The Island of Guam and Its People
Francis M. Price, Agana, Guam
Missionary of the American Board

The Missionary Review of the World, January 1902, No. 1
Arthur T. Pierson, Editor in Chief
J. T. Gracey, F. B. Meyer, and D. L. Leonard, Associate Editors; D. L. Pierson, Managing Editor
Funk & Wagnalls Company, Publishers. New York (30 Lafayette Place), London (44 Fleet St.)
Printed in the United States

Image of the Cover/Table of Contents, Page 11, Page 12, Page 13, Page 14, Page 15, Page 16, Page 17, Page 18, and Page 19

Page 11

The beautiful island of Guam, the largest of the Ladrone group, has a population of about ten thousand, of which Agana, the capital, has seven thousand. There are two somewhat distinct classes of people here: those of Spanish blood (the so-called high-classed Chamoros), and the common people. The first class furnishes the civil officers of the government and possesses most of the wealth and intelligence, tho a large proportion of the poorer class have each his own home in Agana and a little farm in the hills. The blood of many nationalities flows in their veins, but the Malayan undoubtedly predominates and gives its character to the people. Their faces show them to be a weak race, and while many are pretty few are fine looking. Some of the children are very attractive with their soft black eyes and olive complexions, but one seldom sees a beautiful old man or woman. The iron of the pure Gospel of Christ must be infused into their blood to impart strength to their characters and nobility to their countenances.

The language spoken in Guam is more highly inflected than those of other Micronesian islands. It has personal prefixes and suffixes for the verb, distinct forms for some of the tenses and for the singular and plural of nouns. The Spanish language is used to some extent, and probably one-tenth of the people know enough Spanish for busi-

Page 12

ness purposes and one-tenth of these understand it reasonably well. The vast majority of the people speak only the Chamoro, understanding very few words of Spanish or English. At present every one wants to learn English, and our tongue will doubtless supplant all others in the course of time.

The homes of the people are superior in many respects to those of other Micronesians, but inferior to those of the very poor in America. The small thatch-covered houses are set on posts three or four feet high, which have wooden (often bamboo) sides and floors, and consist of two or three rooms. The better class have stone houses, covered with tile or corrugated iron, many of them are neat and homelike, but are generally destitute of furniture, and suggest anything but comfort. Chairs are unknown and a mat spread on the floor at night serves for a bed. The women do the cooking on mud ranges; they chop their own wood, even going to the hillsides to cut and carry home bundles of sticks on their heads or shoulders. Rice and corn constitute the staple food, with vegetables, fish, and meat for variety.

The Chamoros are inveterate smokers; men, women, and children smoke pipes or, if they can afford it, immense cigars made from the native plant which, judging from the odor, can scarcely rival the Havana. Many of them chew the nut of the areca palm, the betel-nut, which is slightly intoxicating, whose juice, mixed with lime, imparts a reddish color to the lips, and is supposed to add much to their beauty.

The clothing of the people of Guam is simple, and adapted to the climate. For men it consists of white cotton trousers and a blouse worn outside (very neat when clean), and for the women a cotton chemise, a trailing skirt, usually of calico, and a white, thin camise, or overwaist, with low neck and large flowing sleeves. When the women go on the streets in full dress they usually wear a cotton kerchief, folded diagonally, over the shoulders, with the ends crossed and pinned over the breast and another thrown loosely over the head. The well-to-do wear clothing of richer quality. It is hard for the children to get used to the superfluous custom of wearing clothes, and they throw them off and run about naked, in defiance of law, at every opportunity. One little fellow was caught by an office and locked up overnight for venturing too far from home undressed.

Page 13

The Chamoros are a peaceable people, not given to deeds of violence, quarreling little among themselves, and living, for the most part, in separate families. They are kind and generous, given to hospitality, and quick to return favors. When I was visiting a sick man one day I found that he had no proper food, and told him to send his boy over to my house to get a little rice. He immediately turned to the boy and said: “Catch that chicken and take it over with you.” It was the only chicken he had and worth many times the value of the rice. For the most part they are tillers of the soil, but very fond of municipal life, so that farmers will go as far as ten or twelve miles to till their land and return to their homes in the town rather than live in the country. Late Saturday night the men come home, spend Sunday with their families, and are for their ranches before daylight Monday morning.

Most of the women and some of the men go to mass early Sunday morning; the remainder of the Sabbath is given to sports and trading or to the doing of odd jobs. Gambling is a passion with them, and the streets of Agana swarm on Sundays and feast-days with groups of

Page 14

men and boys pitching coppers or larger coins. The natives admit that this is productive of great evil, since it deprives many families of food, and leads men to steal in order to pay gambling debts; but there is no public sentiment against it. Cock-fighting is so prevalent as to be a national sport; it is cruel and demoralizing, restricted but not prohibited by the governor. Drunkenness, so prevalent formerly, is not common here now, and disorderly men, natives or marines, are very seldom seen on the streets. The liquor laws are practically prohibitory, especially for the natives, and no one can get foreign drinks without a permit from the governor. This permit is granted or not at his discretion, after the applicant has sworn that it is for personal use only.

Social life is, as a rule, very unclean, and the sentiment against social sins is abhorrently low. Houses of ill repute abound. One who was in a position to know said: “Parents even in the best families would be glad to give their daughters in temporary marriage to the officers of the navy who are married men for the time of their sojourn here.” Such a thing is not, of course, allowed in our navy. The thirst for white blood has something to do with this, but the sad thing is that public sentiment tolerates it. There are two reasons for this. The large fees demanded for legal marriages, during the Spanish administration, compelled many to live in unlawful wedlock, and thus lawful marriage was lightly esteemed. But much more than the immoral lives of most of the Spanish priests and officers gave a religious sanction to vice. Some of the padres had children by different women in different villages and publicly recognized them. “They told us,” said a Chamorro, “to do as they said and not as they did.”

The religious history of the island is interesting and sadly pathetic. In 1668, Mariana of Austria, Queen Regent of Spain and widow of Philip IV., contributed 25,000 pesos from the public treasury and sent Roman Catholic missionaries to evangelize the Ladrones. Diego Luis de Sanvatores arrived in Guam with six religiosos in 1669, and so vigorously did they prosecute their work that, according to the Spanish historian, “they taught and baptized 6,000 persons during the first

Page 15

year.” Padre Diego was indefatigable in his labors, scarcely giving himself time to eat or sleep, carrying his message into all parts, instructing and baptizing multitudes, especially little children. He was slain after three years by a native chief for baptizing his child without his consent, and was posthumously honored with the title: “The Apostle of the Marianas.” His associates continued the work after his death, and in the course of time all the islanders became Roman Catholics.

Here was a fine opportunity to teach the Chamoros a spiritual religion, the pure Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, and had they done so the subsequent history of the island would have honored the Spanish name; but they chose rather to modify the message and adapt it to the low state of intelligence of the people. The result is a form of heathenism shorn of some of its repulsive features, but still ignorant, false, and degrading. Image and picture worship are now well-nigh universal. In practically every house there is a shrine with an image or picture of Christ and Mary and some of the saints, candles are lighted before them, and prostrations are made precisely as is done in heathen lands. In a little pamplet, the only book yet published in the Chamoro language, instructions are given for a prayer to be recited before the image of a former priest of this island. Mary is more worshiped than Jesus, and in one of their common oaths–they are very profane–they use the names of Jesus, Joseph, and Mary in one breath.

Prayers to the Virgin Mary and other saints, called the “Novena,” are chanted by the women and children (men seldom taking any active part) for nine successive evenings at stated times in given neighborhoods, each successive evening chanting being at a different house. The prayers are in Spanish, and, according to the chanters'

Page 16

own confessions, are not understood by the great majority of those using them. Of singing and prayer as known to Christian people they have little or no conception. The Carmelite Order flourishes here, and belts, blessed by the priest, are worn by nearly all the women and many of the men, with the delusion that if they have them on at death the Virgin Mary will come and take them to heaven. The Virgin Mary is practically looked upon as their savior, and they hope for salvation not because of faith and a righteous life, or even because they try to imitate her virtues, but because of some superstitous meaning attached to a material object connected with her which the priest has blessed (for a consideration).

How can such people be moral? The fact is they are not moral in any strict sense of that word. Necessarily religion is divorced from morality, and with few exceptions the natives are liars and thieves, low in their social ideas and practises, in mortal dread of ghosts and the devil, and devoid of any of the comforts and restraints of a personal religious life.

Enough has been said to show that, whatever may be said in favor of the Roman Catholic Church, it is not truly and thoroughly Christian, and has utterly failed to lead the people to an intelligent knowledge of God and a faithful following of His Son. The Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ as taught by Him, and interpreted, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, by an intelligent and faithful study of the Holy Scriptures, and preached by Spirit-filled missionaries, has been and is still the “power of God unto salvation” of the people of other islands of the Pacific, turning them from darkness to light,

Page 17

purifying and elevating social and family life, and creating a public sentiment such as is found in Christian communities all over the world. Christ alone can purify the heart.

There is evidence that not all the people of Guam have been satisfied with the spiritual food they have received; they have been hungry for better things. Prior to 1850 Bibles had been brought here, nobody knows how, possibly by whaling ships, and found their way into a few families, and were read with eagerness by the more earnest men. People long deprived of the Word of God, when once they have tasted of this Bread of Life, hunger for more, and usually are eager to have their friends partake-like other good things that are more enjoyed when shared with others. The reading of the Bible spread among the people, and finally knowledge of this reached the priest's ear; then priest and ruler combined to stop it. Diligent search was made for the bibles, and three large baskets of them were publicly burned in the plaza about 1856. Some successfully hid their Bibles and have them still. One remarkable man, José Taitano, who has been reading the Book of books for many years, was long ago convinced that there was a better way than that he had learned from the priests, but he was perplexed. The government and the Church were against him, and it was a public misdemeanor to disobey the orders of the priests. So he waited and did nothing, only he discarded the grosser superstitions, such as the wearing of Carmelite belts and other charms and amulets, and hoped and prayed for deliverance. There may have been others like him, but for the most part the people had

Page 18

yielded to the inevitable, and remained subject to the priest and ruler, thinking there was no eye to pity and no arm to save.

On June 24, 1898, the Charleston took possession of Guam for the United States, and the death-knell for political oppression and religious stultification was sounded. God's eye had pitied and His arm had brought salvation. Two natives of Guam who had lived many years in the United States and Honolulu, and had become earnest Christians, Joe and Luis Castino, when they heard that deliverance had come to their people, were moved to return to their native island and tell the “old, old story.” On their arrival Mr. Taitano welcomed them, and with his large family of six girls and four boys openly united with them. The priest threatened them, telling them that they were still under Spanish law, and would be punished as soon as the Americans left. But the Americans did not leave, and opposition only made these men more earnest. A daughter of Luis Castino, an earnest Christian of strong character, who had been well educated in the Honolulu schools, opened a school for teaching English, and has prosecuted her work with great patience, energy, and success. She is a good musician, and by playing the organ renders valuable assistance at the religious services.

Major Kelton, of the Marine Corps, associated with Governor Leary during his term of office, conducted services for the marines and natives, first at the barracks and later at a private house. He did much to encourage and strengthen the little band of believers. He was transferred before the missionaries arrived on the field, but sent a letter, which they received at Honolulu, expressing joy that they were coming and regret that he could not be at hand to welcome them.

On November 27, 1900, the first American Protestant missionaries arrived in Guam, and found this little company of twelve Christians. Governor Schroeder, whose family joined him at that time, had been attending the evening services with these simple worshipers, and he and his family have been regular attendants at the Sunday evening services and mid-week meetings ever since. The governor is not the reconstructionist and reformer that Governor Leary was, but

Page 19

is a better ruler. He is deeply interested in the welfare of the people, just and honorable in the administration of his office, and of high character both in private and public life. He is a kind man, and beloved by the people.

Offices and a few of the marines also attend the evening services, and the number of the Chamoros is increasing. A young people's society, embracing in its membership all the Protestant Christians on the island who desire to identify themselves with Christian work, holds a meeting every Sunday evening. Some of these give conclusive evidence that they have been born again.

Our difficulty now is to find a room large enough for our services. There is no available place in Agana for such services, and we await only the gift of some on interested in the Lord's work here to enable us to purchase land and build a chapel. Our room is overcrowded and very uncomfortable in this warm climate. Many stand out on the street and listen to the singing, but we can not invite them in because there is no room.

It seems to us that no people, even in the untouched islands of the Carolines, ever needed the Gospel more than these people do. The American Board is seeking to give them the Gospel, and by the side of the American flag to plant the blood-stained banner of the Son of God.

[Photograph, page 12: Chamorro Mothers and Children]

[Photograph, page 13: Some Native Schoolboys in Guam]

[Photograph, page 14: Chamorro Children-Dressed]

[Photograph, page 15: Chamorro of the Better Class]

[Photograph, page 16: Building Used for Protestant Services in Guam]

[Photograph, page 17: Where the Protestant Services are Held in Guam]

[Photograph, page 18: Governor Schroeder, Guam]


Note 1: The photographs will be added as they become available.

Note 2: Francis Marion Price on why he wrote “Chamorro” as “Chamoro”:

‘The Chamoros are the natives of the islands. In this word the "o"s have the long sound and the accent is on the penult. The Spanish spelled this word with two "r"s but as there seems to be no reason for this we shall spell it as above.’ (Francis Marion Price to Judson Smith, D.D., Letter dated December 19, 1900, Papers of the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions, Micronesia Mission, 1900-1909).

Note 3: José Taitano's full name is José Mendiola Taitano. He was an Associate Justice of the Court of Appeals (1901-1905) in Guam. See Obituaries: José Mendiola Taitano, The Guam Recorder, March 1934, Number 120, pages 206-207, Agaña, Guam, Marianas Islands:

Note 4: American Board is American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

Note 5: Agana is Agaña

The Chamorro Bible In Print

Photograph accompanying Manguaguan na Palabran Si Yuus - God's Precious WordsManguaguan na Palabran Si Yuus – God's Precious Words
With the Photograph of the Day

The Great Earthquake and Catastrophic Tsunami of 2004
The Spectacular Clouds of the Transonic Flight Regime  ·  Francis Marion Price (1850-1937)  ·  The 1908 Chamorro Bible in Audio  ·  Chamorro Language Resources  ·  Acknowledgements  ·  ISLES, Spring 2003, Special Issue: The Resurrection of the (1908) Chamorro Bible  ·  Chamorro Bible Project  ·  Announcements  ·  Download