The cultural contributions of Filipinos on Guam

The cultural contributions of Filipinos on Guam

by Clarisa G. Quan, PhD

As of 2006, Filipinos on Guam numbered 46,968 naturalized US citizens and permanent residents, as well as 1,339 temporary residents, most of them under temporary labor and investor contracts. Comprising nearly one-third of the island’s population, Filipino doctors, educators, nurses, engineers, and businesspeople, as well as construction workers, farmers, plumbers, electricians, chefs, – are a vital part of the island’s infrastructure. Historically, Filipinos have been settling on Guam from Spanish colonization in the 17th century. Besides exiling Filipinos rebels, Spain brought Filipino soldiers and missionaries to the island. In the years following the Spanish American War of 1898, Americans contracted Filipino engineers and construction workers to help rebuild the island and its economy after the Second World War and destructive typhoons. Today, Filipinos in the medical, educational, and religious fields, continue to serve the island’s needs. Historically many Filipinos who came to Guam decided to stay and settle on island, many Chamorros can claim to have a Filipino ancestor or relative.



From goods to dishes


Close contact between Guam and the Philippines after Spanish rule brought not only Filipinos to Guam, but also flora, fauna, food, and other cultural goods and practices.




Perhaps the most popular animal brought from the Philippines is the carabao (in Tagalog kalabaw) or water buffalo. Filipino farmers traditionally use these very strong, lumbering, water-loving, slow-moving animals to pull carts for travel, to draw soil tillers in rice and other farm cultivation, and to provide very rich and creamy-tasting milk. Because Filipino conscript laborers were also Guam farmers, they were most probably instrumental in bringing the animal over, though some are recorded to have been brought to Guam from Malaysia.


Filipino farmers most probably also brought with them the practice of cockfighting around the first half of the 19th century even though the Chamorro word for it is the Spanish gallera, whereas Filipinos call it sabong. Other betting terminologies used in this practice are most probably from the Philippines. Up to the present Chamorros and other locals raise cocks and hold cockfights in cockfight stadiums as well as in private farms and properties.


Food and flora


Chamorros speak fondly of “carabao” mangoes, a special species of mangoes brought over to Guam from the Philippines. Chamorros developed a taste for these fragrant and sweet golden yellow fruit after they were brought to the island. Unfortunately, Guam’s supertyphoons destroyed most of the trees. Today, local supermarkets import carabao mangoes from Guimaras Island, Iloilo, Philippines.


Filipino farmers introduced the making of tuba, or coconut sap liquor, to Guam. In tuba making, farmers cut off the coconut tree’s inflorescence tip in increments to allow the sap to drip into a bamboo container. This results in about four quarts of collected sap daily. When allowed to ferment, the sap becomes sweet tuba liqueur. Left to ferment longer, the sap turns to vinegar.


Chamorros also distilled tuba to produce aguajente (from Spanish aguardiente), described as similar to raw rum served during fiestas and other festivities. Another sweet concoction is what old Chamorros called Almibad, prepared by boiling sweet coconut juice.


Guam’s dialect of English has numerous borrowed words for food that reflect the island inhabitants’ rich and varied backgrounds and diet. A number of these words are Filipino in origin. Among the fruit that probably came from or via the Philippines are atis, siniguelas, kayomito, balimbing or bilimbinis, duhat, and camachile. Younger Chamorros may no longer familiar with duhat or camachile.


Among the dishes brought to Guam by Filipinos are pancit, Chinese noodles introduced to Guam from the Philippines; lumpia or fried spring rolls; lechon or pit-fired whole roast pig; paksiw, meat or fish boiled in water with vinegar, salt and hot pepper; banana lumpia for turon; and potu for white rice cakes.


Other Filipino dishes and pastries served in Guam’s hotels and restaurants, or sold in local stores, have not yet been fully integrated into Guam’s dialect of English. Among them are: karekare, the Filipino version of the Spanish callos; halo halo, a dessert made with sweet preserved fruit and beans, served with shaved ice and milk; leche flan or the Spanish crème brulé; sticky rice cakes and puddings of various kinds – kuchinta, maja blanca, pichipichi, bibingka; pastries called ensaimada; mamon; and the Filipino pungent caviar called bago’ong.


Modes of dress and games


In the 19th century up to prewar Guam, Filipinos and Guamanians dressed alike in the Spanish-influenced “Filipino” mestiza style of dress, with its bell-shaped, transparent, sometimes richly beaded blouse made of pineapple fiber (piña), and long cotton skirt. Both people’s mode of dress became more “American” after 1898, but older women in both places still dressed in the Spanish-influenced traditional way up to the 1980s. Worn with this dress was footwear made of the natural fiber called abaca or richly beaded colorful slippers that much older women still wear today.


Tschongka, a game played with small shells placed in a carved oblong wooden board with seven facing holes and two big holes on either end, most probably came from the Philippines too. Many of these boards are carved from solid pieces of wood in the Philippines’ Mountain Province. Filipinos call this game sungkâ.




Iglesia ni Kristo (Church of Christ) is a Filipino independent church that has a very active congregation on Guam. Established by Felix Manalo in the Philippines in 1914, Iglesia is one of two groups that separated from the Filipino Catholic Church. About three percent of the Philippines’ 76 million population belong to this church. Chamorro members of the church on Guam are those married to Filipino members.


Celebrations held on Guam


Filipinos on Guam celebrate the Philippine Independence Day on June 12th. On this day, Philippine dignitaries visit Guam to give speeches to various Filipino ethnic and provincial organizations, as well as the umbrella group, The Filipino American Community of Guam.


Additionally, each May, the Santa Cruzan, a religious folk parade, is celebrated along Ypao Road, with young, good-looking men and women participating. Sometimes, local organizers fly in beauty queens and performing artists from the Philippines to give the celebration parade an extra boost and appeal.


The University of Guam’s Fieldhouse, as well as local hotels, have been typical venues for visiting Filipino performing artists, designers, and groups. Past performers include the Ateneo Choir, Broadway artist Lea Salonga, Filipino singers Sharon Cuneta, Pops Fernandez, Philippine designer Pitoy Moreno, and the renowned Bayanihan Dance Group.

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