U.S. Naval Administration, 1898-941

Photo Content: Ranch house in a field Photo-Caption by photographer Nelson: “Ranch house surrounded by rice paddies and corn field. Not the bicycle suspended under the projecting thatch roof, and the hand-net for fishing put out to dry.”[1]Lt. Frederick J. Nelson Papers, MSS 920, Ricard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam.

As a result of the Spanish-American War of 1898, Guåhan became a United States possession. The island served as a strategic location, allowing U.S. forces to monitor foreign economic and military activity in the region. Essentially a naval base and coaling station, Guåhan was administered by a naval governor with both civic and military responsibilities. At the time, both the American and global community watched with close eyes as to whether the U.S.’s newly acquired territories would be burdensome on the treasury and the nation as a whole. Thus, one of the top priorities of the colonial government was to make Guåhan and the other colonies economically self-sustaining.[2]Anthony Leon Guerrero, “The Economic Development of Guam,” Kinalamten Pulitikåt: Siñenten I Chamorro/Issues in Guam’s Political Development in the Chamorro Perspective, Hale’-ta series … Continue reading Like their colonial predecessors, U.S. officials believed in developing the agricultural industry. Copra became a chief export product since 1915 and was exported to the U.S. and Japan.[3]Christine Bucayu-Laurent and James R. Hollyer, “Some History and Trends of Agriculture on Guam: Data from the U.S. Census of Agriculture and Other Sources, 1920-2007,” Agricultural Data 01 (July … Continue reading

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Photo Content: A woman climbing a tree to pick coconuts. Photo Caption by photographer Nelson: “The ranch girls are as expert as the boys in climbing these 40 feet trees, and the milk of a young green coconut is considered a delicacy well worth the exertion of obtaining it.”[4]Lt. Frederick J. Nelson Papers, MSS 920, Ricard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam.
From the Collection of the Guam Public Library System
Two Chamorro men posed for camera. Photo Caption by photographer Nelson: “These men always wear a machete at the hips are barefooted or wear simple leather sandals, and carry woven baskets and bamboo buckets (bung-bung) in which tuba is collected. They carry a cold lunch of rice and fish with them, and then fill the basket with fruit, vegetables or eggs when they return to the village at sunset. Rainwater, tuba, or the milk of green coconuts is drink during the day.”[5]Lt. Frederick J. Nelson Papers, MSS 920, Ricard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, University of Guam.

Before it could hit the ground running, the naval government addressed what it felt were obstacles to the colonial project. This included clarifying land titles, re-distributing land, and implementing a new tax system.[6]Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall, 120. Native farmers were also encouraged to transition from subsistence farming to commercial farming so that food surpluses could provision ships or be exported to turn a profit. Furthermore, the naval government attempted to impose a more regimented schedule as the indigenous temporal schema dictated when and where things were to be planted.[7]Elyssa Santos, “Practicing Economy: Chamorro Agency and U.S. Colonial Agricultural Projects, 1898-1941” (MA Thesis, University of Hawai’i, 2018), 36-27. Colonial agents also discouraged chenchule’ exchanges of food stuffs as this was thought to be squandered economic opportunity and to reinforce a system of peonage tolerated under the Spanish.[8]Santos, “Practicing Economy”, 43-44.

Experiment Station, Piti, 1918. From the Collection of the Guam Public Library System
From the Collection of the Guam Public Library System

A series of colonial agricultural projects were eventually established. Under the Department of Agriculture, the Agricultural Experiment Station conducted biological control research and farm demonstrations as well as supervised youth agricultural clubs. Any data gathered on local farming methods, farm outputs, or experiments were recorded and sent off island to be published in pamphlets later distributed to the stations across the continent and in the colonies.[9]Ibid., 62-67. Some setbacks to this project on Guåhan included the fact that surveys distributed among local farmers were not always accessible to the illiterate farmer and the lack of consistent data on methods and production quantities depended on multiple factors from a farmer’s economic class, farming preferences, or family dynamic.

The Farmers’ Market was another project reinvigorated from the previous administration. Located in Agaña, it was a space intended to encourage the use of American currency and the teaching of western economic values and practices to the public.[10]Ibid., 44. Farmers from all parts of the island were to bring their produce, fish, or livestock to market and abide by the prices set by naval administrators. The market was met with earlier resistance, however, simply because of the practicality of producing surplus foods.[11]Ibid, 44-48. Commercial farming required labor and resources beyond the means of those who lived subsistence lifestyles. Any surplus food produced was normally bartered to avoid spoilage or given away to fulfill social obligations. Some farmers avoided participating simply because of the distance and time it took to travel to Agaña by bull cart.

From the Collection of the Guam Public Library System
From the Collection of the Guam Public Library System

The market was eventually welcomed by those who considered it a social hub – a place to reconnect with family living in other parts of the island, catch up on gossip, and even criticize the colonial government.[12]Ibid. Some resorted back to bartering due to the lack of American currency that circulated in the economy. CHamorus vendors continued to uphold and prioritize social relationships rather than have this be dictated by imposed price listings and profit. Arguably, the farmers market became indigenized, operating according to kustumbren CHamoru and not necessarily in line with the blueprint imposed by the naval government.

The colonial government was presented with several roadblocks to their development projects. For one, the events of World War I loomed in the first decade of the naval administration on Guåhan. A campaign was launched to increase concern over food supplies, however, the general population was preoccupied with recovering from an influenza epidemic and typhoon destruction in 1918.[13]Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall, 141. American officials also grew skeptical of the increasing Japanese presence on and around the island. Japanese merchants continued to dominate local business and bought up large tracts of land from indebted or tax delinquent CHamoru families. Eventually, the navy prohibited the purchase of land to aliens and established other local competitors to grow profitable crops such as copra.[14]Rogers, Destiny’s Landfall, 121 & 125. The alert for potential war continued to generate debate over whether Guåhan was worth keeping and fortifying, or simply becoming a liability. This inevitably affected funding for colonial projects on Guåhan which would have supplied the Department of Agriculture with adequate staff, supplies, and manpower.[15]Santos, “Practicing Economy”, 73-77. Left defenseless, Guåhan was invaded by Japanese forces in 1941 following an evacuation of American personnel and their families.

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