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Spain in Guam – Part 1

July 28, 2011
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There’s quite a bit of history on Guam predating World War II.

Guam’s Western history began in 1521 when Ferdinand Magellan landed on Guam at Umatac, as this obelisk commemorates.

Shortly thereafter, Guam became the maritime equivalent of a truck stop in the Spanish Empire – a provisioning point for ships sailing between Acapulco to the east and the Philippines to the west.  Ships passed through infrequently – sometimes with years between stops – for the next 147 years.

Here’s where I have trouble with the story, and have held off on posting up Spanish history…

In 1668, Padre Diego Luis de San Vitores, a Jesuit priest, landed on Guam with the express purpose of converting the Chamorro to Christianity.

Padre San Vitores accomplished his task through a process known as reduccion.  Complete conversion of indigenous populations was the goal.  Forts were built to enforce the rule of law – along with churches.

Remnants of the process speak out to us from across the centuries – a lookout tower here,

Fort blockouse walls there,

The ruins of an early church in the background.

The reason I struggle with the story is the Chamorro who met Magellan and San Vitores were described as giants – nearly a foot taller than the Spaniards, brown and muscled with good teeth.  According to The History of The Marianas Islands to Partition, there were approximately 30,000 Chamorro on Guam when the Padre landed; 70 years later there were less than 1300.

The remaining Chamorro tend to be short and dental health is less than optimal…but….the island is proud to be 97% Catholic.

So – Padre San Vitores accomplished his mission – one he felt strongly about, so strongly he gave his life for it in 1572 while baptizing a chief’s daughter without the chief’s consent. The Chief’s name?  Mata’Pang.

Fast forward 300+ years.

The Spanish are over a century gone.  The faith remains – and quite frankly, bonds communities together.

The monuments of the past, however, seem much like this bridge spanning a nonexistent river.

Context, meaning and purpose lost in modern times; reduced to transient tourist attractions and photo ops.

More on that next time.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 28, 2011 2:26 am

    Assimilation or death …. A repetitive tradition in history. Will mankind ever learn?

    • dangerboyandpixie permalink*
      July 28, 2011 2:58 am

      We have Charlemagne to thank for European Christianity – so history would say not so much.

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