Monday, August 1, 2016


Japanese officials supervise Chamorros working in the rice paddies

"No army ever marched on an empty stomach," so the saying goes.

Many times, though, the invading army expects the people they subjugate to fill those empty stomachs!

Our ancestors have been planting and eating rice for many centuries, long before the Europeans came. Due to the fact that rice cannot be grown except in wet fields, Guam did not have an abundance of land suited for large rice plantations. Corn, in time, became the main starch for Chamorros, thanks to Mexican influence. Corn can more easily be grown than rice, and rice was saved for special occasions. By the 1930s, more Chamorros were making money and could afford to buy imported rice from Japan. Local rice production was still low and could not supply the island with enough rice.

When the Japanese occupied Guam, they set out to rectify that situation. All that rice they hoped to grow on Guam was primarily for the Japanese military stationed here; then Japanese civilians and, lastly, the Chamorros. Private property was no issue for the Japanese. If they told you your property had to be used for rice cultivation, you had no choice but to allow it.

Prior to the war, only 186 acres of Guam land were used for rice production. The Japanese felt they could increase that to 1960 acres! The best they could do was reach 709 acres, but that was still a significant increase in rice plantings.

This chart shows where the rice was planted, according to acreage.


161 acres

148 "

118 "

105 "

96 "

56 "

25 "
709 acres

As you can see, no rice was grown north of Hagåtña. From Tamuning and Mangilao onto the north of Guam, the land was made up mainly of porous limestone, so wetlands were not to be found there. Rain seeped into the white, chalky soil, filling the huge underground lake that provides us water when we can dig wells to fetch it. No rivers can be found in the north of Guam.

The best areas for rice farming were in the south of Guam, where volcanic, red-clay hills descend into well-watered valleys and coastal wetlands, and in low-lying Piti and Asan. Piti, in fact, was highest in the number of acres dedicated to rice farming during the Japanese Occupation.

In this 1944 aerial photo of Piti, one can see the amount of flat land to the rear and west of the village which was cleared and used for farming.

I suspect that most of the rice farming in Piti would have been in Sasa, which is a low-lying, marshy terrain good for rice paddies.

Chamorro men and women were made to work in the rice paddies, in Chamorro called fama'åyan. (Fan+få'i+an). Få'i is the planted rice seedling.

Rice farming under the Japanese, however, was a failure. The Japanese gave up on rice farming by late 1943 and told the Chamorros to plant taro, yams, corn and other foods that proved more successful.

There were several reasons for the horribly low yields of rice at harvest time. The Japanese were unable to bring in enough insecticides to kill bugs like the leafhopper which attacked the rice plantings. Guam also lacked fertilizers and equipment. The Americans kept sinking Japanese ships carrying supplies to Guam, so very little of these made it to the island.

Let's honor the memory of our people who were made to work hard in the fama'åyan and not even for their own benefit.

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