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Latte stones 2.jpg
Depiction of latte stone colonnades on the island of Tinian.
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Guam, Northern Mariana Islands

Chamorro and English


Christianity (mostly Roman Catholic)

Related ethnic groups

other Micronesians, other Austronesians, other Pacific Islanders

The Chamorro people or Chamoru people are the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands, which include the American territory of Guam and the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Micronesia. Today, significant Chamoru populations also exist in several U.S. states including Hawaii, California, Washington, Texas and Nevada. According to the 2000 Census, approximately 65,000 people of Chamoru ancestry live on Guam and another 19,000 live in the Northern Marianas. Another 93,000 live outside the Marianas ( in Hawaii and West/Pacific coast of USA ). The Chamoru are primarily of Austronesian stock.

Most Chamorros are Roman Catholic and few in the Marianas still maintain some customs and beliefs from the time before the first European conquests. Some residents of the Marianas will still ask permission from ancestral spirits before entering parts of jungles. Traditional healers called suruhanas are still greatly respected for their knowledge of herbal treatments and spirits. Before Spanish colonization, Chamoru life centered on one's clan. Today, large extended families remain central to life in the Marianas.


Chamorro language

The Chamorro language is included in the Malayo-Polynesian languages of the Austronesian family. Because Guam was colonized by Spain for over 300 years, many words derive from the Spanish language. Some words come from American English, Japanese, with a few from other Asian languages, like Chinese, and Austronesian languages, such as Hawaiian. Linguist Donald M. Topping states in his introduction to the Chamorro-English Dictionary that "it is most closely related to the languages of the Philippines", although at the time the dictionary was published, it was indeterminate which of those languages it was most closely related to, because "it shares common grammatical features and vocabulary with many of them". This may be due at least in part to considerable immigration of Filipinos to Guam during Spanish colonial times, when the Mariana Islands were ruled as part of the Spanish East Indies from the Philippines. Among numerous linguistic similarities between were the numbers used by the ancient Chamoru, several of which also bear a distinct resemblance to those used by other Oceanic cultures such as the Māori and Hawaiians. After colonization by Spain, the traditional Chamoru number system was replaced by Spanish numbers[1] . Chamoru is often spoken in many homes, but is becoming less common. However, there is a resurgence of interest in reviving the language, and all public schools on both Guam and Saipan must legally teach the Chamoru language as part of the elementary and secondary school curriculum.

Ancient Chamorus

The Chamoru are commonly believed to have come from Southeast Asia at around 2000 BCE. Based on appearance and culture, they are most closely related to other Austronesian natives to the west in the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia and Taiwan, as well as the Carolines to the south. They were expert seafarers and skilled craftspeople familiar with intricate weaving and detailed pottery making. Early European explorers noted their unique houses and canoes. The latte stone, a megalithic rock pillar topped with a hemispherical capstone, was the foundation of ancient Chamoru architecture and is a "national" symbol. Chamoru society was based on what sociologist Dr. Lawrence J. Cunningham termed the "matrilineal avuncuclan", one characteristic of which is that the brother(s) of the female parent plays more of a "father" role than the actual biological male parent.

According to ancient Chamoru legend, the world was created by a twin brother and sister, Puntan and Fu'uña.[2] Upon dying, Puntan instructed his sister to make his body the ingredients for the universe. She used his eyes to create the sun and moon, his eyebrows to make rainbows, and most of the rest of his parts for various features of the Earth. After she was done, she turned herself into a rock on the island of Guahan/Guam, and from this rock emerged human beings. Some believe that the rock was once located at the site of an Agat Church, while others believe it is the phallic-shaped "Laso de Fua" located in Fouha Bay in Umatac. Ancient Chamorus engaged in ancestor veneration, but did not practice "religion" in the sense that they worshipped deities. However, there is at least one account, provided by Christoph Carl Fernberger in 1623, that human sacrifice was practiced to curry the favor of a "great fish". It was a "great fish" that threatened Inarajan Bay as an ancient legend tells that women were very important because they weaved a giant net containing their hair to capture the fish after all the men gave up.

Chamoru society was divided into two main castes and continued to be so for well over a century after the Spanish first arrived. According to the historical records provided by Europeans such as Father Charles Le Gobien, there appeared to be racial differences between the subservient Manachang caste, and the higher Chamori/Chamurre, the Manachang being described as shorter, darker-skinned, and physically less hardy than the Chamori. The Chamori caste was subdivided into the upper-middle class Achoti/Acha'ot and the highest, administrative Matua/Matao class. Achoti could graduate to Matua, and Matua could be reduced to Achoti, but Manachang were born and died as such and had no recourse to improve their status. Members of the Manachang and the Chamori were not permitted to intermingle. All three classes performed physical labor, but had different specified duties. Le Gobien theorized that Chamoru society comprised the geographical convergence of peoples of different ethnic origins. This idea may be supportable by the evidence of linguistic characteristics of the Chamorro language and social customs. Father Pierre Coomans wrote of the practice among Chamoru women of teeth blackening/dental lacquering (also a custom among the Japanese and Vietnamese), which they considered beautiful as a distinction apart from animals. Fernberger wrote in his account of the Chamoru that "penis pins" were employed as a chastity measure for young males, a practice similarly employed by inhabitants at least as far south as Indonesia.



Traditional paranormal beliefs among the Chamoru have included tales of taotaomo'na and birak, as well as the Spanish-introduced concepts of duendes and White Lady hauntings in places such as the Bordallo mansion in Yona, other old buildings, schools, hotel elevators, and the Maina bridge.[3]. Taotaomo'na are spirits of ancient Chamorros. Birak is a broader term that may refer not only to the undead, but also to demons or general elemental types.

Foreign rule

Over the centuries, the Marianas have been occupied by several foreign countries, and present-day Chamoru society is almost entirely racially mixed, with the inhabitants of Luta/Rota being the least so. The Chamoru are primarily of Austronesian stock, but began to significantly intermingle with Spanish during the Spanish Colonial Era (1600-1898 AD). Primarily since the late 19th century onward, many Chamorus have intermarried with other Pacific Islanders, Mainland Americans, Polynesians, Chinese, and Japanese.

During the Spanish Colonial Era, the Chamoru population was greatly reduced by the introduction of European diseases and changes in society under Spanish rule. The Spanish killed many Chamoru men and relocated most others to Guam where they lived in several parishes to prevent rebellion. Some estimate that as many as 100,000 Chamorus may have populated the Marianas when Europeans first settled in 1667. By 1800, there were under 10,000. Within the parishes, the Spanish eventually focused their efforts on converting the natives to Catholicism. Through this, they were given Spanish surnames through Catálogo Alfabético de Apellidos or Alphabetic Catalog of Surnames. Father Frances X. Hezel stated that Chamorus caught or reported engaging in pagan "sorcery" were publicly punished. Thus, many multiracials of mixed Chamorro and European descent with Spanish surnames don't necessarily have Spanish blood, mostly to have solely white American ancestry.

Because the Marianas are a part of the United States, the Chamoru people enjoy greater economic opportunities than many other Micronesian peoples. "Cosmopolitan" Guam, where Chamorus make up approximately 37% of the island's population, poses particular challenges for Chamorus struggling to preserve their culture and identity in the face of acculturation. The increasing numbers of Chamorus, especially Chamoru youth, relocating to the U.S. Mainland, has further complicated both definition and preservation of Chamoru identity. On Guam a Chamoru rights movement has developed since the United States gained control of the island. Leaders of the movement seek to return ancestral lands to the Chamoru people, and attain self-determination.

The remaining islands of the Northern Marianas, comprise the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) and have many economic privileges (such as being exempt from federal income tax) while maintaining rights to control much of their own immigration, trade, and domestic policies. While this has led to controversy over some of the commonwealth's labor practices, it has provided rights to Chamoru people that residents of Guam do not enjoy.

"Chamoru" & "Chamorro"

The two different spellings of the term are both appropriate. Chamoru is a word that is used by the ancient people. Chamorro was a name given to the people of Guam by the Spaniards when they were first discovered. A majority of the men, especially the high ranking Metao class normally had shaved heads. Thus the Spanish word "Chamorro" meaning shorn or shaven, was used to name the people.


Chamorro on Saipan rank third on the world’s list of indigenous people with diabetes. The disease afflicts 25% to 30% among all Chamorro on Saipan.[4]

The cosmopolitan nature of Guam, as well as Saipan, poses challenges for Chamorros struggling to preserve their culture and identity amidst forces of acculturation. The increasing numbers of Chamorros, especially Chamorro youth, relocating to the U.S. mainland has further complicated both definition and preservation of Chamorro identity.[5]

See also


  1. ^ Rafael Rodríguez-Ponga. Del español al chamorro: Lenguas en contacto en el Pacífico. Madrid, 2009, Ediciones Gondo,
  2. ^, "Puntan and Fu’una: Gods of Creation"
  3. ^, Ghost stories: Taotaomona, duendes and other spirits inhabit Guam
  4. ^ Emmanuel T. Erediano (15 Dec 2006). "Chamorros on Saipan no. 3 on world diabetes list" (html). Marianas Variety. Retrieved 2006-12-17.  
  5. ^ Robert A. Underwood, "Language Survival, the Ideology of English and Education in Guam." Educational Research Quarterly, v8 n4 p72-81, 1984.

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