Chamorro Health

Due to a Good Natural Diet Ancient Chamorro health Was Very Good

According to archeological investigations at various sites in Guam, ancient Chamorros had good diets and ate nutritional foods. The earliest European visitors to the Marianas described the Chamorro natives as robust, corpulent and strong. Chamorros ate moderately and were, therefore, healthy, strong and lived to an old age. However, some archeological reports also show that islanders had periods of malnutrition and poor health.

Archeologists look at bones and teeth because they provide indicators of a population’s health at a given time. Changes in bone can show when an individual or population is experiencing malnutrition, disease or other stresses. In the Marianas, most nutritional stress occurred during periods of famine when food resources were scarce due to seasonal weather patterns, or natural disasters, such as flood, drought, typhoons, tsunamis or earthquakes. Skeletal remains of individuals who underwent such stresses would show defects or signs of improper growth—as well as signs of recovery and healing when resources were replenished or abundant.

While Chamorros were not necessarily tall by modern standards, the Spanish remarked upon their height and apparent physical strength. The average height of males based on skeletal remains ranged from 168 to 175 centimeters (about 5’5” to 5’10”) and 152 to 160 centimeters (about 5’2” to 5’6”) for females. Chamorro remains also show areas of large muscle attachments, possibly due to strenuous physical activities that were a part of daily life. Their diets probably had much to do with the general good health of the ancient Chamorros, although they did suffer from certain endemic diseases, such as yaws (a tropical skin and bone infectious disease), arthritis and anemia.

Adult tooth samples of both sexes showed signs of betel nut (pugua) chewing. Betel nut was introduced to the islands. It was chewed with piper leaf (pupulu) and slaked lime (afok), a social practice that had little to do with nutrition. However, chewing betel nut seemed to help prevent dental caries (cavities) because of the excess saliva produced while chewing. With its mildly narcotic effect, betel nut was chewed often and generously shared with others.

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