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‘Before We Began Counting Years’ premieres at American Memorial Park theatre

JESUIT Priest Francis X. Hezel’s “Before We Began Counting Years,” a film about the ancient history of Micronesia and the Chamorro people, premiered at the American Memorial Park theatre on Thursday.

The 50-minute documentary presented evidence and interviews with archeologists regarding the early migration to the Mariana Islands.

“When people talk about the history of the Marianas and the Chamorro people, they think that it began with the latte stones. This film pushes it back by another 2,500 years with the original inhabitants of the islands,” said Hezel, one the most prominent and respected experts in Micronesian history and society.

He said it took two-and-a-half years to produce the documentary, adding that the final editing was finished three hours before the film was shown on Thursday. 

In a nutshell, Hezel said, the ancient Chamorros were maritime people who ultimately came from Taiwan.

“People say all the time, ‘We came from Indonesia.’ Maybe, that is a possibility. But there’s also a possibility, a bigger possibility that they came directly from the northern Philippine island of Luzon,” he said.

The people there, he added, came from Taiwan, hopping from one island to another. “But 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 the settlement of the Pacific. 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 said the Austronesian language family started in Taiwan and spread throughout the rest of the Pacific. “The oldest language is in the Austronesian family. They used to call it Malay-Polynesian. These languages include Filipino and Chamorro,” he added.

The film focused on the archeological work and DNA studies that could piece together the earliest history of Micronesia and the Chamorro people.

“We are trying to extend the sense of history of the  people. It is our history. It is something that we should be be proud of,” said Hezel, who has lived and worked in Micronesia since 1963.

Northern Marianas Humanities Council Executive Director Scott Russel said film project was supported through 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  and NMI history at  Northern Marianas College, said the film was very informative.

“Primarily, we are focusing on the origins of Chamorro people. There was a lot of information using archeological as well as linguistic evidence to indicate where the people came from. It was clearly presented and very comprehensive,” he added.

Wicksman said he got a DVD of the film which he will use in his class.

The DVD of “Before We Began Counting Years” is available at the Humanities Council office for $10 per copy. For more information, call 235-4785.

Source: Marianas Variety : http://www.mvariety.com/cnmi/cnmi-news/local/103731-before-we-began-counting-years-premieres-at-american-memorial-park-theatre

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