UOG to host screening of “Before We Began Counting Years”
The University of Guam welcomes Father Francis X. Hezel, SJ, as the 37th guest speaker in the University’s Presidential Lecture Series. During his presentation, Fr. Hezel will be screening his documentary, “Before We Began Counting Years,” which offers a theoretical glimpse of early, pre-latte settlements and what life could have been like on Guam, Tinian, and Saipan during that time.
The lecture will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 22, in the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences (CLASS) Lecture Hall on the UOG Campus.
Thousands of years before latte stones and hollowed lusong rocks began appearing, a group of seafarers first settled in the Marianas. Others soon followed. We see the traces of these first settlers in a few coastal villages —places like Achugao on Saipan, Unai Chulu on Tinian, and Ritidian on Guam.
These early settlers arrived more than 2,000 years before the beginning of what is known as the Latte Period, long before anyone began counting years. Who were these people? Where did they come from? What do we know about their lifestyle?
This new 45-minute documentary film surveys the work done by archaeologists over the years, especially the recent work by archaeologist Michael Carson, to offer answers to these questions. From the fragments of pottery and the shell tools and ornaments that have been excavated, we can learn something of how these early people might have lived.
Culture change was not something that first started with the coming of the Spaniards, we learn. The inhabitants’ toolkit and housing style changed over the centuries, as did the people’s diet. The significant drop in the sea level during the early centuries played a large role in such changes, as did the rapid increase in population.
“Before We Began Counting Years,” funded with the help of the Northern Marianas Humanities Council, was produced by Fr. Francis X. Hezel and edited by Len Tenorio. It premiered in April of last year.
Francis X. Hezel is a Jesuit priest who has worked in Micronesia for 50 years. During his early years in the islands, he taught at Xavier High School in Chuuk and then served as principal and director of the school. As a young teacher, he co-authored two Micronesian social studies textbooks and tried his hand at other curriculum development projects, including individualized instruction programs.
Following this, he shifted to public education in 1982 as he became the full-time director of Micronesian Seminar, a Jesuit-sponsored research-education institute that embraced the entire region. In this capacity he has organized several conferences on current issues and has written and spoken widely about social change and its impact on island societies. He has also published well over 100 articles and several books on Micronesian history and culture, including “The First Taint of Civilization and Strangers in Their Own Land.” His most recent book, “Making Sense of Micronesia,” was written to help newcomers appreciate some of the basics of culture. He has produced more than 70 video documentaries for local broadcast, including a seven-hour series on the history of Micronesia.
Currently he is working in a parish on Guam, where he also assists migrants from Micronesia. He continues to provide modest assistance to the islands as opportunities present themselves.