National Park Service U.S. Department of the Interior

National Register of Historic Places Program:
Sumay Cemetery, Agat/Santa Rita, Guam

The National Register of Historic Places is the official list of the Nation's historic places worthy of preservation. Authorized by the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the National Park Service's National Register of Historic Places is part of a national program to coordinate and support public and private efforts to identify, evaluate, and protect America's historic and archeological resources.


[photo]Sumay Cemetery
Photograph courtesy of Guam Historic Preservation Office

The Sumay Cemetery in Guam was listed in the National Register of Historic Places on October 8, 1999. This site is all that remains of the pre-war prehistoric and historic village of Sumay (pronounced su mai). Sumay village was totally destroyed during pre-invasion bombing by American forces during World War II. It is located near the end of Marine Drive, and east of the Sumay housing area on U.S. Naval Activities, Guam. It may be reached by driving one mile past the junction of Marine Drive and Highway 2, on the main Naval Base. Sumay Cemetery is on the east side of the highway, on the southeast corner of the road intersection near Sumay Cove Marina.

The cemetery, which is the oldest permanent historic cemetery on the island, covers an area of approximately 50 meters by 47 meters. The area of the cemetery is lower than the road, and is screened from the road on three sides by tropical vegetation. A decorative wall and gateway, which was constructed in 1934-35 as a "happy labor project" by the men of Sumay village, surrounds the cemetery. The wall sustained numerous bullet and shell impacts during World War II, and subsequent earthquakes and typhoons have left it in damaged, but surprisingly good condition.

There are approximately 157 grave markers, many in good repair. Unfortunately, shelling during World War II seriously impacted the cemetery making it impossible to determine exact number of original grave markers. A preliminary survey of the cemetery suggests that the oldest portion is the northwest corner. The southern and eastern edges appear to be later. The cemetery is almost three quarters full. Former mayor Gregorio M. Borja, Santa Rita village, advised that a small portion of the southeast section inside the wall was set aside for still borne children, and for victims of suicide.

Sumay Cemetery
Photograph courtesy of Guam Historic Preservation Office

These graves were not marked, and no surface indication is obvious. The oldest date now legible on a stone is 1911; the most recent is 1942. However, in 1999, Mr. Juan Guzman, then an eighty eight (88) year old pre-war resident of Sumay village, stated in a personal interview that his great grandmother, grandmother, and mother are all buried there. This would place early interment at well before the turn of the century.

There are at least five distinctive styles among the grave markers. The center of the cemetery contains more elaborate markers, greater in size and degree of ornamentation. Chamorro and Spanish appear mostly on markers dated before 1930, and English appears thereafter. Many markers were not engraved, but rather painted, and are no longer legible. Each year, on All Soul’s Day, the markers are cleaned and repainted by relatives, with names and dates where discernable.

On December 8, 1941, Sumay became the first target of Japanese aircraft. Targeted were the U.S. Marine Barracks, the Trans pacific Telephone Cable Station, Standard Oil, and the Pan American Airways operations. Only two days were required for the Japanese forces to take Guam. Approximately 500 Americans were taken prisoner of war, and sent to Japan for the duration of  the war. Within days of capturing the island, the people of Sumay village were evicted to make way for a Japanese garrison.

[photo]Sumay Cemetery
Photograph courtesy of Guam Historic Preservation Office

For two and one half years Japan ruled Guam, changing the name of the island to Omiya Jima, all the village names were changed to Japanese, and the younger Chamorro people were instructed in the Japanese language. July 21, 1944, brought the Marines who recaptured the island for the United States. Prior to the U.S. invasion, the island was bombed for 13 straight days. All villages from Agana to Agat were destroyed, which included Sumay. The area was taken by the U.S. military for the establishment of a forward air base to bomb the Japanese homeland. Guam became known at that time as the "Market Basket of the Pacific", and supplied war materials for the war effort.

Following the war the former location of Sumay was retained by the U.S. Navy due to its strategic position on Apra Harbor. The former residents of Sumay had been relocated to what is now Santa Rita village, and never again were given the opportunity to reestablish their homes in the village of Sumay.

Jennings W. Bunn. JR. Sumay Cemetery NRHP Nomination, Guam Historic Preservation Office, October 8, 1999

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