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              The People of Guam

    The indigenous people of Guam are the Chamoru people and their language is the Chamoru language. Approximately 40% of Guam's population is Chamoru, another third is Filipino, and the rest are a mixture of Statesiders, Koreans, Chinese, Japanese, Vietnamese, and Micronesians such as Palauans, Marshallese and people from the Federated States of Micronesia. 
    The Chamoru language is an Austronesian language closely related to Malay and Tagalog. Because of Guam's long occupancy by first the Spanish and then the Americans, Chamoru has a lot of Spanish and English loan words. Many common words are of Spanish origin, and this had led people to believe erroneously that Chamoru is just some kind of Spanish dialect or pidgin. But the Chamoru language's grammatical structure and the majority of its lexical items are Austronesian and not European. One unusual feature of the language is that accented syllables are spoken at a lower voice pitch than other syllables. This is the opposite of what we do in English and most other languages, where the pitch of the voice rises when we accent a  syllable. This characteristic of Chamoru gives the language a distinctive lyrical quality that speakers can use to great effect, especially when being ironic.
    You may be wondering if it is possible to get around on Guam without knowing any of the Chamoru language. You can, because English as well as Chamoru are official languages of Guam, and English is universally spoken. However, it is courteous and respectful to learn at least some basic Chamoru if you plan on spending any time here. 
    All people of Guam are called Guamanians, whatever their ethnic origin. Do not make the mistake of calling us "Guamians." People here get really touchy about that! 

Guam Pastimes

    I think it is safe to say that the most popular Guam pastime is the fiesta. Fiestas are feasts, held outdoors, to which everyone on Guam is invited. It is impossible to crash a fiesta because you will be welcomed by the hosts even if they don't know who you are. However, if you do attend a fiesta, it is a courtesy to bring with you a contribution such as drinks, a food item, or paper products. When you leave, you will be invited to take a plate full of food with you. 
    Fiestas are held for any and all reasons: birthdays, political rallies, funerals, graduations, novenas, christenings, new house, family reunions and so on. Whole villages hold fiestas on their church's saint's feast day. 
    Fiestas are the best places to sample Chamoru cuisine. There is always rice, both white rice and the more festive red rice. Red rice is cooked with achote, a seedpod that gives the rice a subtle flavor and its distinctive color. There are usually flour tortillas and corn tortillas, cut into little triangles, and if you're really, really lucky, someone will have made fadang tortillas. These are made of flour from ground-up cycad seeds. The seeds are poisonous, and the flour must be leached and rinsed several times to get the poison out. Most people these days don't have the patience to make this, but it is delicious! 

    There should also be breadfruit, boiled in coconut milk. Breadfruits are big, green lumpy things that grow on large and magnificent trees with huge, complex leaves. I am told that here in the Pacific islands, the breadfruit leaf is a symbol of life. The breadfruit tree produces both a male and a female fruit. It is the starchy, fibrous white inside of the female fruit that is cooked for the fiesta. It resembles potato slightly, and has a mild flavor and a lovely texture. 
    Usually one has several types of barbecued meat, especially chicken, and some fish in one form or another. At a really big, fancy fiesta, there might be a whole roast pig. There will also be kelaguen, usually chicken kelaguen. This is made of raw or cooked chicken marinated in soy sauce, lemon juice and boonie peppers. If you are really, really, really lucky, someone will have made octopus kelaguen. Heavenly stuff! 
    There will be salads of the usual varieties (macaroni, potato and so on), and dinner rolls. And desserts, usually of a large variety, and maybe some soup. My number one favorite is a sweet coconut soup called ahu.
    Aside from food, fiestas usually have music if the purpose is happy, or a service if the fiesta is associated with a wake, or speeches if the fiesta is part of a political rally. There will be lots of little kids running around, and dogs chewing on chicken bones or anything else they can get. People take turns swishing flies away from the food with paper plates. People stand around eating, chatting and laughing. Children greet their elders with a kiss of respect, and mothers pass their babies around. Sometimes the host will bring out a karaoke machine. That's when I leave!


        Another favorite Guam pastime is politics. Elections here are hot, intense, close-up and personal. Guam gets the best voter turn-out in the United States.  In a population the size of Guam's, about 160,000 people, you are bound to know at least some of the candidates personally. If you don't know the candidate, you probably know the spouse, a child, a sibling, a parent, or a neighbor. And if you don't know the candidate, it is very easy to meet him or her -- just go to any fiesta or funeral during election time and you'll get to meet lots of politicians! 

    The politicians plaster the island with signs and bumper stickers. People mount huge billboards in the back of their pickup trucks, and loudspeakers blare out cheesy campaign songs. The politicians hold "waves" in which they and their supporters occupy a busy street corner and wave as people drive by during rush hour. People honk their horns and wave back. Then there are motorcades, long lines of cars covered with posters that form parades that can be miles long. They drive by slowly, while the people in the cars honk and wave.  These motorcades encourage and enliven the candidate's supporters and infuriate the candidate's opponents. When your own candidate has a motorcade, it is a measure of the level of support for him or her. When the other candidate has a motorcade, it's a nuisance that interferes with the flow of traffic. During an election, there are endless rallies, fundraisers and fiestas. The tensions build, the radio talk shows are full of hot talk, and the newspaper is plastered with full-page ads featuring lots of mud-slinging and posturing. Finally it is election day. All around the polling places, the candidates set up tents full of food, signs and supporters. All day long, candidates drift through the tents, kissing people and shaking hands, trying not to get fed yet more food, and hoping to snag a few last-minute votes. Sometimes a few fights break out. You can't buy alcohol on election days, but people know this, so they stock up the day before. After the polls close, people stay up to watch the returns on TV.  It takes the next year to recover, and then it starts all over again because elections happen every two years.

    Another major Guam pastime is going to K-Mart. They say that our K-Mart is the biggest one in the world. I don't think they're referring to floor space, but to volumes of sales. K-Mart is adored here because they really brought prices down on the island when they opened a few years ago. They have so much stuff that you can't get anywhere else on Guam, like women's clothing larger that size 8. They also have a large cafeteria which becomes a hot hang-out in the evenings.  K-Mart's parking lot is full from morning to late evenings when they close.

    Other Guam pastimes include hanging out at the beach, driving around in oddly modified pickup trucks, cockfighting, hauling sand in one's pickup truck, burning trash, and painting non-moving objects with the reigning governor's campaign colors. 

by Brenna Lorenz and Mike Pulte.


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