This article is about the U.S. territory. For the international organization, see GUAM
People born in Guam are American citizens
by birth. Indigenous Guamanians are the CHamoru
, historically known as the Chamorro, who are related to the Austronesian
peoples of Indonesia
, the Philippines
, and Polynesia
. As of 2021, Guam's population is 168,801. CHamorus are the largest ethnic group, but a minority on the multi-ethnic island. The territory spans 210 square miles (540 km2
; 130,000 acres) and has a population density of 775 per square mile (299/km2
The CHamoru people settled the island approximately 3,500 years ago. Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan
, while in the service of Spain, was the first European to visit the island on March 6, 1521. Guam was colonized by Spain in 1668. Between the 16th and 18th centuries, Guam was an important stopover for the Spanish Manila Galleons
. During the Spanish–American War
, the United States captured Guam
on June 21, 1898. Under the Treaty of Paris
, signed December 10, 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the U.S. effective April 11, 1899.
Before World War II
, Guam was one of five American jurisdictions in the Pacific Ocean, along with Wake Island
in Micronesia, American Samoa
in Polynesia, and the Philippines
. On December 8, 1941, hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor
, Guam was captured
by the Japanese
, who occupied the island for two and a half years. During the occupation, Guamanians were subjected to forced labor, incarceration, torture and execution. American forces recaptured the island
on July 21, 1944, which is commemorated as Liberation Day
Since the 1960s, Guam's economy
has been supported primarily by tourism and the U.S. military
, for which Guam is a major strategic asset.
Geography and environment
Guam from space
The Mariana chain of which Guam is a part was created by collision of the Pacific and Philippine Sea tectonic plates
, with Guam located on the micro Mariana Plate
between the two. Guam is the closest land mass to the Mariana Trench
, the deep subduction zone
that runs east of the Marianas. Volcanic eruptions established the base of the island
in the Eocene
, roughly 56 to 33.9 million years ago. The north of Guam is a result of this base being covered with layers of coral reef
, turning into limestone
, and then being thrust upward by tectonic activity to create a plateau. The rugged south of the island is a result of more recent volcanic activity. Cocos Island
off the southern tip of Guam is the largest of the many small islets
along the coastline. Guam's highest point is Mount Lamlam
at 1,334 feet (407 meters) above sea level.
If its base is considered to be nearby Challenger Deep
, the deepest surveyed point in the Oceans
, Mount Lamlam is the world's highest mountain
at 37,820 feet (11,530 m).
Politically, Guam is divided into 19 villages
. The majority of the population lives on the coralline limestone plateaus of the north, with political and economic activity centered in the central and northern regions. The rugged geography of the south largely limits settlement to rural coastal areas. The western coast is leeward
of the trade winds
and is the location of Apra Harbor
, the capital Hagåtña
, and the tourist center of Tumon
. The U.S. Defense Department
owns about 29% of the island,
under the management of Joint Region Marianas
Guam has a tropical rainforest climate
), though its driest month of March almost averages dry enough to qualify as a tropical monsoon climate
). The weather is generally hot and humid throughout the year with little seasonal temperature variation. Hence, Guam is known to have equable temperatures year-round. Trade winds
are fairly constant throughout the year, but there is often a weak westerly monsoon influence in summer. Guam has two distinct seasons: Wet and dry season. The dry season runs from January through May and June being the transitional period. The wet season runs from July through November with an average annual rainfall between 1981 and 2010 of around 98 inches or 2,490 millimeters. The wettest month on record at Guam Airport has been August 1997 with 38.49 inches (977.6 mm) and the driest was February 2015 with 0.15 inches (3.8 mm). The wettest calendar year has been 1976 with 131.70 inches (3,345.2 mm) and the driest was in 1998 with 57.88 inches (1,470.2 mm). The most rainfall in a single day occurred on October 15, 1953, when 15.48 inches or 393.2 millimeters fell.
The mean high temperature is 86 °F or 30 °C and mean low is 76 °F (24.4 °C). Temperatures rarely exceed 90 °F (32.2 °C) or fall below 70 °F (21.1 °C). The relative humidity
commonly exceeds 84 percent at night throughout the year, but the average monthly humidity hovers near 66 percent. The highest temperature ever recorded in Guam was 96 °F (35.6 °C) on April 18, 1971, and April 1, 1990.
A record low of 69 °F (21 °C) was set on February 1, 2021,
while the lowest recorded temperature was 65 °F (18.3 °C), set on February 8, 1973.
Guam lies in the path of typhoons
and it is common for the island to be threatened by tropical storms and possible typhoons during the wet season. The highest risk of typhoons is from August through November, where typhoons and tropical storms are most probable in the western Pacific. They can, however, occur year-round. Typhoons that have caused major damage on Guam in the American period include the Typhoon of 1900
(1997), and Pongsona
Since Typhoon Pamela
in 1976, wooden structures have been largely replaced by concrete structures.
During the 1980s, wooden utility poles began to be replaced by typhoon-resistant concrete and steel poles. After the local Government enforced stricter construction codes, many home and business owners built their structures out of reinforced concrete with installed typhoon shutters
plague the forested areas of Guam every dry season
despite the island's humid climate. Most fires are caused by humans with 80% resulting from arson
Poachers often start fires to attract deer to the new growth. Invasive grass species that rely on fire as part of their natural life cycle grow in many regularly burned areas. Grasslands and "barrens" have replaced previously forested areas leading to greater soil erosion. During the rainy season, sediment is carried by the heavy rains into the Fena Lake
Reservoir and Ugum River
, leading to water quality problems for southern Guam. Eroded silt also destroys the marine life in reefs around the island. Soil stabilization efforts by volunteers and forestry workers (planting trees) have had little success in preserving natural habitats.
The introduction of the brown tree snake
nearly eradicated the native bird population
Efforts have been made to protect Guam's coral reef habitats from pollution, eroded silt and overfishing, problems that have led to decreased fish populations. This has both ecological and economic value, as Guam is a significant vacation spot for scuba divers
. In recent years, the Department of Agriculture, Division of Aquatic and Wildlife Resources has established several new marine preserves where fish populations are monitored by biologists.
These are located at Pati Point
, Piti Bomb Holes
, Sasa Bay
, Achang Reef Flat
, and Tumon Bay
Before adopting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
standards, portions of Tumon Bay were dredged by the hotel chains to provide a better experience for hotel guests.
Tumon Bay has since been made into a preserve. A federal Guam National Wildlife Refuge
in northern Guam protects the decimated sea turtle
population in addition to a small colony of Mariana fruit bats
Harvest of sea turtle eggs was a common occurrence on Guam before World War II. The green sea turtle
) was harvested legally on Guam before August 1978, when it was listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. The hawksbill sea turtle
) has been on the endangered list since 1970. In an effort to ensure the protection of sea turtles on Guam, routine sightings are counted during aerial surveys and nest sites are recorded and monitored for hatchlings.
These original settlers of Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands
evolved into the CHamoru people
, historically known as Chamorros after first contact with the Spaniards.:16
The ancient CHamoru society had four classes: chamorri
(upper class), achaot
(middle class), and mana'chang
were located in the coastal villages, which meant they had the best access to fishing grounds, whereas the mana'chang
were located in the island's interior. Matua
rarely communicated with each other, and matua
often used achaot
as intermediaries. There were also "makåhna
" or "kakahna
", shamans with magical powers and "'suruhånu
" or "suruhåna
", healers who used different kinds of plants and natural materials to make medicine. Belief in spirits of ancient CHamorus called "Taotao mo'na
" still persists as a remnant of pre-European culture. It is believed that "suruhånu
" or "suruhåna
" are the only ones who can safely harvest plants and other natural materials from their homes or "hålomtåno
" without incurring the wrath of the "Taotao mo'na
." Their society was organized along matrilineal
The CHamoru people raised colonnades of megalithic capped pillars called latte stones
upon which they built their homes. Latte stones are stone pillars that are found only in the Mariana Islands; they are a recent development in Pre-Contact CHamoru society. The latte-stone was used as a foundation on which thatched huts were built.:26
Latte stones consist of a base shaped from limestone called the haligi
and with a capstone, or tåsa
, made either from a large brain coral or limestone, placed on top.:27–28
A possible source for these stones, the Rota Latte Stone Quarry
, was discovered in 1925 on Rota
The first European to travel to Guam was Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan
, sailing for the King of Spain
, when he sighted the island on March 6, 1521, during his fleet's circumnavigation of the globe.:41–42
Despite Magellan's visit, Guam was not officially claimed by Spain until January 26, 1565, by Miguel López de Legazpi
From 1565 to 1815, Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands, the only Spanish outposts in the Pacific Ocean east of the Philippines, were reprovisioning stops for the Manila galleons
, a fleet that covered the Pacific trade route between Acapulco
Spanish colonization commenced on June 15, 1668 with the arrival of a mission led by Diego Luis de San Vitores
, who established the first Catholic church.:64
The islands were part of the Spanish East Indies
, and in turn part of the Viceroyalty of New Spain
, based in Mexico City
The Spanish-Chamorro Wars
on Guam began in 1670 over growing tensions with the Jesuit mission, with the last large-scale uprising in 1683. Intermittent warfare, plus the typhoons of 1671 and 1693, and in particular the smallpox
epidemic of 1688, reduced the Chamoru population from 50,000 to 10,000, finally to less than 5,000.:86
The island became a rest stop for whalers
starting in 1823.:145
A devastating typhoon struck the island on August 10, 1848, followed by a severe earthquake on January 25, 1849, which resulted in many refugees from the Caroline Islands
, victims of the resultant tsunami
After a smallpox epidemic killed 3,644 Guamanians in 1856, Carolinians and Japanese were permitted to settle in the Marianas.:157
Main street of Hagåtña, ca. 1899-1900
World War II
During World War II
, Guam was attacked and invaded
on Monday, December 8, 1941, at the same time as the attack on Pearl Harbor
, across the International Date Line. The Japanese renamed Guam Ōmiya-jima
(Great Shrine Island). The Japanese occupation of Guam
lasted for approximately 31 months. During this period, the indigenous people of Guam were subjected to forced labor, family separation, incarceration, execution, concentration camps and forced prostitution. Approximately 1,000 people died during the occupation, according to later Congressional
committee testimony in 2004. Some historians estimate that war violence killed 10% of Guam's then 20,000 population.
The United States
returned and fought the Battle of Guam
from July 21 to August 10, 1944, to recapture the island from Japanese military occupation. July 21 is now celebrated as Liberation Day
, a territorial holiday.
The removal of Guam's security clearance by President John F. Kennedy in 1963 allowed for the development of a tourism
industry. The island's rapid economic development was fueled both by rapid growth in this industry as well as increased U.S. Federal Government spending during the 1980s and 1990s.
Guam's U.S. military
installations remain among the most strategically vital in the Pacific Ocean
When the United States closed U.S. Naval Base Subic Bay
and Clark Air Base
bases in the Philippines
after the expiration of their leases in the early 1990s, many of the forces stationed there were relocated to Guam. The 1997 Asian financial crisis
, which hit Japan particularly hard, severely affected Guam's tourism industry. Military cutbacks in the 1990s also disrupted the island's economy. Economic recovery was further hampered by devastation from Supertyphoons Paka
in 1997 and Pongsona
in 2002, as well as the effects of the September 11 terrorist attacks
According to the 2010 United States Census
, the largest ethnic group are the native CHamorus
, accounting for 37.3% of the total population. Asians (including Filipinos, Koreans, Chinese, and Japanese) account for 33% of the total population. Other ethnic groups of Micronesia
(including those of Chuukese
, and Pohnpeians
) accounts for 10% of the total population. 9.4% of the population are multiracial
(two or more races). White Americans
account for 7.1% of the total population. The estimated interracial marriage rate is over 40%.
The official languages of the island are English and CHamoru
is also a common language across the island. Other Pacific island languages and many Asian languages are spoken in Guam as well. Spanish
, the language of administration for 300 years, is no longer commonly spoken on the island, although vestiges of the language remain in proper names, loanwords, and place names and it is studied at university and high schools.
The culture of Guam is a reflection of traditional Chamoru
customs in combination with American, Spanish and Mexican traditions. Post-European-contact Chamoru
Guamanian culture is a combination of American, Spanish, Filipino, other Micronesian Islander and Mexican traditions. Few indigenous pre-Hispanic customs remained following Spanish contact. Hispanic influences are manifested in the local language, music, dance, sea navigation, cuisine, fishing, games (such as batu
, and bayogu
), songs, and fashion.
The island's original community is of Chamorro natives who have inhabited Guam for almost 4000 years.
They had their own language related to the languages of Indonesia and southeast Asia. The Spanish later called them Chamorros, a derivative of the word Chamorri is "noble race"). They began to grow rice on the island.
Historically, the native people of Guam venerated the bones of their ancestors, keeping the skulls in their houses in small baskets, and practicing incantations before them when it was desired to attain certain objects.
During Spanish rule (1668–1898) the majority of the population was converted to Catholicism
and religious festivities such as Easter and Christmas became widespread. Many CHamorus have Spanish surnames
, although few of the inhabitants are themselves descended from the Spaniards. Instead, Spanish names and surnames became commonplace after their conversion to Catholicism and the imposition of the Catálogo alfabético de apellidos
in Guam.
Historically, the diet of the native inhabitants of Guam consisted of fish, fowl, rice, breadfruit
, bananas, and coconuts used in a variety of dishes.
Post-contact CHamoru cuisine is largely based on corn, and includes tortillas, tamales, atole, and chilaquiles, which are a clear influence from Mesoamerica
, principally Mexico, from Spanish trade with Asia.
Due to foreign cultural influence from Spain, most aspects of the early indigenous culture have been lost, though there has been a resurgence in preserving any remaining pre-Hispanic culture in the last few decades. Some scholars have traveled throughout the Pacific Islands conducting research to study what the original CHamoru cultural practices such as dance, language, and canoe building may have been like.
This section needs to be updated. Please update this article to reflect recent events or newly available information. (January 2019)
Beaches at the tourist center of Tumon
Guam's economy depends primarily on tourism, Department of Defense installations and locally owned businesses. Under the provisions of a special law by Congress
, it is Guam's treasury rather than the U.S. treasury that receives the federal income taxes paid by local taxpayers (including military and civilian federal employees assigned to Guam).
Lying in the western Pacific, Guam is a popular destination for Japanese tourists. Its tourist hub, Tumon
, features over 20 large hotels, a Duty Free Shoppers Galleria, Pleasure Island district, indoor aquarium, Sandcastle Las Vegas
–styled shows and other shopping and entertainment venues. It is a relatively short flight from Asia or Australia compared to Hawaii, with hotels and seven public golf courses accommodating over a million tourists per year. Although 75% of the tourists are Japanese, Guam also receives a sizable number of tourists from South Korea and the United States.
Significant sources of revenue include duty-free
designer shopping outlets, and the American-style malls: Micronesia Mall
, Guam Premier Outlets
, the Agana Shopping Center
, and the world's largest Kmart
The economy had been stable since 2000 due to increased tourism. It was expected to stabilize with the transfer of U.S. Marine Corps' 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force
, currently in Okinawa
, Japan, (approximately 8,000 Marines, along with their 10,000 dependents), to Guam between 2010 and 2015. However, the move was delayed until late 2020, the number of marines decreased to 5,000, and expected to be complete in 2025.
In 2003, Guam had a 14% unemployment rate, and the government suffered a $314 million shortfall.
As of 2019 the unemployment rate had dropped to 6.1%. By September 2020, however, the unemployment rate had risen again to 17.9%.
The Compacts of Free Association
between the United States, the Federated States of Micronesia
, the Republic of the Marshall Islands
, and the Republic of Palau
accorded the former entities of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands
a political status of "free association" with the United States. The Compacts give citizens of these island nations generally no restrictions to reside in the United States (also its territories), and many were attracted to Guam due to its proximity, environmental, and cultural familiarity. Over the years, it was claimed by some in Guam that the territory has had to bear the brunt of this agreement in the form of public assistance programs and public education for those from the regions involved, and the federal government should compensate the states and territories affected by this type of migration. Over the years, Congress had appropriated "Compact Impact" aids to Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands
, and Hawaii, and eventually this appropriation was written into each renewed Compact. Some, however, continue to claim the compensation is not enough or that the distribution of actual compensation received is significantly disproportionate.
Map of U.S. military lands on Guam, 2010
Currently, Joint Region Marianas
maintains jurisdiction over installations which cover approximately 39,000 acres (16,000 ha), or 29% of the island's total land area. These include:
- U.S. Naval Base Guam, U.S. Navy (Santa Rita), comprising the Orote Peninsula, additional lands, and with jurisdiction of the majority of Apra Harbor
- Andersen Air Force Base, U.S. Air Force (Yigo), including Northwest Field
- Marine Corps Base Camp Blaz, U.S. Marine Corps (Dededo)
- Ordnance Annex, U.S. Navy – South Central Highlands (formerly known as Naval Magazine)
- Naval Computer and Telecommunications Station Guam, U.S. Navy (Dededo), sometimes referred to "NCTS Finegayan"
- Naval Radio Station Barrigada (Barrigada), often referred to as "Radio Barrigada"
- Joint Region Marianas Headquarters (Asan), at Nimitz Hill Annex
- Naval Hospital Guam (Agana Heights)
- South Finegayan (Dededo), a military housing complex
- Andersen South (Yigo), formerly Marine Barracks Guam until its closure in 1992
- Fort Juan Muña, Guam National Guard (Tamuning)
The U.S. military has proposed building a new aircraft carrier berth on Guam and moving 8,600 Marines, and 9,000 of their dependents, to Guam from Okinawa
, Japan. Including the required construction workers, this buildup would increase Guam's population by a total of 79,000, a 49% increase over its 2010 population of 160,000. In a February 2010 letter, the United States Environmental Protection Agency
sharply criticized these plans because of a water shortfall, sewage problems and the impact on coral reefs.
By 2012, these plans had been cut to have only a maximum of 4,800 Marines stationed on the island, two thirds of whom would be there on a rotational basis without their dependents.
Government and politics
The District Court of Guam
is the court of United States federal jurisdiction in the territory. Guam elects one delegate to the United States House of Representatives
, currently Democrat Michael San Nicolas
. The delegate does not have a vote on the final passage of legislation, but is accorded a vote in committee, and the privilege to speak to the House. U.S. citizens in Guam vote in a presidential straw poll
for their choice in the U.S. presidential general election, but since Guam has no votes in the Electoral College
, the poll has no real effect. However, in sending delegates to the Republican and Democratic national conventions, Guam does have influence in the national presidential race. These delegates are elected by local party conventions
In the 1980s and early 1990s, there was a significant movement in favor of this U.S. territory becoming a commonwealth
, which would give it a level of self-government similar to Puerto Rico
and the Northern Mariana Islands
In a 1982 plebiscite, voters indicated interest in seeking commonwealth status.
However, the federal government rejected the version of a commonwealth that the government of Guam proposed, because its clauses were incompatible with the Territorial Clause
(Art. IV, Sec. 3, cl. 2) of the U.S. Constitution
. Other movements advocate U.S. statehood for Guam, union with the state of Hawaii, or union with the Northern Mariana Islands as a single territory, or independence.
A Commission on Decolonization was established in 1997 to educate the people of Guam about the various political status options in its relationship with the U.S.: statehood, free association and independence. The island has been considering another non-binding plebiscite on decolonization since 1998, however, the group was dormant for some years. In 2013, the commission began seeking funding to start a public education campaign. There were few subsequent developments until late 2016. In early December 2016, the Commission scheduled a series of education sessions in various villages about the current status of Guam's relationship with the U.S. and the self-determination options that might be considered.
The commission's current Executive Director is Edward Alvarez and there are ten members. The group is also expected to release position papers on independence and statehood but the contents have not yet been completed.
The United Nations
is in favor of greater self-determination for Guam and other such territories. The UN's Special Committee on Decolonization
has agreed to endorse the Governor's education plan. The commission's May 2016 report states: "With academics from the University of Guam, [the Commission] was working to create and approve educational materials. The Office of the Governor was collaborating closely with the Commission" in developing educational materials for the public.
The United States Department of the Interior
had approved a $300,000 grant for decolonization education, Edward Alvarez told the United Nations Pacific Regional Seminar in May 2016. "We are hopeful that this might indicate a shift in [United States] policy to its Non-Self-Governing Territories such as Guam, where they will be more willing to engage in discussions about our future and offer true support to help push us towards true self-governances and self-determination."
Guam is divided into 19 municipal villages:
Transportation and communications
Guam Highway 8 route marker
Guam is also a major hub for submarine cables between the Western U.S., Hawaii, Australia and Asia. Guam currently serves twelve submarine cables, with most continuing to China. In 2012 Slate
stated that the island has "tremendous bandwidth" and internet prices comparable to those of the U.S. Mainland due to being at the junction of undersea cables.
In 1899, the local postage stamps were overprinted "Guam" as was done for the other former Spanish colonies, but this was discontinued shortly thereafter and regular U.S. postage stamps have been used ever since. Because Guam is also part of the U.S. Postal System (postal abbreviation
: GU, ZIP code range
: 96910–96932), mail to Guam from the U.S. mainland is considered domestic and no additional charges are required. Private shipping companies, such as FedEx, UPS, and DHL, however, have no obligation to do so, and do not regard Guam as domestic.
The speed of mail traveling between Guam and the states varies depending on size and time of year. Light, first-class items generally take less than a week to or from the mainland, but larger first-class or Priority items can take a week or two. Fourth-class mail, such as magazines, are transported by sea after reaching Hawaii. Most residents use post office boxes or private mail boxes, although residential delivery is becoming increasingly available. Incoming mail not from the Americas should be addressed to "Guam" instead of "USA" to avoid being routed the long way through the U.S. mainland and possibly charged a higher rate (especially from Asia).
The Port of Guam
is the island's lifeline because most products must be shipped into Guam for consumers. It receives the weekly calls of the Hawaii-based shipping line Matson, Inc.
whose container ships connect Guam with Honolulu, Hawaii, Los Angeles, California, Oakland, California and Seattle, Washington. The port is also the regional transhipment hub for over 500,000 customers throughout the Micronesian region. The port is the shipping and receiving point for containers designated for the island's U.S. Department of Defense installations, Andersen Air Force Base and Commander, Naval Forces Marianas and eventually the Third Marine Expeditionary Force.
Guam is served by the Antonio B. Won Pat International Airport
. The island is outside the United States customs zone,
so Guam is responsible for establishing and operating its own customs and quarantine agency and jurisdiction.
Therefore, the U.S. Customs and Border Protection
only carries out immigration (but not customs) functions. Since Guam is under federal immigration jurisdiction, passengers arriving directly from the United States skip immigration and proceed directly to Guam Customs and Quarantine.
However, due to the Guam and CNMI visa waiver program
for certain countries, an eligibility pre-clearance check is carried on Guam for flights to the States. For travel from the Northern Mariana Islands to Guam, a pre-flight passport and visa check is performed before boarding the flight to Guam. On flights from Guam to the Northern Mariana Islands, no immigration check is performed. Traveling between Guam and the States through a foreign point, however, does require a passport.
Most residents travel within Guam using personally owned vehicles. The local government currently outsources the only public bus system (Guam Regional Transit Authority
), and some commercial companies operate buses between tourist-frequented locations.
The Guam Department of Education
serves the entire island of Guam. In 2000, 32,000 students attended Guam's public schools, including 26 elementary schools, eight middle schools, and six high schools and alternative schools. Guam Public Schools have struggled with problems such as high dropout rates and poor test scores.
Guam's educational system has always faced unique challenges as a small community located 6,000 miles (9,700 km) from the U.S. mainland with a very diverse student body including many students who come from backgrounds without traditional American education.
An economic downturn in Guam since the mid-1990s has compounded the problems in schools.
Before September 1997, the U.S. Department of Defense
partnered with Guam Board of Education.
In September 1997, the DoDEA opened its own schools for children of military personnel. DoDEA
schools, which also serve children of some federal civilian employees, had an attendance of 2,500 in 2000. DoDEA Guam operates three elementary/middle schools and one high school
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