Spanish Colonial Period

The Spanish colonial presence (1668-1898) led to dramatic changes in land tenure and agriculture on Guåhan. Following the CHamoru-Spanish Wars, CHamorus were relocated from the northern Marianas islands to Rota and Guåhan, the latter island being the site of colonial headquarters. This attempt was known as the Reduccion, a Jesuit policy intended to facilitate the religious conversion of CHamorus to Catholicism. The policy called for native settlement into restructured villages now centered around the Church.

From the collection of the Guam Public Library System

Unlike other cases of colonialism, Guåhan and the other islands of the Marianas were not colonized purely out of motive for local resource extraction. Spanish settlement was initiated as a result of the religious zeal of one man – Jesuit missionary Luis Diego de San Vitores. On account of its size and the Spaniards’ unfamiliarity with its bounty, Guåhan was considered to be resource-poor in comparison to Spain’s colonies in the Americas. Thus, the island did not attract a large number of settlers for agricultural exploitation nor did the CHamorus endure the same form of land alienation suffered by the indigenous peoples of the Americas. [1]Robert Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall A History of Guam (Honolulu: University of Hawai’i Press, 2011), 69-70.

Following the CHamoru-Spanish Wars, all land essentially belonged to the Crown, but was eventually divided up into parcels granted to the Church and private landowners. Soldiers, along with CHamoru allies who fought during the uprisings, were given lots as rewards in exchange for their loyalty. Members of the CHamoru elite eventually married Spanish, Mexican, and Filipino settlers, bearing a generation of mestizo elite known as the peninsulares. Over time, twelve families among the peninsulares grew increasingly influential. They were referred to as the mana’kilo’, meaning ‘high people’, and maintained control over the largest tracts of land. [2]Ibid.

To maintain their image and status apart from the lower classes of society, the elite socially isolated themselves within the capital of Hagåt-ña. Outlying villages called pueblos were home to predominantly indigenous communities – referred to as indios or Marianoswho either worked their own pieces of retained clan land or land leased to them from mana’kilo’ families. Others worked the crown lands in each pueblo which included the estancias – government farms overseen by village authorities of Spanish or mestizo blood. Under the Laws of the Indies, CHamorus were not required to pay taxes yet had to compensate through a labor tax known as the polo system. Their labor was often required for government projects to include general maintenance of village infrastructure and the estancias.

First to arrive on the scene, Jesuit missionaries were the first to initiate changes to local farming methods. [3]Workman, Workman, and Artero, “A Chronological History of Agriculture,” 2. In addition to introducing foreign crops such as tomatoes, tobacco, and pineapple, the Jesuits introduced the carabao from the Philippines to encourage agricultural production on a larger scale. Deer, chickens, and hogs were also brought into Guåhan as the missionaries encouraged animal husbandry. Such agricultural activities continued until the expulsion of the Jesuits in the late 1700s.

From the collection of the Guam Public Library System

Further introduction of other crops and livestock to Guåhan was facilitated by two periods of trade in the region. [4]Ibid., 2-3. The galleon trade era took place from the 1500s to roughly 1815, transforming Guåhan into an essential stopover for ships enroute to Manila, Phillippines from Acapulco, Mexico. During the whaling era of the 1800s, Guåhan became a port of call in the western Pacific. Supply ships from Manila occasionally made the journey to Guåhan and included plants and animals among its cargo. Ornamentals along with fruits and vegetables were eventually introduced to include corn, papaya, tapioca, sweet potatoes, coffee, mangoes, cocoa, tangantangan and peppers. Åtes, camachiles, talisay, bilibines, guava, coffee, cacao, reeds, sugar cane, arrowroot, achiote and other spices were also grown.

Several factors prevented agricultural productivity at the scale envisioned by the Spanish missionaries and colonial governors. For one, wildlife thwarted crop production. Insects, in addition to snakes and rats brought in from ships, frequently destroyed crops. Ibid. In 1830, Don Francisco Ramon de Villalobos attributed rats to the destruction of corn, requiring that it be harvested at an earlier time. Tropical storms also devastated the island, creating food scarcity. To combat this, attempts were made to cultivate the Cycas circinalis (fading or federico) which, after stripping it of its poisonous properties, was considered to be a source of food during times of famine. CHamorus were noted to be the only Micronesian islanders to use this plant as a source of food. [5]Ibid.

In addition to these factors, the dominant narrative identifies the indigenous population as a main hindrance to agricultural productivity. CHamorus are often depicted as either too lazy or too ignorant to develop the industry or to comprehend how their labor and products contributed to the imperial economy at large. [6]Levesque, History of Micronesia, vol. 19, 394. During his term (1884-1887), Governor Francisco Olive y Garcia stated, “It is shameful to say that only with great difficulty is sufficient food found – a serious problem requiring a daily solution. Although prices are high, there are no chickens, no eggs, no hogs, no lard, no vegetables, no greens, no corn. Yet on these islands there are more than enough ranches to meet the land.” [7]Workman, Workman, and Artero, “A Chronological History of Agriculture,” 3.

Other sources attribute the “failing” agricultural industry to a decrease in monetary provisions from the Philippines. In the early 1800s, for example, Guam saw a 60% decrease in its annual pesos allotment – 20,000 to 8,000.[8]Ibid.  Other sources take into account the corrupt nature of certain Spanish governors who exploited the population and abused their power to control trade with galleon ships.[9]Francis X. Hezel S.J. “From Conquest to Colonization: Spain in the Marianas, 1690-1740.” Journal of Pacific History, Vol. 23 (1988): 137-155. Some governors sought to line their pockets through monitoring the production and sale of local food items and inflating the prices of imported goods.

The idea that Guam is incapable of being “self-sustaining” or “self-supporting” is a recurring notion in the canon and thus deeper investigation is required of the economic conditions within each colonial context. If we are to analyze this solely in terms of monetary input and output of the industry, we must consider that the great majority of the people living in the pueblos were relatively disconnected from the economic activities of the governor and the business elite. CHamorus lived subsistence lifestyles on their ranches which not only provided them with sustenance, but with the means to fulfill their social obligations and escape the colonial gaze in the towns. They remained resilient despite their colonial circumstances and challenges to their political and food sovereignty.

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