Guam Museum full of island’s history

Photos courtesy of Guam Museum
Photos courtesy of Guam Museum

Guam Museum full of island’s history

by: Stripes Guam | .
published: January 09, 2018
Dominica Tolentino is an educator and history buff who was born and raised on Guam. As the director of the Guam Museum, she pushes “to foster a greater understanding of CHamoru culture and the people, history, art and natural environment of Guam.” She also wants visitors to simply have fun.
Stripes Guam recently sat down with Tolentino to get a better understanding of what the Guam Museum is all about and why people should visit. 
Q. How and why did you become director of the museum?
I have always enjoyed museums—all kinds—but mostly as a visitor. I did not grow up thinking about pursuing a career in museum work. It was not until I was able to attend graduate school in Washington, DC, where there are many museums, galleries and historic homes and gardens, that I was able to engage in museum work at various levels—from administration, to collections and exhibition management, to anthropology and interpretation in the museum. My professional background, though, is actually in education. I have been a science teacher and college instructor in history and anthropology here in Guam and in Hawaii, and for several years, I worked in areas of developing humanities programming and doing historical research and writing about Guam.
The opportunity to work at the Guam Museum came up at the end of 2015 when I was approached by Galaide Group, a locally owned marketing and management firm that was awarded a contract with the Government of Guam to manage and operate the new Guam Museum and Chamorro Educational Facility that was being built in Hagatna. I was working at, an online educational website that highlights Guam history and culture. It seemed a great chance to tie my experiences with museums, anthropology and Guam history together, but also to participate in something much bigger and so very important for our community. There have been a lot of bumps along the way, but I have been very fortunate to work with a dedicated team at the museum, along with having the support and expertise of community partners and consultants, to make the museum operational and meet the needs and expectations of the people of Guam. So far, it has turned out to be a very rewarding opportunity for me both professionally and personally.
Q. Why is the museum so important to the people of Guam?
Since its opening in November 2016, the Senator Antonio “Tony” M. Palomo Guam Museum and Chamorro Educational Facility has become Guam’s preeminent place to showcase the island’s history and culture. Located among other historic sites in Hagatna, the Guam Museum houses a collection of over 250,000 unique objects, images and documents that encompass over 3,500 years of history and cultural achievements in the Mariana Islands.
While the current building is new, the history of the museum as an institution goes back almost 90 years. The museum is also, by Guam law, the official repository of materials of historical significance to the people of Guam.
In 1926 a group of concerned Chamorro educators pushed for the establishment of museum to house Guam’s important historical artifacts. This was in response to recent archeological projects that saw many ancient artifacts from the Mariana Islands, including latte stones and human skeletal remains, being sent to museums and personal collectors from off-island. Although they did not succeed in setting up a museum, they showed the importance of having a place to preserve historic objects for the children and future generations of Chamorros.
The Guam Museum was originally established in 1932 under US Naval Governor Edmund Root and was managed by the Guam-based American Legion Mid-Pacific Post 1. In 1936, management of the museum was turned over to the naval government, and the Navy hired an officer’s wife to be the museum’s curator. From 1937 to 1941, Chamorro educator Agueda Johnston was placed in charge of the Chamorro collections. The museum was popular among visitors to the island, especially military personnel and passengers traveling through Guam on the Pan Am China Clipper. Unfortunately, after World War II, Hagatna, along with much of the island, was destroyed in the battle to take Guam back from occupying Japanese forces in 1944. Many of the artifacts stored at the museum were lost or destroyed.
In 1954, with the island under civilian control, the Guam Museum was reopened in the small Garden House at the Plaza de España. The Guam Women’s Club took over the management of the museum with volunteers until a Museum Director was hired full time in 1957.
Throughout the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s the Guam Museum remained at the Garden House location; collections grew and the small staff put together various programs and activities aimed at educating Guam’s school children and the general public about the history and culture of Guam. In fact, many older residents today still fondly remember the museum exhibits at the old Garden House.
In the early 1990s, the museum was moved to what is now the Governor’s Complex at Adelup. By 1999, the museum was placed under the newly instituted Department of Chamorro Affairs. However, damage to the building at Adelup from a major typhoon in 2002 forced the museum to move the collections to a storage facility separate from its administrative office. Guam historian and Museum Director Tony Palomo, for whom the museum is named, worked hard to ensure that people knew there was a Guam Museum still caring for the historic objects for the people of Guam. Small exhibits were set up in Micronesia Mall and Guam Premier Outlets for the public and tourists to view the collections.
Finally, in 2005 an executive order to construct a new permanent facility was issued. After approving the design and securing funding for its construction, initial work began in 2014.
The museum was completed in mid-2016, and the first exhibition opened in November.
Having a new museum has been one of the milestones in Guam’s modern history. With its unique architecture, it has joined some of the major landmarks of Hagatna, including the Agana Cathedral-Basilica and the Guam Congress Building. With a new facility to care for and preserve Guam’s cultural heritage, the museum provides not only an attraction for Guam’s visitor industry, but it represents the years of hard work and dreams of so many people to build a place to showcase Chamorro culture and present the diversity of stories and experiences of the many people that have made Guam their home.
Q. What’s the philosophy of the museum staff?
The mission of the Guam Museum is “to foster a greater understanding of CHamoru culture and the people, history, art and natural environment of Guam.” Our vision is to provide a space that inspires creativity, learning and respect. Part of fulfilling that mission and vision is to ensure that the museum is a safe and open place for all—our local residents, our visitors, our temporary residents, including our military personnel and families that are stationed in Guam. As stewards of the museum, we are charged with the care of Guam’s historic objects, images and documents that are significant to our people. We also have a responsibility to provide programming, exhibitions and events that showcase Guam’s unique history and culture and to present them in ways that provide balance but that also encourage critical thinking about important issues that are relevant to Guam and our place in the world.
In addition, we believe the museum should be inviting and FUN. We greet our visitors with a smile and warm “Hafa adai;” we answer visitors’ questions, and try to provide the best customer service so that anyone who comes to the museum will feel welcomed and ready to enjoy their time with us. We want the museum to suit the needs and desires of our community for cultural experiences that are engaging and fun, and to provide different and interesting things to do. We want the museum to be a viable option for families looking for something to do with the kids; for people on thei r off-time to think about spending their break at our café; for students and scholars accessing the collections for their academic research; for teachers looking to take learning outside the classroom. We also promote local artists and entrepreneurs to sell Guam-themed items as souvenirs or gifts in our retail shop.
It’s exciting and challenging work, but we as a staff are committed and determined to fulfill these ideals to the best of our ability.
Q. What’s your favorite part or exhibit of the museum and why?
My favorite part about the museum is …everything! It’s hard to single out any one thing.
Q. Why is it important for the military community to visit the museum?
The military community should visit the Guam Museum because we offer a dynamic opportunity for military families to leave the confines of the base and explore and learn about our island. In fact, they should visit because their presence on Guam is intimately linked with the history of the island as an American territory, a relationship that has existed since 1898.
Many families in Guam have members who serve or have served in the various branches of the military, so our community is very familiar with and welcoming to military families.
The museum is a great place to learn about local culture, arts and crafts, or hear stories about the people of Guam or from around the Pacific region. Throughout the year we have certain holidays we offer discounts or free entry to veterans. Liberation Day, celebrated on July 21st, is one of our most important annual commemorations of World War II – a pivotal time in Guam’s history that continues to resonate in the memories of our local population.
Our programming is geared toward families, students, and people with a multitude of interests in art, history, culture and the environment. Seeing military visitors at our museum shows our community their interest and willingness to learn about Guam and its people, outside of the typical entertainment venues. They can also meet local residents of all ages and backgrounds through our various programming activities. A visit to the museum allows our visitors to see not only the things that make us unique, but can also reinforce the notion that we, as people – as diverse as we are – are all connected, or that we have a shared humanity.

Top row (L-R): Nicole Santos, Perpetua San Agustin, Jonathan Barnhardt, Nicole Duenas, Jodiann Santos, Vanessa Story; Middle row (L-R): Ramiro Cruz, Johnny Taitingfong, Mark Lord, Jerome Teregeyo, Darlene Sanchez, Alejandro Gagarin, Fidel Salvador; Front row (L-R): Danielle Subido, Raelene Pascual, Dominica Tolentino, Catherine Dumlao, Kimberly Taguacta (missing: Brandon Fujikawa, Michael Salvador, Alden Cabero)

Monthly Events

- Ha’anen Familia (Family Day): Ha’anen Familia: Family Day events, occur every 2nd Saturday each month. Includes hands-on activities for children and families that tie into the themes of the museum’s exhibitions.

- HITA Talks: The Guam Museum’s monthly discussion platform, HITA is an acronym for Heritage, Ideas, Traditions and Arts. “Hita” is also the CHamoru word for “us,” reflecting the museum’s inclusiveness in its mission and institutional vision, where all people understand and celebrate Guam’s cultural heritage and natural history.

- Open Mic Night: Usually held at the end of each month, Open Mic Night is an opportunity for amateur performers to take the stage and share their creative talents to a receptive and appreciative audience.

- Movies in the Park (starting in the spring): In partnership with the Guam Museum Foundation and the Pacific Daily News, Movies in the Park are offered in the spring for the public to enjoy family-friendly entertainment in the Museum’s outdoor theater and Skinner Plaza.

Permanent exhibition (Opening Spring 2018)

- I Hinanao-ta Nu I Manaotao Tåno I CHamoru Siha: The Journey of the CHamoru

People explores the 3,700-year history of the Mariana Islands from settlement to the present day. It features an array of images and artifacts from the Museum’s collections of indigenous CHamoru artworks, adornments, tools and other cultural materials. Combined with audiovisual storytelling and personal narratives, I Hinanao-ta captures the diversity of experience among the Chamorro people and the complex history of the people of Guam.
Current and upcoming exhibitions
- Jacoulet’s Vision of Micronesia (Until January 2018): Paul Jacoulet was one of the most prolific and provocative artists who traveled through Micronesia, including the Northern Mariana Islands, in the early 20th century. Most known for his colorful prints and watercolors, Jacoulet’s art straddles two artistic traditions—19th century European painting and 18th century Japanese ukiyo-e woodblock printing. This exhibition will feature over 100 images of Jacoulet’s prints, sketches and watercolors, as well as historic artifacts that convey the artist’s vision of the people and cultures of Micronesia as a paradise on the verge of disappearing from Japanese colonization and war.

- Treasures of FestPac: (January 2018-April 2018): Revisit  the 12th Annual Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture, which was hosted in Guam in 2016. This exhibition features photographic highlights of the two-week long festival, including the gifts presented to the Governor of Guam during the opening ceremonies.

- Galleon: A Legacy of Change and Exchange in the Marianas (April – September 2018): The Manila Galleon Trade Route was one of the most important maritime global trade routes in human history.  This exhibition will shocase the history of this route from the perspective of the Marianas. It explores the pivotal role the islands had in the success of the route, as well as examines the cultural, social and political impacts the trade route had on the CHamoru people that have endured.

December Happenings

-Guam Territorial Band (GTBS) Performance

Saturday, December 16 — 3:30 p.m. to 5 p.m. — Museum 2nd Floor Atrium
- HITA Talk: Holiday Traditions and Origins
Saturday, December 16 — 2 p.m. to 4 p.m. — Museum Indoor Theater. Join us this month, as we welcome CHamoru historian, Pale Eric Forbes. He will delve into the origins and histories of our beloved holiday traditions on Guam. Seating is limited.
- Holiday Movies in the Park
Join us for two family-friendly holiday films that will keep the spirit of Christmas going to the end of the year!!
Friday, December 22 — 6 to 8 p.m. — Outdoor Theater: “Arthur Christmas”
Friday, December 29 — 6 to 8 p.m. — Outdoor Theater: “Christmas with the Kranks”
Guam Museum
Hours: Tues. - Sun., 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Closed Mon. and some holidays.
For more information, call 671.989.4455, or email The museum is also on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
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