Early Guam History

Guam prior to European contact

Chief Gadao is featured in many legends about Guam before European colonization.

Migrations

It is believed that Guam was first discovered by seafaring people who migrated from Southeast Asia around 2000 BC.

The original inhabitants of Guam are believed to be descendants of Austronesian people originating from Southeast Asia as early as 2000 BC, having linguistic and cultural similarities to Malaysia, Indonesia, and the Philippines. These people evolved into the Chamorro people. They flourished as an advanced, horticultural and hunting society. They were expert seafarers and skilled craftsmen familiar with intricate weaving and detailed pottery who built unique houses and canoes suited to this region of the world.[1]

Most of what is known about Pre-Contact (“Ancient”) Chamorros comes from legends and myths, archaeological evidence, Jesuit missionary accounts, and observations from visiting scientists like Otto von Kotzebue and Louis de Freycinet.

Ancient Chamorro society

When Europeans first arrived on Guam, Chamorro society roughly fell into three classes: matao (upper class), achaot (middle class), and mana’chang (lower class). The matao were located in the coastal villages, which meant they had the best access to fishing grounds while the mana’chang were located in the interior of the island. Matao and mana’chang rarely communicated with each other, and matao often used achaot as a go-between.

There were also “makhanas” (shamans) and “suruhanus” (herb doctors), skilled in healing and medicine.[2]Belief in spirits of ancient Chamorros called Taotao Mona still persists as remnant of pre-European society. Early European explorers noted the Chamorros’ fast sailing vessels used for trading with other islands of Micronesia.

Latte

The “latte stones” familiar to Guam residents and visitors alike were in fact a recent development in Pre-Contact Chamorro society. The latte stone consists of a head and a base shaped out of limestone. Like the Easter Island statues, there is plenty of speculation over how this was done by a society without machines or metal, but the generally accepted view is that the head and base were etched out of the ground by sharp adzes and picks (possibly with the use of fire), and carried to the assembly area by an elaborate system of ropes and logs. The latte stone was used as a part of the raised foundation for a magalahi (matao chief) house, although they may have also been used for canoe sheds.

Archaeologists using carbon-dating have broken Pre-Contact Guam (i.e. Chamorro) history into three periods: “Pre-Latte” (BC 2000? to AD 1) “Transitional Pre-Latte” (AD 1 to AD 1000), and “Latte” (AD 1000 to AD 1521). Archaeological evidence also suggests that Chamorro society was on the verge of another transition phase by 1521, as latte stones became bigger.

Assuming the stones were used for chiefly houses, it can be argued that Chamorro society was becoming more stratified, either from population growth or the arrival of new people. The theory remains tenuous, however, due to lack of evidence, but if proven correct, will further support the idea that Pre-Contact Chamorros lived in a vibrant and dynamic environment.

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