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Jesuits and World History


Jesuit Missionaries as Agents of Empire: The Spanish-Chamorro War and Ecological Effects of Conversion on Guam, 1668–1769

Cynthia Ross Wiecko



     Guam, in the western Pacific, was an obscure place within the Spanish Empire between Ferdinand Magellan's arrival in 1521 and 1668. By the end of that period, the connections made between the small island and the rest of the world no longer rested so heavily on the Acapulco-Manila Galleons that stopped to resupply on their annual voyage across the Pacific. After more than a century of intermittent contact, Spain shifted the focus of its Pacific empire from the Moluccas to the Philippines. Thus, the conquest and settlement of Guam as a permanent, fortified way station began in earnest. This article examines the role of Jesuit missionaries as agents directly engaged in the imperial conquest of Guam beginning in 1668, specifically concerning effects on the natural and built environments.

     Using the lens of ecological change brings Jesuits into a different perspective, one where it is difficult to see them as heroes. Although the socially disruptive effects of militarization and forced catholicization were immediately visible, the two forces also worked hand in hand to destroy ancient Chamorro settlements and profoundly disrupt land use patterns. Reducción villages, established by the Jesuit mission, held concentrated populations with a church as the central structure, a common feature in Christianized localities around the world. Ultimately, indigenous resistance to these impositions and the Spanish response escalated into full-scale colonial war, a familiar story in European imperialism. Using the world history perspective is also critical in understanding the global forces at work on Guam. In many cases, Spain imported military and conversion strategies along with people previously effective in other imperial holdings to facilitate the transformation of Guam into an important place within the empire; a strategic location with obedient, loyal, and godly subjects. In fact, the historical record shows that the 'cross' and the 'sword' not only worked hand in hand to subjugate the island, but that the 'cross' often successfully directed the violence of the 'sword' for its own ends.

     The role of Jesuit priests as active agents of imperialism and militarization may seem quite different to scholars and educators more familiar with the Society of Jesus and reducción in Latin America, where priests often acted as protectors of indigenous people against the worst excesses of Iberian imperialism.1 In fact, Jesuits consistently complained when a royally appointed governor did not pursue reducción whole-heartedly on Guam, as discussed later. Additionally, Matteo Ricci's development of the Philosophy of Accommodation in Asia allowed more flexibility in incorporating Christian belief structures into existing Chinese culture.2 China was quite a different place than Guam at the time of Ricci's arrival, in terms of codified religion, social hierarchy, and organization. Incorporating Christian beliefs rather than total replacement of the existing system was the only potentially successful path open to him. Conversely, the Jesuits viewed Chamorros as almost child-like, in need of guidance in practically all matters. Thus, a complete overhaul of Guam's religious and social foundations became the model of the mission for the entirety of its existence.

     Other, more positive, historical interpretations of missions elsewhere may have to do with fundamental differences among specific historical Jesuits and an evolving mission model over time. The Society of Jesus was a complex, global organization but certainly not monolithic in its particular exportation of Christianity. Each specific context had different circumstances, factors, and agendas that influenced the priests' behavior and the outcome. Finally, perhaps a large number of positively focused histories of Jesuit missions may be related in part to their modern role as protectors of the poor. Extending this more recent focus on social justice back to the late seventeenth century, however, may be clouding history with memory.

Figure 1
  Figure 1: Map of the Northern Mariana Islands. Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.  

Figure 2
  Figure 2: Map of Guam. Courtesy of the University of Texas Libraries, The University of Texas at Austin.  

Recasting Villages and Land Use Patterns

     Since the founding years of Spain's Pacific empire in 1565, the Spanish Crown controlled all secular (economic and military) and religious matters through the Consejo de Indias (Council of the Indies). Certainly, militarization and catholicization had a long, close partnership in both the Philippines and Guam, with earlier landings of missionaries protected by soldiers during their time in the archipelagos. While sailing to his post in the Philippines in 1662, Diego Luis San Vitores stopped on Guam and vowed to establish a mission there, which the Crown granted in 1665. Thus, in June 1668, this relationship on Guam became more important with the arrival of five Jesuit missionaries to the village of Agaña. These five men—the leader San Vitores,3 Tomas Cardenese, Luis de Medina, Luis Morales, and Pedro de Casanova—officially renamed the Islas de los Ladrones (Islands of Thieves), Las Marianas in honor of their royal patron. Along with forty-five others of Spanish, mestizo, and Filipino descent they "formed the nucleus of the first Spanish mission and subsequent colony" on Guam.4

     Priests often acted as the spiritual vanguard of colonization focusing on "cultural impregnation and social control" that worked its way into most aspects of Chamorro life.5 Catholic missionary interest on Guam was certainly not new, but a new phase began with the arrival of San Vitores and the Jesuits. This new phase initiated a period of dramatic cultural and landscape change, previously unseen levels of violence, and all-out war between Chamorros and the Spanish interlopers. Since the 1590s, galleon captains had the authority to appoint soldiers to provide security for missionaries. After 1668, this prerogative extended to include reassigning soldiers bound for Manila to serve instead at the garrison on Guam. From the imperial perspective, the soldiers provided security for the mission, administration, shipments of bullion, and supplies. More importantly from the local perspective, they acted as a visible display of the Spanish empire's force in carrying out punishment and intimidation of Chamorros.6

     Galleon trade may have initially brought Spanish influence to Guam, but the development of patronato real, a complex system of patronage between the church and state, provided the administrative, financial, and military support needed to establish a colonial government and permanent settlement.7 Initially, the Marianas were not a province of the Philippines; instead, they were a separate entity within the empire governed by the viceroyalty in Nueva España.8 Nevertheless, in times of emergency the governors of the Philippines and the Audiencia of Manila were delegated authority to appoint interim governors and captain-generals on Guam.9 The island government also received an annual payment from Nueva España of 34,000 pesos, referred to as situado (subsidy) and socorro (relief).10 The situado included silver bullion and clothing meant as payment for the appointed governor, sargento mayor, and soldiers' salaries and stipends for the Jesuits. The military and missionaries also received allotments of the socorro including wine, flour, soap, cloth and clothing, tools, metal sheeting, iron, domestic animals, and seeds.11 For the first few decades, the items received as part of the socorro were more important to the daily maintenance of the settlement than bullion.12 Thus, money, administrators, missionaries, soldiers, introduced flora and fauna, and all the trappings of the empire— from Spain, Nueva España, and Peru—flowed into the island at a steadily increasing rate.

     Reducción was at the heart of the increased militarization of Guam, with both the government and the military charged with supporting this ecclesiastic policy. Jesuits first employed this heavy-handed method of converting indigenous people to Christianity in the Americas and later exported the practice to colonies in Asia and the Pacific.13 Forced relocation and concentration of the population from rural areas into villages with a garrison and church was the most essential factor involved in reducción. The constant religious and military presence enforced what the priests viewed as a Christian way of life. Concentrating the population also allowed for a smaller number of soldiers to control a sizable population of Chamorros and, after conversion, made tax collection to fund the empire more efficient. In addition to teaching the catechism, the priests established schools for basic education, music, and provided training in some skilled trades including blacksmithing, carpentry, and tanning hides.14

     Reducción on Guam meant the destruction of about 180 rural settlements and small villages as the Spanish forced Chamorros to resettle in a few large villages – Agaña, Agat, Fena, Inarajan, Merizo, Pago, and Umatac. Almost all of these reducción villages were in the southern portion of the island, connected by packed-earth roads with limestone bridges built by Chamorro and imported Filipino laborers. Ultimately, all roads led to Agaña, the headquarters of the mission, the seat of colonial power, and the primary Spanish settlement. Northern areas near Tumon and Ritidian, that did not yet have a substantial Spanish presence, became centers of Chamorro resistance.

     Under threat of the sword, Chamorros were required to submit to the authority of the church and the Jesuits, and to abandon any older traditions or values antithetical to Christianity.15 Although the chief of Agaña, Kipuha, was the first Chamorro baptized by the priests and allotted land for the first Catholic Church, Dulce Nombre de Maria, other indigenous people of Guam did not always accept the evangelizing efforts of the missionaries, whether prior to or after 1668.16 Within three months of landing, the Jesuits realized they needed additional military support and protection due to the level of Chamorro resistance to reducción policies.17

     Resistance was quite strong at times as Spanish missionaries, along with their Filipino and Mexican assistants, forced changes to long established patterns of culture and traditional beliefs among Chamorros. Apart from the destabilization inherent in forced relocation, there were other points of contention between the two groups. In this highly stratified island society, Chamorro elites viewed baptism and association with the priests as a noble prerogative, especially since Kipuha was the first recipient of this foreign ceremony. They thus clashed with the missionaries who strove to baptize Chamorros at all levels of society, making everyone 'equal in the eyes of God.'18

     Chamorro resentment grew across all levels of the indigenous society as the priests insisted they destroy all 'idols,' ancestral skulls, and deny the power of taotaomonas (natural and ancestral spirits) that resided in the forests and underneath the homes of Chamorro elites.19 This struck at the very heart of traditional religious beliefs. Makahnas, Chamorro holy men who communicated with the spirits of the dead, strongly resisted conversion even as the Jesuits ordered ancestral figures burned on July 16, 1668 so that, "by the light from these fires they [Chamorros] might see more clearly the truth of our holy faith."20 Orders given to bury the skulls of venerated ancestors under the earth met with compliance from some, but others threatened to kill the priests and their assistants for this desecration.21 The priests also insisted upon other forced cultural changes such as burning the communal men's houses, deemed places of prostitution where bachelors lived with unmarried women, and redefining traditional marriage rituals.22 The priests further added to the growing social unrest by destabilizing Chamorro aesthetics, forcing the indigenous people to cover their bodies with palm skirts and cotton shirts in the Filipino style.23

     Near the reducción villages, the missionaries established several farms where they taught European agricultural techniques and animal husbandry. One of the most successful plots of ecclesiastic land was San Ignacio Tachogña, between Agaña and Pago, where the priests raised a herd of cattle. At other farms on the island, they introduced horses, a stallion and brooding mares. Under priestly direction, Chamorros learned to cultivate corn, tobacco, cacao, sweet potatoes, and other American species using thrust hoes and machetes to clear patches of land. These techniques brought dramatic changes to the landscape that went far beyond a few introduced crops. For instance, hedges or trees often formed enclosures of land that previously had no such boundaries. Common species used for this purpose included lemon and lime trees, physic nut trees, sappan trees, and tangantangan (Leucaena leucocephala).24 Priests also instructed Chamorros to burn grasslands to improve grazing conditions for introduced livestock. This dramatically increasing both sword grass and tangantangan, two aggressive species that thrive in denuded landscapes, and led to a decline in species that relied on these habitats, such as birds and lizards.25 The Jesuits also communicated with other missions across the empire, receiving goods, seeds, and animals from Nueva España, China, and Manila, and spices from Ceylon. Many of these species thrived in the tropical climate on Guam.

     All of these changes forced upon the indigenous people in the name of Christianization recast both the natural and spiritual world in European terms. They also worked steadily over time to erode the foundation of the traditional Chamorro identity that framed the spiritual world as one tied to the physical features of the landscape. Eliminating the religious ceremonies and rituals related to the taotaomona inhabiting the forest, especially cut those ties. Spaces once protected by taboos or spirits became open to exploitation, ultimately transforming land use patterns as the indigenous people expanded cultivation, fishing grounds, or settlements in areas they previously held as off-limits.

The Spanish-Chamorro War and Subjugation of the Island

In response to the missionaries' request for more military aid to support reducción, the galleon San Joseph arrived from Acapulco in June 1669 with orders to provide assistance and get news on the mission.26 Despite the presence of more soldiers, indigenous unrest continued to grow.27 In July 1669, a group of Chamorros captured San Vitores during a visit to Saipan and threatened to execute him. They ultimately released the priest but his traveling companion, Lorenzo de Morales, was later accused of killing a child and executed by Chamorros.28 After his return to Guam, San Vitores organized his Escuadrón Mariano (Marianas Squadron) of eight Filipino and two Spanish soldiers to more aggressively pursue reducción but the colonizers met increasingly violent resistance.29 No galleon arrived with reinforcements or supplies in 1670 and by the following year, the priests had grown desperate as a colonial war between the Spaniards and Chamorros seemed imminent.30

     In Agaña the priests and their assistants erected a defensive stockade of coconut tree logs.31 They lived and worked in the settlement under intermittent threat of siege, violent unrest, and reprisal. In fact, by June of 1671, the situation on Guam deteriorated into all-out war after a series of killings and retaliations committed by both sides. Later that summer, about 2,000 Chamorros gathered under the leadership of Hurao, a chief of Agaña, and laid siege to the Spanish fortification in Agaña for over a month. The Chamorros used surprise attack tactics against the Spanish, hurling sling-stones and attempting to set fire to structures while others dug trenches along the perimeter for ease of movement and avoidance of musket-fire. Spanish accounts insisted there were no Spanish casualties but, after that summer, successive sargento mayors exacted violent retribution on Chamorros; this retribution continued for decades afterward.32

     After a successful raid to break out of the Spanish compound, the soldiers effectively forced Chamorros to concede defeat and sue for peace. They agreed to follow reducción policies, peacefully abandon their traditional villages and move to the new settlements, attend mass, baptize infants, and send their children to the mission schools.33 Yet, lasting resentment and warfare continued throughout the islands for almost thirty years, until 1698. While it seemed most Chamorros resisted the imposition of Spanish authority, a significant number of islanders supported the Europeans in their endeavors—perhaps because of their indoctrination into Catholicism or perhaps as part of their efforts to create a better social position for themselves and overturn the previous Chamorro social hierarchy.

     Perhaps the most well-known casualty of the Spanish-Chamorro War was San Vitores himself, who the Catholic Church quickly cast as a martyr to the cause of Chamorro conversion. Numbers of baptisms, symbolic of conversion to Catholicism, was a supposedly objective measurement reported to the Crown and church officials to show progress toward imperial goals. The missionaries also attempted to use baptism as a form of 'gate keeping' to exert power and control over the Chamorro population. Even during his first sermon on the beach in 1668, San Vitores claimed to have converted 1500 Chamorros but refused to baptize them until they learned the Catholic doctrine. He also baptized twenty-three children in attendance that day.34

     Over the first few months, baptism numbers reported by the priests presented an image of an ultimately willing and enthusiastic indigenous population to the missionaries' benefactors. San Vitores and other priests listed the numbers of baptized people well into the thousands during that first summer. For the next four years, the missionaries became increasingly aggressive in their baptism practices, especially regarding children.35 They forcibly took children out of the arms of their parents, baptized them without consent, and used the soldiers of the garrison against resistant Chamorros. At the same time, illness and death were spreading rapidly among the indigenous population because of introduced smallpox and influenza, with devastating results among the very young and the elderly. Some Chamorros began to link baptism with the mounting disease toll. Rumors originating with Choco, a Chinese castaway living with his Chamorro wife in the now-extinct village of Paa near modern day Merizo, suggested the holy water and anointing oils used by the priests in baptism were poisoned.36 His words influenced increasing numbers of Chamorros whose seemingly healthy children were dying.

     In April of 1672, San Vitores and his Filipino assistant, Pedro Calonsor, baptized a baby girl against the will of her father, Mata'pang, a chief of Tumon. After learning that San Vitores baptized the child while Mata'pang was away from his home, the chief and several other men from the village killed the two ecclesiastics with spears and machetes, then weighted their bodies down and cast them over the reef.37 In reprisal, Spanish soldiers burned down the village of Tumon and dozens more soldiers arrived for the garrison.38 This increasing militarization virtually guaranteed more violence to come.

     Historical documents and secondary sources concerning San Vitores' death in 1672 generally focused on the violent outcome of rumors propagated by Choco.39 However, the castaway's words would have had little effect without the priests' continual violations of Chamorro cultural and religious norms. Thus, the increasingly brutal reducción policies set forth by the priests in their conversion zealotry including collective retribution for minor offenses, such as the burning of villages whose members refused to attend mass, feeding further population disruptions and Chamorro resistance.40

     From the very beginning, the garrison was under the direct authority of the priests who controlled all civil and religious matters on the island.41 This only began to change somewhat when the first official governor of Guam, Antonio de Saravia, arrived in 1681.42 The Jesuits' relationship with two Spanish officials, in particular, illustrated the true relationship between the missionaries and military in the Marianas and pointed to continuing effects on the natural and built environments. In June 1674, the priests asked Diego de Arévalo, captain of the galleon Nuestra Señora del Buen Socorro, to provide them with more soldiers and an experienced military commander in order to put an end to the indigenous resistance. The man chosen for the task was Damián de Esplana, a thirty-seven year old Peruvian criollo with more than twenty years of fighting experience in Chile, who was on his way to an assignment in the Philippines.

     For the next two years, Esplana became the sargento mayor, charged with continuing reducción and carrying out punitive attacks on several villages.43 With increased military support, the Jesuits continued expanding their conversion activities out from their besieged compound in Agaña even as some Chamorros fled their villages for the rugged interior or other islands in the Marianas.44 By the time Esplana ended his first tenure on Guam in June 1676, the missionaries had constructed a more permanent house and church made of masonry in Agaña and worked closely with a garrison of fifty soldiers to continue reducción.45

     Esplana returned to Guam as the appointed governor from November 1683 to February 1686, and again from September 1689 until his death in August 1694. Violence under Esplana's rule, however, did not recede with time. On March 15, 1685, two English pirates, Eaton and Cowley, landed on Guam looking to resupply. In keeping with the usual pattern of exchange between Chamorros and visiting ships, proas (a traditional outrigger canoe with triangular sail) came out to meet the vessel at anchor bringing, "potatoes, mananoes [long clams], coconuts, and plantains, selling them . . .for old nails and old iron [received earlier in trading with Spanish ships]."46 During their visit, violence erupted after proas supposedly surrounded the pirate vessel. In response, Esplana "gave carte blanche to the pirates to kill as many natives as they pleased."47

     Another visit by European pirates during Esplana's tenure indicated the ecologically destructive lengths Chamorros were willing to go in their resistance to Spanish oppression. On May 20, 1686, Captain Sawn and William Dampier arrived on Guam with a starving crew on the verge of mutiny.48 Dampier, a pirate by profession but also an astute observer of nature and cultures, gathered large amounts of information on Guam's environment and the indigenous people.49 In his account of a recent Chamorro attack against Spanish positions, Dampier related how Chamorros resorted to a 'scorched earth' tactic, destroying plantations and livestock as the Spaniards drove them into retreat.50 In fact, Chamorros often used fire in their battles against the Spanish, burning the vegetation near a fort or hurling flaming projectiles onto thatch roofs.51 Chamorros also moved some of their settlements to more inaccessible and secure parts of the forest and built trenches to protect themselves.52

     These developments, less than twenty years after colonization and conversion began, dramatically illustrated the escalating response of Chamorros and subsequent effects on the landscape. Destroying livestock and crops was akin to mortgaging the future ability of the indigenous people to survive, especially considering the devastating effects of typhoons that could wipe out remaining food supplies. Intentionally set fires could easily grow uncontrolled, becoming an unintended threat to Chamorro villages, structures, and food supplies as well.

     Esplana's apparent popularity among imperial officials, however, did not translate into popularity among the priests.53 While some scholars point to Esplana's brutal legacy on Guam, the Jesuits were routinely dissatisfied with his lack of enthusiasm in implementing reducción.54 Their letters to patrons, Jesuit officials, the governor in Manila, and to the Crown continually criticized Esplana. Father Bustillo's letter to Father Francisco Garcia in Madrid, dated 1687, complained specifically that Esplana "failed to punish the islanders who had caused the murders of several priests and had allowed them to go about unpunished," and asked for Esplana's immediate replacement.55 Generally, the priests saw Esplana as a man more concerned with profits from provisioning ships and secular governance than with saving souls.56 They pointed to his lackadaisical attitude in punishing Chamorros who resisted the Jesuits, and the growing tensions between the missionaries and the military commander of the soldiers.57 He also spent increasing amounts of time living at the Governor's House in Umatac, away from the constant demands of the clergy.

     Instead of advocating the maintenance of Esplana, the missionaries requested the appointment of Joseph de Quiroga as governor and a more ruthless executor of reducción. Quiroga, this "monk in soldier's garb," arrived on Guam aboard the galleon San Antonio in 1679, serving as sargento mayor and acting governor while waiting for the June 1681 arrival of the appointed governor, Antonio de Saravia.58 As a young aristocrat and professional soldier from Spain, Quiroga was well experienced with European-style warfare and was a strong supporter of the Catholic Church's mission in the expanding empire.59 He was personally dedicated to Christianization at virtually any cost, and had no qualms about forcing Chamorros to comply with reducción policies.

     Quiroga was convinced the best way to crush Chamorro resistance was through the burning of villages and killing key individuals in the Chamorro social hierarchy. He hung village chiefs involved in resistance as criminals. When Chamorros fled to nearby islands in the Marianas Quiroga pursued them, killing many in running battles, including San Vitores' killer, Mata'pang, on Rota in 1680.60 He publically hung captured chiefs, like Aguarin, who fled from Agaña and brought back hundreds of other captured Chamorros to labor as slaves, growing introduced crops for the garrison and priests.61 Sometimes the Jesuits "questioned his harsh and brutal methods."62 Yet, there is no evidence that they questioned his methods enough to advocate his removal from the Marianas.

     During one of Quiroga's campaigns to the northern islands in July 1684, the largest uprising of Chamorros occurred on a Sunday morning after mass. Several Chamorros attacked Esplana as he walked alone along the Agaña River, stabbing him several times in the torso and face, leaving him for dead. A large group of Chamorros then set out to rid themselves of the Spanish for good. The Spanish did not anticipate the fierceness of the Chamorro attack, and certainly never expected the four-month long siege of Agaña that followed. Chamorros killed several Jesuits and soldiers, but eventually word reached Quiroga on Saipan and he returned to quell the uprising.

     The Jesuits took the opportunity to criticize the governor in their letters to church officials written in the aftermath of the Chamorro uprising. They partly blamed the uprising on Esplana's "lack of interest in the reducción and dereliction of duty," arguing that he preferred to spend his time "building pigpens, fattening hogs, and hunting cattle."63 Esplana, however, survived and retained his favor with royal officials. With the departure of the next galleon, he sent a request to convalesce in Manila but the Crown and Audencia in Manila denied it. Instead, King Carlos II extended his governorship to the Marianas as Lieutenant General and Governor and Captain General of the Marianas Islands. 64 Perhaps the Crown understood Esplana would not overstep their authority because of religious zealotry. Quiroga had the potential to do just that.

     In fact, during the last campaign of the Spanish-Chamorro War, in July 1695, Quiroga was both sargento mayor and acting governor. He and the Jesuits used this time to pursue reducción more intensely than ever before. His army swept through Guam, Rota, Tinian, and Aguiguan, wiping out the last few remaining pockets of Chamorro resistance. Yet as popular as Quiroga seemed to be with the Jesuits, a royal appointment as governor never materialized, though he did serve as interim governor on three occasions while permanent appointees were en route.65 By the time of Quiroga's retirement and death in Agaña in 1723, changes to Guam's landscape and indigenous culture were irrevocable. Perhaps no other Spaniard played such a personal role in the transformation of Guam through military conquest, destruction, brutality, and forced conversion over a span of forty years.

     Largely due to Quiroga's execution of reducción and catholicization at any cost to the indigenous people and the landscape, the Spanish removed all remaining Chamorros from the northern Mariana Islands, concentrating the entire population on Guam and Rota.66 Thus, after the conclusion of the Spanish-Chamorro War, the indigenous people ultimately lost their independence in future decision-making through the success of these Spanish subjugation efforts. They also lost their claim to the land, much of their traditional culture, and religion; a familiar theme of modern imperialism around the world.

     Some older works on Guam lay the blame for the Spanish-Chamorro War at the feet of the Spanish military, making apologist arguments for the priests and suggesting the ecclesiastics were the voices of reason or that they tried to stop the soldiers from wanton destruction.67 In the 1960s and 1970s, a time of considerable energy and focus on local history, scholars cast the forced cultural change in heavily Eurocentric terms, glossing over much of the violence, and suggest that it was all for Chamorros' own good in the end.68 The more recent Destiny's Landfall: A History of Guam, required reading for most local high school students, is also too lenient in its assessment of the priests in ordering violent actions, attributing most killings or collective reprisals as unfortunate misunderstandings or acts committed under extreme duress.69 The evidence in this article, however, points to Jesuits playing a much more active role in imperial subjugation of the island and its people than generally acknowledged among Jesuit historians or those whose interests steer them towards Guam.

Demographic Changes and an Imperial Ecology

The early years of Spanish contact, 1521 to 1668, the period before the Jesuits arrived, was a period of relative population stability on Guam despite more than 100 European ships passing through the Marianas.70 Population estimates ranged from 35,000 to 60,000, with an estimated total Chamorro population throughout the Marianas between 40,000 and 100,000.71 Introduced diseases—especially smallpox, influenza, and tuberculosis—contributed to most of the decline after 1668, but deaths from the Spanish-Chamorro Wars certainly played a role in the indigenous population's decline as well.72 Reflecting the devastating blows to Guam's native population, the first official Spanish census in 1710 indicated the Chamorro population to be 3,197.73 At that time, twenty percent of the population lived in and around Agaña, with the remaining population spread among the other reducción villages.74 By 1760, the total population numbered just 1,654 and later fell to only 1,318 in 1786.75 This was just a shadow of the once-thriving Chamorro society Europeans first encountered. Governors attempted to ameliorate this dramatic decline in population through forced migrations from other Mariana Islands to maintain the level of food production required for the maintenance of the colony and to provide an adequate surplus for trade. However, Guam's population did not begin to increase again until the twentieth century.76

     Certainly, new diseases and new people arriving on Guam led to dramatic demographic changes but landscape transformations also resulted. The deaths of tens of thousands of people on such a small landmass meant areas once under subsistence cultivation lay fallow. Abandoned farms and plantations became once again part of the forest, with secondary growth dominating the landscape. Survivors who desired these areas for themselves had to expend tremendous effort to reclaim the land back from the tropical forest. Introduced plants and animals, intended for trade or local use eventually carved out niches for themselves in the island ecology.

     As Spanish colonization progressed, officials grew increasingly concerned with providing food to the administration and the mission. Discussions between the Audencia and the governor of Guam showed they not only desired a self-sufficient Guam but an island profitable to the Crown as well, where the indigenous people viewed themselves as happy and prosperous—and thus less inclined to resist Spanish domination. Thus, in 1678, the governor received instructions from the Captain-General of the Philippines to increase the land allotment to Chamorros who cooperated with the Spanish and allow missionaries a greater ability to trade for food. After 1680, the government annually expanded the amount of plantation land under cultivation by Chamorros in efforts to increase production of taro, corn, yams, and sweet potatoes for use by the garrison and the church.77 New tools introduced by the Jesuits, such as hoes and shovels replaced the original digging sticks that Chamorros once used also increased efficiency. By the early eighteenth century, these church and government-run plantations provided meat, fresh fruits, and vegetables to the entire Spanish population, the garrison, the mission, and resupplied galleons indicating significant success in species introduction and cultivation expansion, at least from the Spanish perspective.78

     Notably, even after completing of reducción, Chamorros retained ownership of their trees and gardens.79 The pattern that emerged was that Chamorro families had a home in town and a ranch (lancho, from the Spanish rancheria) located outside the smaller villages or in the forest, away from the constant gaze of the mission and garrison.80 Thus began the separation of village and rural life that never existed prior to Spanish colonization. The relationship between power and access to land is a common theme throughout history. Those in power, especially Europeans, usually placed severe restrictions on land access or denied access altogether to maintain control of subjugated people. Allowing Chamorros virtually unrestricted access to the forest for ranches and cultivation was rare in imperial domination but necessary to support the colony since the Spanish thought farming was beneath their status as Europeans and imperialists, with the Jesuits being a notable exception.

The End of the Jesuit Period and Conclusion

After the 'success' of reducción and catholicization of the surviving population, the edict of King Carlos III, dated February 27, 1767 eventually expelled Jesuit missionaries from Guam in 1769. By this time, the Jesuits had been active on the island for a century. Safford noted, "whatever may have been the harsh means by which they were established there, they had won the love and confidence of the natives," but his was a twentieth century interpretation of court records.81 It may not reflect a more complex reality of the relationship between the mission and Chamorros. Perhaps knowledge of the priests' active role in the first three decades of subjugation and Spanish-Chamorro War receded over the course of three generations. It is also possible the priests who interceded against the most excessive policies of the Spanish administration, when religion was not a factor, helped cultivate trust among Chamorros. Alternatively, there may have been indigenous gratitude for the increased food production through new agricultural methods and animal husbandry skills taught by the Jesuits. It is more likely, however, that a century of priestly effort in continuing Chamorro subjugation through indoctrination of Christian beliefs such as obedience and unwavering trust eventually worked. Jesuits became among the most honored men on the island.

     When the Jesuits boarded the Nuestra Senora de Guadalupe on November 2, 1769, they took as many of their belongings as the ship could carry, leaving very few agricultural and artisan tools for Chamorros. Perhaps this is an indication that social uplift of the indigenous people was not as paramount on Guam as it may have been to other missions. Augustinian Recollect friars became the spiritual administration of the island until the end of the Spanish period but they were not as interested in secular education. Instead, the friars focused much of their attention on ceremonies, religious instruction, and church maintenance.82 Additionally, the Spanish military administration was not as meticulous in their control of the island's crops and livestock as the Jesuits had been. After their departure, the farms fell into neglect, cattle escaped their tethers and roamed wild across the island. Chamorros often killed the wandering animals that threatened their crops, but then frequently stood trial for illegally killing animals still considered property of the Crown.83

     Educators interested in presenting the interwoven factors of imperialism, conversion, colonial warfare, and environmental change would do well to use Guam as a contrasting case study alongside one from Latin America.84 The perspective of this article in particular, with its environmental approach, highlights different aspects of Jesuit history. Shifting the focus away from saving souls and theological concerns, to examine Jesuits as agents of empire, directing the military to assist with conversion through reducción, their role in introducing species, agricultural techniques, and overturning land use patterns provides an additional layer of understanding the profound consequences of missions on the landscape and its people. Histories of Guam generally identify the political and economic effects of Spanish imperialism and the widespread adoption of Catholicism after the Spanish-Chamorro War. The evidence here indicates that imperial dominance and catholicization shared similar roots of brutality, directly affecting changes in the landscape, settlement patterns, and land use. The combined effects of both fundamentally altered the island's people and environmental history.

     Reducción displaced most of the Chamorro population from their original communities and put much of indigenous daily life under the surveilling eye of Jesuit priests, a strategy imported from Jesuit missions in the modern day countries of Argentina, Bolivia, Brazil, and Paraguay. Certainly, the newly formed reducción villages would have appeared similar in design and function to those previously established in the Americas during its period of catholicization. Ranches, developed in the seventeenth century, provided one outlet for Chamorros to escape mission and garrison attention but only temporarily.

     The natural environment sustained profound changes as introduced species exchanged from around Spain's global empire created an equally global imperial ecology. Spanish governors, soldiers, and Jesuits sought to create a familiar and useful environment for themselves. By the beginning of Spanish colonization in 1668, 176 years after Columbus' arrival in the Caribbean, Spaniards were actively introducing many American species such as corn, tobacco, cacao, and tangantangan. Added to the tropical American species were those from other areas within the empire, particularly from Asian entrepots such as Goa, Ceylon, and Malacca. Indeed, Guam's indigenous species and ancient introduction, interwove with species from the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, the Philippines, China, Africa, and the Americas to create a pan-tropical ecology. Thus, indigenous ironwood trees came to stand alongside introduced tangantangan trees from Nueva España. Philippine carabao might rest under the shade of a flame tree (Delonix regia) from Madagascar. Pigs, ancient introductions gone by the time of Spanish arrival, once again ran through the limestone forest in search of the large glossy leaves of the breadfruit tree.

     Ultimately, this combined ecological and religious subjugation worked its transformative powers on indigenous culture. Hybridization that began a century before came to full realization as the term 'Chamorro' no longer fit the identity of most island inhabitants. Instead, 'Guamanians' were subjects of the Spanish empire who worshiped a Christian god, had mixed parentage, and lived in villages modeled on European aesthetics. They ate round flat breads made from corn meal along with their grilled beef and venison, used Mexican-style ovens and pottery, and largely forgot their intimate connections to the Guam that was.

Cynthia Ross Wiecko is currently an adjunct instructor at Texas A&M University – Commerce where she teaches world history, U.S. history from a global perspective, and global environmental history. She is currently working on an experimental article that uses statistical analysis procedures common in social sciences to explore the direction of world history research. She can be reached at

Readers are invited to visit the author's page for detailed tables of the trees, garden plants, and fauna introduced on Guam during the Spanish imperial period (15211898) at


1 See, John Frederick Schwaller, The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America: From Conquest to Revolution and Beyond (New York: New York University Press, 2011).

2 For a detailed development of Accommodation see, David E. Mungello, Curious Land: Jesuit Accommodation and the Origins of Sinology (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1989).

3 William Edwin Safford, The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam: With an Introductory Account of the Physical Features and Natural History of the Island, of the Character and History of Its People, and of Their Agriculture, Contributions from the United States National Herbarium (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1905), 14; Francisco Garcia, The Life and Martyrdom of the Venerable Father Diego Luis de San Vitores of the Society of Jesus, First Apostle of the Mariana Islands and Events of These Islands from the Year Sixteen Hundred and Sixty-Eight Through the Year Sixteen Hundred and Eighty-One, ed. James A. McDonough, trans. Margaret M. Higgins, Felicia Plaza, and Juan M.H. Ledesma (Mangilao, Guam: Richard F. Taitano Micronesia Area Research Center, University of Guam, 2004).

4 Marjorie G. Driver, "Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Marianas," Pacific Studies 11, no. 3 (July 1988): 22; Francisco García, "Sanvitores in the Marianas," in Vida y Martyrio de El Venerable Padre Diego Luis de Sanvitores, de La Compania de Jesus, Primer Apostol de Las Islas Marianas...Madrid, Infanzon, 1683. Libro III, Capitulo 14. P. 193217, trans. Felicia Plaza, MARC Working Papers 22 (Mangilao, Guam: Richard F. Taitano Micronesia Area Research Center, University of Guam, 1980), 17; Robert F. Rogers, Destiny's Landfall: A History of Guam (Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1995), 46–47.

5 O.H.K. Spate, The Pacific Since Magellan: The Spanish Lake, vol. 1 (London: Croom Helm, 1979), 221.

6 Driver, "Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Marianas," 23.

7 Driver, "Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Marianas," 26.

8 Paul Carano and Pedro Sanchez, A Complete History of Guam (Rutland, VT: CE Tuttle, 1964), 57.

9 Driver, "Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Marianas," 26. Although San Vitores did not carry the official title, histories of Guam often consider him the first Spanish governor of this period.

10 P.J. Searles, "Spanish Galleons," Guam Recorder 16, no. 12 (August 1940): 10.

11 Driver, "Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Marianas," 24.

12 Ibid., 25.

13 For an overview of the Catholic Church in Latin America see, Schwaller, The History of the Catholic Church in Latin America.

14 Safford, The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, 22.

15 Driver, "Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Marianas," 26–27.

16 The formal dedication of the church was February 2, 1669.

17 Rogers, Destiny's Landfall, 49.

18 Carano and Sanchez, A Complete History of Guam, 66; Rogers, Destiny's Landfall, 48.

19 Rogers, Destiny's Landfall, 48.

20 Safford, The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, 112; Garcia, The Life and Martyrdom of the Venerable Father Diego Luis de San Vitores, 221.

21 Safford, The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, 112.

22 Ibid., 105.

23 Rogers, Destiny's Landfall, 47–49.

24 Safford, The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, 280.

25 Rollin H. Baker, The Avifuana of Micronesia: Its Origin, Evolution, and Distribution (Lawrence: University of Kansas, 1951), 59.

26 Rogers noted the name of this ship as the San José. Rogers, Destiny's Landfall, 50.

27 Driver, "Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Marianas," 27.

28 Francis X. Hezel, "Diego Louis de San Vitores," The Pacific Voice, October 6, 1985,; Rogers, Destiny's Landfall, 51.

29 Rogers, Destiny's Landfall, 51.

30 Safford set the beginning of the Spanish-Chamorro War in 1672, with the death of San Vitores. The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, 15. However, Rogers placed the beginning of the war at the creation of the Escuadrón Mariano. Destiny's Landfall, 51.

31 Driver, "Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Marianas," 27.

32 Georg Fritz, The Chamorro: A History and Ethnography of the Marianas, trans. Elfriede Craddock, 2nd English (Saipan, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands: Division of Historic Preservation, 1989), 7; Rogers, Destiny's Landfall, 52.

33 The first mission school established on Guam was El Colegio de San Juan de Letran in 1669, with every major village having at least one school by the end of the nineteenth century. In addition to a very rigid Catholic doctrine, the schools taught reading, writing, arithmetic, Spanish, music, and handicrafts. William L Wuerch and Dirk Anthony Ballendorf, Historical Dictionary of Guam and Micronesia, Oceanian Historical Dictionaries 3 (Metuchen, N.J: Scarecrow Press, 1994), 111.

34 García, "Sanvitores in the Marianas," 21.

35 Ibid., 22. Rogers, Destiny's Landfall, 48. However, the compliance indicated in the baptismal rolls and the realities on the island of growing Chamorro unrest quickly diverged.

36 Choco's arrival was dated to 1648 when his ship wrecked after leaving the Philippines. Jane H. Underwood, "Population History of Guam: Context of Microevolution," Micronesica 9, no. 1 (1973): 13. Hezel, "Diego Louis de San Vitores"; Safford, The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, 14–15. Rogers attempted to explain the link between baptism and infant death by noting that, "in accord with Christian doctrine, to baptize infants who appeared to be near death in order to save their souls, the death rate was higher among baptized than non-baptized infants, thereby increasing Chamorro suspicions of the priests." Rogers, Destiny's Landfall, 49.

37 Garcia, The Life and Martyrdom of the Venerable Father Diego Luis de San Vitores, 251–252.

38 Driver, "Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Marianas," 27.

39 Carano and Sanchez, A Complete History of Guam; García, "Sanvitores in the Marianas"; Hezel, "Diego Louis de San Vitores"; Rogers, Destiny's Landfall.

40 Fritz, The Chamorro: A History and Ethnography of the Marianas, 7.

41 Hezel, "Diego Louis de San Vitores."

42 Saravia died two years later, in 1683.

43 Underwood, "Population History of Guam: Context of Microevolution," 16.

44 Driver, "Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Marianas," 28; Underwood, "Population History of Guam: Context of Microevolution," 16.

45Driver, "Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Marianas," 29.

46 Safford, The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, 16–17; see also Cowley's voyage in William Dampier, A Voyage Round the World, Containing an Account of Captain Dampier's Expedition into the South-Seas in the Ship St. George in the Years 1703 and 1704 (Amsterdam: N. Israel, 1969).

47 Safford, The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, 17; see also Cowley's voyage in Dampier, A Voyage Round the World.

48 William Dampier, A New Voyage Round the World (Warwick, NY: 1500 Books, 2007), 245–246.

49 Ibid., 246–250; Safford, The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, 18, 234.

50 Dampier, A New Voyage Round the World, 254.

51 Safford, The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, 107. In 1676, Chamorros set fire to a corn plantation, the principal crop for the garrison and missionaries. Safford, The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, 24.

52The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, 107.

53 The Governor-General of the Philippines, Vargas Hurtado, designated Esplana as Governor Antonio de Saravia's successor in 1683. Acting as an interim governor, Esplana received the title Lieutenant Governor and Commander of Chief. In the event of his death, Don Joseph Quiroga would succeed him. Driver, "Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Marianas," 32–33.

54 Ibid., 41.

55 Ibid., 34.

56 Ibid., 41.

57Ibid., 29.

58 Ibid.

59 The archbishops of Santiago and Mexico City were Quiroga's cousins, making him well connected in ecclesiastic and political circles. Ibid.

60 Underwood, "Population History of Guam: Context of Microevolution," 16.

61 Underwood, "Population History of Guam: Context of Microevolution," 16.

62 Driver, "Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Marianas," 30.

63 Driver, "Cross, Sword, and Silver: The Nascent Spanish Colony in the Marianas," 36–37.

64 Ibid., 33–34.

65 June 1680 to June 1681; February 1686 to September 1689; August 1694 to July 1696. Ibid., 42.

66 Underwood, "Population History of Guam: Context of Microevolution," 17.

67 Lawrence J. Cunningham and Janice J. Beaty, Guam: A Natural History (Honolulu: Bess Press, 2001); Garcia, The Life and Martyrdom of the Venerable Father Diego Luis de San Vitores; Hezel, "Diego Louis de San Vitores"; Safford, The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam.

68 Carano and Sanchez, A Complete History of Guam, 61–87.

69 Destiny's Landfall, 51.

70 Richard J. Shell, "The Marianas Population Decline: 17th Century Estimates," The Journal of Pacific History 34, no. 3 (1999): 293.

71 Ibid., 292; Underwood, "Population History of Guam: Context of Microevolution," 15.

72 Shell, "The Marianas Population Decline: 17th Century Estimates," 292. Records indicated smallpox epidemics on Guam in 1688, 1700, 1779, 1849, 1855, 1861, 1889, 1899. Fritz, The Chamorro: A History and Ethnography of the Marianas, 27; Underwood, "Population History of Guam: Context of Microevolution," 17–18.

73 Shell, "The Marianas Population Decline: 17th Century Estimates," 292; Underwood, "Population History of Guam: Context of Microevolution," 20.The 1710 census also recorded 417 mestizos living on Guam. Bruce George Karolle, "Agriculture, Population and Development in Guam: Some Options for the Future" (Ph.D., Michigan State University, 1978), 44; Laura Thompson, The Native Culture of the Marianas Islands, Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin (Honolulu, Hawaii: Bernice P. Bishop Museum, 1945), 3; Jane H. Underwood, "The Native Origins of the Neo-Chamorros of the Mariana Islands," Micronesica 12, no. 2 (1976): 203. In addition, by this time, all the villages in the northern part of the island, near Inapsan, were deserted. Rebecca A. Stephenson, Freshwater Use Customs on Guam: An Exploratory Study, Technical, Sociocultural Determinants of Freshwater Uses in Guam (Mangilao, Guam: Water Resources Research Center, University of Guam, 1979), 100.

74 Laura Thompson, Guam and Its People, Third, Revised (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1947), 41.

75 Underwood, "Population History of Guam: Context of Microevolution," 20.

76 Ibid., 12, 22.

77 Darlene R. Moore, "Archaeological Evidence of a Prehistoric Farming Technique on Guam," Micronesica 38, no. 1 (2005): 105; Rodrigue Lévesque, ed., History of Micronesia: Conquest of the Gani Islands, 16871696, vol. 9 (Gatineau, Québec, Canada: Lévesque Publications, 1997), 259; Rodrigue Lévesque, History of Micronesia: Carolinians Drift to Guam, 17151728, vol. 12 (Gatineau, Québec, Canada: Lévesque Publications, 1998), 513, 668.

78 Lévesque, History of Micronesia: Carolinians Drift to Guam, 17151728, 12:513–516; Moore, "Archaeological Evidence of a Prehistoric Farming Technique on Guam," 104.

79 Crozet mentioned this almost seventy-five years after reducción in 1772. Marc-Joseph Marion du Crozet, Crozet's Voyage to Tasmania, New Zealand, the Ladrone Islands, and the Philippines in the Years 17711772, trans. H. Ling Roth (London: Truslove & Shirley, 1891), 92; Moore, "Archaeological Evidence of a Prehistoric Farming Technique on Guam," 105; Rogers, Destiny's Landfall, 84.

80 Moore, "Archaeological Evidence of a Prehistoric Farming Technique on Guam," 107; William Edwin Safford, A Year on the Island of Guam: An Account of the First American Administration, with Notes on the Physical Geography, Climate, Flora, and Fauna of the Island, Its History, and the Character of Its People, from the Journal of William Edwin Safford (Washington, D.C.: H.L. McQueen, 1910), 48, 72.

81 The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, 21.

82 Marjorie G. Driver, ed., The Augustinian Recollect Friars in the Mariana Islands, 17691908 (Mangilao, Guam: University of Guam, Richard F. Taitano Micronesian Area Research Center, 2000).

83 Safford, The Useful Plants of the Island of Guam, 22.

84 For a different Jesuit role in colonial war see, Barbara Ganson, The Guarani Under Spanish Rule in the Rio De La Plata (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005). An excellent student resource is John E. Kicza and Rebecca Horn, Resilient Cultures: America's Native Peoples Confront European Colonization 15001800, 2nd ed. (Upper Saddle River: Pearson Education, 2012).

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