in the Northern Marianas. Some communities were located inland, but most were near the shore with most houses made of plant material. Dwellings of high-status families, however, often had stone foundation columns ( latte ).

Subsistence was based primarily on fish, aroids, yams, breadfruit, and coconuts. Rice was also grown and eaten on Guam, the only place the grain was found in precontact Oceania. Chickens were the only domestic animals present when Europeans arrived. Men did most of the gardening as well as deep-sea fishing while women gathered littoral sea resources and cooked. There was a division of labor by class. From the upper classes came the sailors, carpenters, fishers, and warriors, and the highest class owned most of the land and controlled the production of shell money and canoes. Wood and stoneworking were highly developed crafts, as was pottery making. The Chamorros did not produce tapa cloth, nor did they have any woven fabrics.

The Chamorros organized themselves into matrilineal sibs and lineages. Descent was matrilineal. The traditional rule of residence is unknown, but it was probably matrilocal. Marriages were usually monogamous, and there was considerable premarital sexual freedom. Following the wedding, the bridegroom owed a period of bride-service to his wife's parents. Intermarriage between social classes was restricted, as the highest class did not marry down, and members of the lowest class were not permitted to marry up. The Chamorros were organized into households, lineages, and clans. The highest level of integration was the district, which was composed of one or more neighboring villages. Each large island had more than one district. Chamorro society was evidently characterized by a high degree of social stratification, consisting of three classes: the matua or chamorri, which included the highest-ranking nobles and chiefs; the atchaot or middle class; and the mangatchang, which was the class of commoners. There was a complicated economic specialization according to class, and social intercourse between classes was regulated by strict rules of etiquette.

The districts were the largest politically autonomous units. Rivalry and warfare among the districts was common, and they were probably hierarchically ordered. The district chief ( maga-lahe , which means "leader" or "firstborn") was the highest-ranking male relative within the clan. Succession was through younger brothers and then through male parallel cousins and nephews, according to order of seniority.

The deceased ancestors ( anite ) of the Chamorros were believed to inhabit an underworld paradise. These personnages were also worshipped in an ancestor cult for, as the people's guardians, the ancestors were feared and venerated. Shamans ( makana ) invoked the anite to bring success in warfare, cure illness, bring rain, and aid fishing expeditions. Certain specialists called kakahnas could both cause and cure illness in individuals. Native doctors ( surnhana ) used mainly herbs in their treatments; these doctors were most often old women. In addition to the ancestral souls, the Chamorros recognized various other spirits but evidently no powerful deities.


Carano, Paul, and Pedro C. Sanchez (1964). A Complete History of Guam. Rutland, Vt.: Charles E. Tuttle.

Thompson, Laura (1945). The Native Culture of the Marianas Islands. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin no. 185. Honolulu.

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