Much of Chamorro cuisine is influenced by various cultures. Examples of popular foods of foreign origin include various types of sweet or savory empanada, originally introduced by Spain, and pancit, a noodle dish from the Philippines.
Archeological evidence from islands in the Marianas reveals that rice was cultivated there since prehistory. Red rice made with achoti is a distinct staple food that strongly identifies Chamorro cuisine among the many dishes of fellow Pacific island cultures. It is commonly served for special events, such as parties (gupot or “fiestas”), nobenas, and occasions such as a high school or college graduations. Fruits such as lemmai, mangga, niyok, and bilimbines are consumed in various local recipes. In the Marianas, Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and American cuisine are also commonly available.
Locally distinct foods include kelaguen, a dish in which meat is cooked in whole or in part by citric acid rather than heat; Tinaktak, a meat dish made with coconut milk; and kå’du fanihi (flying fox/fruit bat soup). Fruit bats and local birds have become scarce in modern times primarily due to the World War II-era introduction of the brown tree snake, which decimated the populations of local birds and threatens the fanihi population as well; hunting them is now illegal.
Guam and Saipan has highest per capita consumption of Tabasco sauce in the world, equaling almost two 2-ounce bottles per person per year. Tabasco and Spam united to create Hot & Spicy Spam, which debuted on Guam is very popular in Saipan. Cans of Hot & Spicy Spam are sold throughout the world now.
The Marianas and the Hawaiian islands are the world’s foremost consumers, per capita, of Spam, with Guam at the top of the list, and Hawaii second (specifics regarding the rest of the Marianas are often absent from statistics). Spam was introduced to the islands by the American military during the World War II era, when it was used as war rations.
What little is known about early prehistoric life is inferred from changes in artifacts and other archaeological materials, primarily ceramics. It was roughly about 1,000 years ago that a new round of cultural adaptations began to appear in the archaeological record. Included among these were a new architectural form and possibly a growing social complexity. It is this period that archaeologists have termed the Latte Phase, after the distinctive stone columns and caps which began to appear throughout the archipelago around 1100 AD.
Historical research has suggested that pre-historic Chamorro society was made up of three distinct social classes, a noble or chiefly class (matua), a demi-noble class (atchoat) and a low class (mangatchang). This conventional view of Chamorro social organisation is in consistent with the results of recent archaeological and historical research, and with the structures of other traditional Micronesian societies.
Although research on the nature of pre-historic Chamorro society continues, the preponderance of archaeological and historical data clearly suggests that Chamorro society was organised at the village level and comprised two or three general levels of relative rank. Females played an important role in ancient Chamorro society and were responsible for the perpetuation of the indigenous language and aspects of traditional culture following the imposition of Christianity.
Ancestor worship was an integral part of ancient Chamorro culture. According to historical account, skulls were exhumed from grave sites after the flesh had decomposed. Leg bones were also removed for the manufacture of spear points.
The affairs of a village were probably run informally by the respective chiefs along the lines of an extended family. Activities such as warfare, canoe building, navigation and fishing were practised by the males. Women on the other hand, were responsible for taking care of the young children, maintaining the household and working in the garden. Another important female occupation was the production of woven mat which were used to fashion mattresses, blankets, hats and other articles.
The missionaries noted that Chamorros did not marry relatives and that they were monogamous. It was also apparent that while the men may have been the warriors and navigators, the women were the heads of the household and were quick to assert their prerogatives. The important and powerful role exercised by women in the traditional Chamorro society has been summarised as follows. Females, in particular elder women in the clan, who were married and mothers were powerful in all spheres of the traditional society. Through matrilineal kinship system, women exercised control over family life, property and inheritance. They assumed a central role and possessed strong bargaining powers in their marriages. Their esteem status was also reflected in rituals, legends and ceremonial events.