Guam; Chamorro: Guåhan is an organized, unincorporated territory of the United States in Micronesia in the western Pacific Ocean. It is the westernmost point and territory of the United States. The capital city of Guam is Hagåtña, and the most populous city is Dededo. Guam has been a member of the Pacific Community since 1983. The inhabitants of Guam are American citizens by birth. The indigenous Guamanians are the Chamorros, who are related to other Austronesian peoples of Indonesia, the Philippines, Taiwan, Micronesia, and Polynesia.

In 2016, 162,742 people resided on Guam. The territory has an area of 210 square miles (540 km2; 130,000 acres) and a population density of 775 per square mile (299/km2). In Oceania, it is the largest and southernmost of the Mariana Islands and the largest island in Micronesia. Among its municipalities, Mongmong-Toto-Maite has the highest population density at 3,691 per square mile (1,425/km2), whereas Inarajan and Umatac have the lowest density at 119 per square mile (46/km2). The highest point is Mount Lamlam at 1,332 feet (406 m) above sea level. Since the 1960s, the economy has been supported by two industries: tourism and the United States Armed Forces.




Location of Guam (circled in red)
Sovereign stateUnited States
Before annexationSpanish East Indies
Cession from SpainApril 11, 1899
Largest cityDededo
Official languages
  • English
  • Chamorro
Ethnic groups 


37.3% Chamorro
26.3% Filipino
7.1% White
7% Chuukese
2.2% Korean
2% Other Asian
1.6% Chinese
1.6% Palauan
1.5% Japanese
1.4% Pohnpeian
9.4% Multiracial
0.6% other
Religion75% Catholicism
17.7% Protestantism
1.1% Buddhism
4.5% other
1.7% unaffiliated


• Total540 km2 (210 sq mi)
Highest elevation1,334 ft (407 m)


• 2020 estimate168,485 (189th)
• 2010 census159,358
• Density299/km2 (774.4/sq mi)
CurrencyUnited States dollar (US$) (USD)
Time zoneUTC+10:00 (ChST)


Post-European-contact Chamorro 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, chonka, estuleks, and bayogu), songs, and fashion.

During Spanish rule (1668–1898) the majority of the population was converted to Roman Catholicism and religious festivities such as Easter and Christmas became widespread. Post-contact Chamorro 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.

The modern Chamorro language has many historical parallels to modern Philippine languages in that it is an Austronesian language which has absorbed much Spanish vocabulary. The language lies within the Malayo-Polynesian language subgroup, along with such languages as Tagalog, Indonesian, Hawaiian, and Maori. Unlike most other languages of the Pacific Islands, Chamorro does belong to the Oceanic subgroup of the Austronesian languages.


The Chamorro people are the indigenous people of the Mariana Islands, politically divided between the United States territories of Guam and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Micronesia. Today, significant Chamorro populations also exist in several U.S. states including Hawaii, California, Washington, Texas, Tennessee, Oregon, and Nevada. According to the 2000 Census, approximately 65,000 people of Chamorro ancestry live in Guam and another 19,000 live in the Northern Marianas. Another 93,000 live outside the Marianas in Hawaii and the West Coast of the United States. The Chamorros are primarily Austronesian, but many also have European (such as Spanish) and Southeast Asian ancestry.


Lasting Chamoru artistry

Weaving continues to be an important practice on Guam. For thousands of years CHamorus have used Guam’s abundant foliage to produce useful and unique items. Although the art of weaving is not as prevalent on Guam today as it has been in days gone by, or as critical for everyday life, it is still seen as one of the lasting artistries of CHamoru culture.

Utilitarian weaving and artistry

In ancient CHamoru society women completed the majority of the household tasks including most of the weaving. They used various leaves and palms to create items for everyday life including mats, sails, hats, baskets, bags and decorative pieces.

Many pieces were created from the same material but served different purposes. For example, a mat woven out of pandanus leaves, or akgak, could be used for sleeping, blankets, funeral preparations, food serving platters or cloths to clean surfaces.

Typical, everyday woven items included mats, boxes and hats. Rectangular baskets (kottot) were used for presenting gifts of rice. Smaller boxes, some equipped with handles (alan mamao) or complex latches (saluu), were used to carry betel nut. CHamorus wove bags with lids (balakbagk) equipped with straps to carry items at waist level. There were also larger woven cases (hagug) used like a backpack for carrying provisions and food.

In addition to the many types of woven bags, CHamorus also wove mats, plates and even cradles from leaves. The CHamoru basket weave is noted for its strength provided by a double rim.

Some woven items were more decorative than practical. Many weavers excelled at artistic creations including birds, shrimp, headbands and floral arrangements. Many of these items were created using a weaving tool known as a si’i. The tool is a piece of flat, triangular-shaped metal that measures roughly six inches.

Ancient CHamorus also used their weaving skills to create fish nets (talaya), traps and slings but less is known about these practices. Some sources indicate the ancient society used bark from the wild hibiscus (pagu) tree or bamboo for nets and traps. Some weavers also incorporated coconut husk fibers into rope and bamboo needles and gauges when weaving fishing nets. Slings were typically made from pandanus leaves.

Weaving techniques

The pandanus plant (Pandanus tectorius) is native to Guam and provides fibrous leaves that are good for weaving. The wide leaves grow low to the ground, making them easy to reach by women collecting weaving materials.

The pandanus leaf is typically prepared by cutting it from the plant and by using a si’i, a small cutting tool, to remove the hard, sharp thorns along the edge of the leaf. After the thorns are removed, the leaves are boiled and scraped with a shell before being dried in the sun. The dried leaves are rolled up and kept inside for a few days. Finally the leaves are left out in the sun for weeks where they are cured and readied for use. Before using the cured pandanus leaf for weaving, the weaver would drag a shell-tool across the surface of the leaf to make it more pliable.

Other plants found in abundance on Guam, coconut and nipa palm fronds, were also used for weaving materials. Both of these trees are found anywhere on island, although the former is more common. Typically younger leaves were best for basket. They were left in the sun to cure before use.

Thatching and trap making

Sturdier leaves from the coconut or nipa palm, were used for roof thatching on traditional CHamoru huts. Nipa thatch was preferable because it lasted roughly five years compared to coconut thatch’s two-year lifespan. Nipa and pandanus leaves can last up to eight years as thatching over bamboo slats.

When preparing leaves for thatching the fronds are typically collected in the drier months. Dry season falls in the beginning of the calendar year on Guam. Once harvested, the fronds are split down the middle. The two spines are then placed on top of one another and the leaves are woven using diagonal plaiting to make a piece of thatch. The pieces are tied together and dried before being placed on the roof of the home.

Another utilitarian form of weaving is trap making. Many times traps were made from bamboo that has been heated over hot charcoal and then stretched into the proper shape. Traps can also be made from coconut leaves.

Contemporary weaving and culture

Although many woven items have been replaced with modern manufactured items in contemporary Guam, weavers continue to produce mats, bags, novelty items and decorative pieces that are either used locally or sold to tourists.

One of the most popular areas on Guam to watch and learn weaving is at Gef Pa’go, Inajaran, a cultural demonstration center in Southern Guam. Gef Pa’go employs several master weavers who demonstrate the art to students, tourists and interested residents. The Gef Pago cultural village area also has a small gift shop featuring woven creations by the masters employed there. The gift shop sells small woven animals, fish and utilitarian pieces created out of dried palm leaves.

Many of the masters working at Gef Pa’go and around the island learned to weave from family members or others living in their village when woven items were crucial to every day life. The tradition was not encouraged by the Japanese during the occupation of World War II but resurfaced after the liberation of Guam in 1944.

Although the practice of weaving continued after the war, the number of island residents that regularly wove began to dwindle as modern items became more available and replaced items had been woven in the past. In turn, the number of island residents who knew the art of weaving also began to dwindle.

In recent years, however, weaving is increasingly being seen as more of a cultural reminder and decorative art rather than an essential practice for everyday life. Weavers continue to make decorative items for local parties, fiestas, gatherings or displays. Decorations typically include hanging pieces, table centerpieces, palms woven in a vertical manner to create a divider are often seen.

Weavers are also beginning to transform the practice into more of an art medium. For example, woven leaves are now being used as a medium for sculpting.


Over the last ten years, Guam has seen a renewed interest in the handcrafting of traditional Chamorro jewelry. The dedication of several longtime local jewelry artists, as well as apprenticeships for newcomers to the trade, ensure that this important aspect of Chamorro culture endures.

This wearable art form is characterized by the widespread use of local natural materials such as clamshell, bone, spiky Spondylus shells from the peach- and rose-colored mollusks of the same name, and wood from the ifil tree indigenous to Guam. In the pre-contact era, tortoiseshell was also commonly used.

Guam’s jewelry artists, some of whom have decades of experience, often imbue their work with graceful shapes celebrating traditional subsistence practices or Chamorro architecture. Fish hooks and latte stones are just a few of the forms that can be seen decorating the wearers of this eye-catching artwork. If clients are inspired to commission them, some artisans may also craft custom pieces.

Also unique to Guam is a style of gold and silver jewelry bearing images of bamboo or rose blossoms. These pieces are commonly regarded as status symbols, much in the way that traditional jewelry once was.

The wearing of traditional Chamorro jewelry today is a sign of respect for the culture. Historically, it was used in marriages and other religious ceremonies and as a signifier of rank.


Early Dress

The early Chamorros utilized their natural surroundings to fashion coverage for their bodies. According to Judith S. Flores in “Dress of the Chamorro” (2010), women wore leaf and bark around the waist and, at times, used turtle shells styled into an apron-like clothing piece. Women would also wear a tifi as a top and men were bare-chested, but both genders used floral and coconut scents on their bodies. In numerous European accounts of early Chamorros, men and women were documented as having long hair. In some reports, men tied their hair into buns, while others stated that men shaved their head with the exception of one lock.

This form of dress is still remembered today with the works of Guam residents Joe and Ray Viloria. Together they create clothing and accessories that are inspired by the island’s early indigenous population. Through this effort, the designers can teach audiences and acknowledge social taboos, like showing excessive skin, through their clothing.

Dress Under the Spanish Empire

This mode of clothing changed once the Spanish Empire colonized the island in the mid-1600s. The Spaniards were a Catholic-based nation who embraced ideas of dress that hid the human body, especially the female form. According to Flores (2010), this resulted in a rise of the mestiza (mestisa) costume, which originally developed in the Philippines. Men wore an outfit of a loose button-down and bleached cotton (manta) trousers that ranged in length depending on the formality of the situation. Women covered their bodies with a slip that had a round neckline and bell-shaped sleeves and an ankle-length skirt. The style evolved during the Victorian era from what Flores calls “the starched ‘butterfly’ look.” During formal occasions, women covered their heads in white handkerchiefs or shawls.

Guam transitioned into American hands after the Spanish-American War in 1848. The island was under the jurisdiction of the Secretary of the Navy and held under what Dough Herman at calls martial law. In 1941, the island was bombed hours after Pearl Harbor and was held under Japanese rule for three years. This occupation resulted in over 13,000 locals being imprisoned in camps and 1,123 dying under Japanese control.

Fashion Today

After the war, Guam fell back under American rule and became an island territory. What may be due to the American influence and/or its reputation as a tourist destination, Guam has formed into an economy that provides a variety of shopping opportunities. For the tourist or local looking for the newest designs by international fashion designers, the island offers the Tumon Sands Plaza, which houses Balenciaga, Chloe, and Givenchy.  For more moderately-priced options, there are many malls and outlets within consumers reach.

For those wanting to dress in local wares, events like Guam Fashion Weekend and the Guam Fashion Delegation showcase Guam fashion talent. There is also a scene of local fashion designers who integrate Chamorro culture with Western trends and styles. For example, Tao Pacific Designs creates ready-to-wear clothing in block prints that identify and honor Chamorro culture.

The history and status of fashion in Guam evolves from one influence into another, but there is still a sense of pride and acknowledgment in the island’s Chamorro culture. This is a rare feat for an indigenous group who has experienced a significant amount of colonization that demands change and dismissal of one’s norms. Although Guam is a part of the United States, and may one day be an official state, it is also an island with a rich history that is communicated through its fashion scene.



By- Janvi Nagada (MSc. in Textile and Fashion Technology)