BIBA CHAMORU

Culture and identity in Mariana Islands.

TASA (Traditions Affirming our Seafaring Ancestry) Association. (2020)Original Source: TASA

Hafa adai!

At the fourth stop of the MNA cycle, Let's turn around the world, we stop at the Mariana Islands to learn more about its history and the Chamorro culture.

Redware vessel (2009) by Raph UnpingcoOriginal Source: Guampedia

The first settlement of the Marianas and Prelatte period

The first human groups settled in the Marianas around 1500 BC. They had to travel thousands of kilometers across the open sea. Thanks to archeology and linguistic studies, we know that its origin was the Philippines.

Hilaan Latte. (2021) by Ric CastroOriginal Source: Ric Castro

The Latte period (900-1695)

The latte stones, which give the period its name, are the pillars that supported some buildings, made with a wooden structure and roofed with coconut leaves. Lattes measure between 50 cm and 5 m. Today, they are a symbol of the Chamorro identity.

CHamoru Sakman. (2017)Original Source: TASA

Agad'na: great canoe builders

Chamorro navigators were guided by the stars and had extensive knowledge of the ocean. Their canoes were very fast, they reached more than 32 km / h. The canoes  were the means of transport and trade between the islands, and also used in fishing, their main source of protein.

Slingstones, "acho' atupat" (900-1695)Original Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología

Atupat, effective combat weapons

The slings, atupat, were made of woven vegetal fiber and the projectiles, acho' atupat, made of stone, coral or clay. The aerodynamic shape of the projectiles allows for increased speed and range.
Slingstones are another of the Chamorro identity symbols.

Chamorro basketry. (1886-1887)Original Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología

Akgak and niyok, the weaving materials of a culture

The art of basketry and weaving of pandano leaves, akgak, or coconut, niyok, has been practiced in the Marianas from time immemorial to the present day. Bags, baskets, mats, sails for the canoes, cradles, hats, fans, sandals... were woven.

Heritage Day (2020)Original Source: Carlos Madrid Álvarez-Piñer

Magellan and (mis)communication between two worlds

Heritage Day is celebrated on March 6, commemorating the landing of Magellan in Humåtak, Guam. The lack of understanding on the part of Magellan's men of local hospitality customs led to a confrontation in which 7 Chamorros were killed.

Monument representing the martyrdom of Diego Luis de San Vitores. (2010)Original Source: Alexandre Coello de la Rosa

The Jesuit San Vitores and colonization of the Marianas

San Vitores established the first mission on Guam in 1668. Misunderstandings and intransigence led to the death of some missionaries and their assistants, including San Vitores. Thus began the Spanish-Chamorro Wars, which ended in 1695.

Nuestra Señora de la Soledad Fort. (2019)Original Source: Proyecto ABERIGUA

The reducciones

Around the churches and missions, the Spanish colonial authorities planned new settlements called reducciones, in which they grouped the local population under their paternalistic tutelage, detaching them from their own territories and customs.

Ile Guam: Travaux d’agriculture ("Guam Island: Agriculture tasks"). (1826)Original Source: Biblioteca Nacional de España

New crops and lanchos

During the colonial period, fishing is displaced by agriculture and livestock in small farms called lanchos. New crops are introduced, such as corn, sweet potatoes or tobacco, draught animals, such as carabao, and agricultural implements made with iron.

Coconut grater, "kamyo". (1886-1887)Original Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología

The versatility of coconut (niyok)

This item is a coconut grater. Among the traditional crops of the islands, coconut stands out, fundamental in gastronomy. The oil is used to hydrate skin and hair, its leaves in basketry and the roof of houses, with the shell containers are made...

"Metate" or "mitati" (1886-1887)Original Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología

The Manila Galleon. Cultural exchanges in the Pacific

The ships of the Manila Galleon called on Guam. What favored an intense transfer of people, objects, products and customs that has left a great mark on the Chamorro culture. An example is the metate, of Mexican origin, which is used to grind corn.

US Marines marching to occupy Hagåtña. (1944)Original Source: Micronesian Seminar

The Marianas, divided

After the defeat in the war of 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the United States. The Northern Marianas came under German and then Japanese rule. In World War II, Guam and the Northern Marianas found itself on opposite sides of a war-not-theirs. 

The Unburdening. (2020) by Melissa TaitanoOriginal Source: Melissa Taitano

Current Chamorro art: identity and global

Currently Guam and the Northern Marianas depend on the United States, although their legal status is different, Guam has less autonomy. The Marianas live a moment of great cultural effervescence. An example is the works of the sculptor Melissa Taitano.

Guam today. (2021) by Rubelita F. TorresOriginal Source: Museum of Guam

Mo'na, the eternal return

BIBA CHAMORU, it ends here, or it begins, it doesn't matter, because for the Chamorro culture time is circular. This idea is expressed by the term mo’na, which refers to both the future and the past, because both times are the same.

Logo of the cycle "Let's Turn Around the World" (2019) by Laura LimónOriginal Source: Museo Nacional de Antropología

Do you want to know the other stops of the cycle?

The Let's turn around the world cycle is made up of the following exhibitions:


1. Rio somos nós!
2. Strait of Magellan: The Water Border
3. Plastic in sight!

BIBA CHAMORU: Culture and identity in Mariana Islands
Credits: Story

BIBA CHAMORU. Culture and identity in the Mariana Islands
(18/11/2021-06/03/2022)

An exhibition organized by Museo Nacional de Antropología and Acción Cultural Española.

In association with: 
Department of Chamorro Affaires
Museum of Guam
University of Guam
Micronesian Area Research Center
Guam Preservation Trust


And with support of: 
Universitat Pompeu Fabra
Universidad Autónoma de Madrid
Archivo del Museo Naval
Museo Naval
Museo de América
Biblioteca Nacional de España

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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