By Betty Gordon
© 2018 text and photos. All rights reserved.
This is the 11th in a series about my March 2018 trip to Guam, and Okinawa and Tokyo, Japan. See my April 1 discussion of Navy man George Tweed’s ability to elude capture by Japanese soldiers for more than two years on Guam in World War II; April 8 about Okinawan food specialties, and visits to a market and area known for its pottery; April 15 about the sinking of Japan’s Tsushima Maru and the deaths of hundreds of schoolchildren during WWII; April 29 about photographing newlyweds after their Shinto ceremony; May 14 about the WWII destruction of Shurijo Castle; May 21 about making soba noodles from scratch at a cooking class in Naha; June 16 about Peace Memorial Park, a former WWII battlefield and now a sprawling complex that commemorates the Battle of Okinawa; June 27 about the sister cities of Naha, Okinawa and Fuzhou, China and their shared bond celebrated at Fukushuen Garden; July 22 about the former Japanese Navy Underground Headquarters in Okinawa; and August 15 about WWII-related sites on Guam.
Long before there was a light-filled, purpose-built museum, the dream of a permanent place to honor and explore the history, art and culture of the Chamorro people of Guam had taken hold.
As early as 1926, local physician and teacher Ramon Sablan was encouraging friends and residents to start putting aside the artifacts they found around the Pacific island related to the indigenous Chamorros, and suggesting that a museum would one day house items such as fishhooks, pottery, latte stones (pillars), tools and much more.
The number of artifacts grew through the decades — some were stored for a time at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu, Hawaii — and were displayed at a wide variety of locations, weathering disasters man-made (World War II) and natural (typhoons).
Finally, in 2005, a task force moved ahead to plan the construction of a facility for a collection that now numbered about 250,000 artifacts, photographs and documents. A foundation also helped propel the building closer to reality, but it still took until 2014 for construction to begin in Hagåtña, Guam’s capital, with funding from a $27 million bond issue.
Island-born architects Andrew T. Laguaña and Enrico Cristobal were chosen in 2006 to proceed with their design. Laguaña, with degrees from Iowa State University and the University of California at Berkeley, is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects — the first Chamorro to gain this distinction. Cristobal is also a member of AIA. (The former partners have separate firms now.)
The museum, which opened in November 2016 at Skinner Plaza, is across from the Plaza de España, site of the brief (and only) battle between the badly outnumbered Chamorro Insular Force Guard against the Japanese invasion of December 10, 1941, during World War II (see my previous post).
It’s also kitty-corner from the Dulce Nombre de Maria Cathedral Basilica, the first Catholic church on Guam, dating to the late 1660s. The current building was erected 1955-59, replacing the church that was destroyed by shelling in WWII.
The facade of the Guam Museum features two upright facing pages of an open book — signifying that this is a place of learning and education — joined by a central 65-foot cutout canopy that shades the upper level atrium.
This concrete arch is based on a Chamorro “sling stone,” an oval rock of basalt or coral, used in hunting or warfare. (The outline of the Great Seal of Guam also mimics the shape of a sling stone. The seal features a palm tree anchored on a sandy beach, a speedy proa on the ocean and a land mass in the background.)
Depending on the time of day, square- or diamond-shaped shadows are cast onto the floor, as if light were shining through a jungle tree canopy, a tribute to the island’s untamed natural environment. The openness also signals the hospitality of the Chamorro people.
The words displayed on the right facade page (as you face the building) were uttered by the great chief Hurao, a Chamorro who rallied thousands of his people in the 1670s against Spanish missionaries.
Hurao was captured and released, but at a meeting to discuss peace in May 1672, the chief was killed, shot in the back by a Spanish soldier.
First in the Chamorro language, then below in English, the words read: “Satisfied with what our islands furnish us, we desire nothing else. We are stronger than we think! We must regain our former freedom.”
Jesuit Diego Luis de San Vitores (1627-1672) was the first missionary to arrive in 1668, and he died four years later, according to Spanish accounts, after baptizing the sick daughter of chief Matå‘pang against his wishes. Outraged, Matå’pang drafted a warrior to kill San Vitores.
A clash of cultures, competing religious influences and encroaching colonial subjugation begat the drawn-out, intermittent Spanish-Chamorro War.
The fighting continued into the 1680s, with the Chamorros eventually vanquished and the Spanish in control until their defeat in the Spanish-American War in 1898, when Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines were ceded to the United States.
Two similar statues stand in front of the museum, each dressed in a loincloth and his hair pulled into a topknot, a style known far and wide in the Pacific islands, all the way to Easter Island (aka Rapa Nui) off the coast of Chile.
I sent an email to the museum, asking if these were specific historical figures, but did not receive an answer. I’ll update this post if I hear back later.
When I visited, a temporary exhibit (since closed) called “Treasures of Festpac,” the Festival of Pacific Arts, was mounted. Held every four years, the gathering showcases traditional, literary, visual and performing arts of Pacific islanders, with workshops and seminars discussing such topics as indigenous language and genealogy.
For the 14-day May-June 2016 celebration in Guam, the theme was “What we own, what we have, what we share — United Voices of the Pacific.” More than 3,000 delegates representing 24 nations and territories, from American Samoa to Wallis and Futuna (an overseas territory of France, west of Samoa), took part.
(The first festival was held in 1972 in Suva, Fiji. The next one is scheduled for June 11-27, 2020, in Hawaii. “Take hold of the steering paddle” is the theme.)
The exhibit was marvelously colorful and diverse, spanning such creative arts as: a carved wooden paddle with eyes and petroglyph replicas, from Rapa Nui; clay-figure columns sprouting human heads and faces, from New Zealand; wall-size, vegetable-dyed woven bark cloth, from Fiji; large, laced-together bamboo pan pipes, from the Solomon Islands; and lots of photographs of traditionally dressed dance troupes and other artisans at work during the festival.
A carved “unity project” paid tribute to the host island, in the form of individually decorated lattes, an architectural element some believe is unique to the Mariana Islands. Chamorros used these capstoned pillars (not unlike the shape of mushrooms but with much thicker “stems”) sometimes as tall as seven feet and positioned in parallel rows, to form building supports, upon which a steep, thatch-roofed living space was lashed.
The latte icon is widely seem around Guam, and nowadays signifies strength and a connection to Chamorro history.
This seemed to be the only exhibit to explore when I was there. According to the website, “I Hinanao-Ta Nu Manaotao Tåno’-I CHamoru Siha: The Journey of the CHamoru People,” a permanent exhibit, opened in May. (CHamoru is the indigenous spelling, yes with a capital H.)
I watched a YouTube short, in which a camera tours what looks to be a very interesting and informative exhibit, a long time in the making.
(Gentle aside: Nothing about the contents of the exhibit is on the website. I’m hoping that in the near future, viewers will be able to see some of the artifacts and learn about the history.)
The museum has a 156-seat theater and the capacity to screen films for public gatherings in the rear expansive outdoor space, also suitable for concerts. Its museum shop stocks books, island-crafted goods (i.e. jewelry, carvings and cards) and the usual T-shirts and tote bags. A very small cafe also highlights locally made products.
The official name is the Senator Antonio M. Palomo Guam Museum and Chamorro Educational Facility, though I doubt many call it that on a regular basis. Senator Palomo, a politician, historian, journalist and author, was also a former administrator (1995-2007) of the Guam Museum before it occupied its striking new home.
Quick reference: Senator Antonio M. Palomo Guam Museum and Chamorro Educational Facility: Open 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. daily, closed Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas. Closes 3 p.m. Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve. Free to enter, but $20 suggested donation, adults, for the main exhibition. Guam residents with ID: $15 adults, $10 seniors over 55, $2 students 5 to 17, free under 4. 193 Chalan Santo Papa Juan Pablo Dos, Hagåtña, Guam. guammuseum.org