Illustration depicting pre-Spanish era Guam
Chamorros are the indigenous people of Guam and the Mariana Islands. The first Chamorros are believed to be of Austronesian and Malayo-Polynesian origin with linguistic ties to Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines and settled in the Marianas around 2,000 B.C. Chamorros quickly flourished into a thriving civilization of fishers and hunters, cultivating farmers, artisans, and sea-faring mariners. The ancient Chamorros were a matriarchal and matrilineal people with a well-established class structure and practiced ancestor worship.
Throughout the Spanish era (1521-1898) the Chamorro population was significantly reduced due to diseases and genocide. Guam and the Mariana Islands were a vital stopping point in Spanish trade routes between the Americas and the Philippines. In the early 1700's, Spanish colonizers began to intermarry with the indigenous Chamorro and the early half of the 1800's saw the intermarriage of other Filipino, Native American Indian, French, and English settlers. Although it is unlikely that the indigenous Chamorros of today maintain any pure Chamorro bloodlines, they emphatically indentify themselves as Chamorros and largely do not recognize the presence of other ethnic blood quantums.
One of the many reasons for the strong cultural identity of Chamorros is the resilience of a people who have been subjected to colonization for more than 450 years. Although the Spanish successfully converted Chamorros to Catholicism in the early 1700’s, there are still strong elements of ancestor worship that exist among modern Chamorros. An example of such practices are the continued use of suruhanus/suruhanas and makanas who are traditional herbal and spiritual healers. While many other traditions and cultural practices flourish, Chamorros of today engage in a constant struggle to balance modern lifestyles with ancient heritage.