By Lori Lyn Lirio
THE people of Marianas, including Chamorros, and Filipinos are related, archaeological evidence shows.
Thus claimed Jesuit Fr. Francis Hezel in his 50-minute documentary ‘Before We Began Counting Years’. The documentary film, which surveys the work done by archaeologists over the years, and presented evidence of where the early migrants of Mariana Islands came from, debuted in a premier showing at the American Memorial Park theatre last April 12.
“This video tries to extend back history. This is when people talk about their history of the Marianas and the Chamorro people. They used to think that it began in latte stones. This (the documentary) is pushing it back another 2,500 years with the original inhabitants of the islands,” the priest said in an interview.
Hezel disclosed that ‘Before We Began Counting Years’ was a two-and-a-half years in the making. In fact, the final editing was finished three hours before its premier showing. He said he took on this project because it would reconsider some of the myth associated with history.
In a nutshell, the Jesuit clergyman said, the Chamorros were maritime people. They came ultimately from Taiwan via the Philippines.
“People say all the time, we come from Indonesia, maybe, that is a possibility. There’s also a possibility, a bigger possibility that they came directly from the Philippines in Luzon,” he said.
The priest added that from Taiwan, these people went to the Batanes island. They would hop from one island to another in order to get to northern Luzon.
“This was a different matter. You didn’t hopscotch anywhere to get from the Philippines to the Marianas. That was a long trip. It was the first very long voyage that we have documented in settlement of the Pacific. Or they could have sailed directly from the northern Philippines, as mounting evidence suggests. In either case, they crossed hundreds of miles of open ocean back when Europeans were still hugging the shore,” Hezel explained.
The evidence, he stressed, is beginning to look like they first settled in Luzon in the Philippines – as there were similarities in the pottery, language and even the DNA – then these people went to the Marianas.
Hezel also noted that the Austronesian language family, which started in Taiwan, was distributed around the rest of the Pacific. The oldest language in the Austronesian family, which was used to be called Malayo-Polynesian, are the Filipino and Chamorro languages.
In the film, according to Hezel, he tried to update the pictures and put it out to the public, the archaeological work, and DNA studies, and other evidence that could piece together the earliest history of Micronesia and the Chamorro people.
“We are presenting that because we are trying to extend the sense of history for people here. It is our history. It is something that we should be to be proud of,” said Hezel, who has lived and worked in Micronesia since 1963.
Meanwhile, Northern Marianas Humanities Council Executive Director Scott Russel said they supported the project by giving them a grant.
“It is within with our priorities to promote projects that help explore the history of the islands. This is one project that does that. The board felt that it was worthy of funding.”
Barry Wicksman, who teaches Micronesian history and CNMI history at the Northern Marianas College, said the film is very informative and clearly presented.
“Primarily, we are focusing on the origins of Chamorro people. There was a lot of information using archaeological, as well as linguistic evidence to indicate where the people came from. It was clearly presented and very comprehensive,” he said.
Wicksman said he got a copy of the film which he will use in the class to reinforce his students’ learning about the history.
‘Before We Began Counting Years’ is available at Humanities Council office for US$10 per copy.