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Masters of the Sea—A Brief History of the Micronesian People and Guam

Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) Heritage Month is an annual celebration in May that honors the contributions, achievements, and diverse cultural heritage of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. Manson is celebrating AAPI Heritage Month this year with articles highlighting the history of Micronesia and individuals from the island of Guam.

Brief History of Micronesia

Located in the Oceania region, Micronesia is home to more than 550,000 people spread out among 2,000 islands, including the Gilbert Islands, the Caroline Islands, the Marshall Islands, and the Mariana

Islands. The islands of Micronesia consist of low-lying coral atolls—ring-shaped islands—with distinctive features that serve each island.


According to the National Library of Medicine, the people of Micronesia belong to the sea-migrating Austronesians—people with Southeast Asian ancestry—who sailed the Pacific Ocean in search of new land. Known for

A drawing of an Oceanic vessel
A drawing of the innovative vessels that were used by the Ancient Austronesian people by Antoine Provost (1753). Photo credit: Guam Public Library System

their mastery of the ocean, Micronesians were among the first humans to achieve long-distance sailing by inventing ships and outriggers to withstand the Pacific waters.


There are two cultural groups of Micronesians, “High Islanders” and “Low Islanders.” High Islanders are typically larger in population and enjoy many natural resources, limiting the need to travel outside their land. Low Islanders enjoy better navigation channels, which improved their skills in navigation and ship technology.


Micronesians represent one of the three main Pacific Islander groups: Micronesia, Melanesia, and Polynesia. All three groups have their own unique traditions of food, storytelling, religion, dance, music, decorative design, and language—which have been used to trace their oral history pre-colonial contact.

Natural resources in Micronesia include fish and various seafood, rice, taro, betel nut, and coconut. Beef, chicken, and pork were introduced to the Micronesian diet after contact with Spanish explorers in the early 16th century.


Guam, U.S.A.

An illustration of a Chamorro structure
An illustration of the housing used by Ancient Chamorros. Sources: David Lujan Sablan—Guampedia

An unincorporated territory of the United States, Guam is the largest and southernmost island of the


Mariana Islands. The tiny archipelago is a strategic military location for the U.S. Armed Forces as the only island with both a protected harbor and sufficient land. Guam hosts two U.S. bases, Naval Base Guam, and Andersen Air Force Base.


In addition, Guam was an important location in the Pacific during WWII. It was occupied by Japanese forces from December 1941 to July 1944. Guam was liberated from Japan by the U.S. Several years later, President Harry S. Truman signed the Guam Organic Act of 1950, granting U.S. citizenship to all persons.


A picture of Tumon Bay in Guam.
Tumon Bay on a cloudy day located on the northwest coast of Guam. Photo Credit: Scott Cameron—Wikipedia

According to the Guam Visitor’s Bureau, the first wave of people who occupied the tropical island of Guam belonged to the ancient Austronesian group. Experts at sailing the Pacific, these seafaring people—who shared similar culture and language—would occupy the island for more than 4,000 years, establishing a village and clan-based, matrilineal society that would later be known as “Chamorro.”

Beginning in the 16th century, the Chamorro people underwent colonization from Spain, Japan, and the U.S. These catastrophic events have greatly diminished the culture, tradition, religion, and language of Chamorros. Colonization has introduced a mix of Japanese, Spanish, Mexican, and American influences on the Chamorro culture. Traditional Chamorro culture still exists and includes Kantan (line singing), storytelling of the Taotaomo’na (ancient Chamorro spirits), carving and weaving, and Chamorro blacksmithing.

Today, Guam is home to more than 168,000 people who share a rich, diverse, and interesting history of language, traditions, and culture that began with the ancient Chamorro people. To learn more about Guam, use these links below.




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