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A historical overview of agriculture on Guåhan

The CHamorus, the indigenous people of the Marianas Islands, first migrated from Island Southeast Asia roughly 4,000 years ago. A second wave of migrants arrived approximately 1,000 years ago, bringing with them knowledge of latte architecture and rice cultivation. Ancient CHamorus were skilled fishers and horticulturalists, adapting to their new environments and transplanting the foods that sustained them in their places of origin. 

Since the Guåhan and Marianas archipelago was peopled 4000 years ago, the CHamoru people enjoyed an abundance of food, such as wild fruits, vegetables, and seafood. CHamoru were skilled fisherman and advanced farmers. They had rich agricultural knowledge and techniques to grow coconuts, taro, breadfruit and rice, which were passed down from generation to generation.

From 1898-1941, the United States Navy wanted to make Guåhan an economically self-sustaining colony, attempting to implement large scale agriculture of farm produce including copra by establishing agricultural experiment stations, agricultural education in schools, and farmer’s markets. A Farmer’s Market was created in Agana to help foster commercial farming along Western market values, but it quickly became an indigenized social hub, run according to CHamoru customs and culture.

The Japanese military government occupied Guåhan from 1914 to 1944. To feed the large military presence in Guåhan, Japanese government sought to start large scale rice farming and food production to little success. At the height of the occupation, food was taken away from CHamoru civilians, causing widespread hunger on the island. Many CHamoru families retreated to their låncho (ranches) to avoid the harsh Japanese government, surviving on the land and subsistence agriculture. These ranches soon became bastions of resistance against the Japanese imperialism.

After World War II, the US military annexed two-thirds of Guåhan’s land, displacing CHamoru farmers and families from the land that had nourished them for centuries. Nonetheless, several governors took a significant interest in revitalizing Guåhan’s agriculture, including Governor Bill Daniels who introduced prize-winning cows and deer and Ricardo J. Bordallo who implemented the “Green Revolution.” Furthermore, the CHamoru Land Trust Act of 1975 provided arrendu (farming land) to families. Despite natural disasters and other problems hindering agricultural development, the tradition of farming continues on Guåhan.

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