Author - Francis X. Hezel, SJ

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5) Out of Africa
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4) Through China to Taiwan
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3) The Beginning of the Seafarers
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2) Where the Original Settlers Come From
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1) Back to the First Settlement of Our Islands
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Micronesians:
Where Did They Come From?
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Juan Ngiraibuuch: A Life Too Short
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Christmas, 2021

5) Out of Africa

50,000 BC – How far back can we go?

Back to Africa where it all began. To the land where the earliest remains of human-like creatures were found, dating back to at least two million years ago. These creatures were the first that walked upright, but they looked more like apes than the humans we know today. Their brain was barely half the size of the human brain today, and they eventually went extinct.

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4) Through China to Taiwan

(5000 BC-2500 BC)

About 5000 BC, just before the people we know as Chinese settled down in their land and before rice fields spread widely throughout the country, bands of hunters and gatherers roamed throughout eastern Asia. Different language speaking groups were very much on the move, wandering this way and that way, looking for places where they could find the resources they needed to survive.

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3) The Beginning of the Seafarers

(2500 BC-1400 BC)

So where did these restless sea-people, the voyagers who sailed to Melanesia and made their temporary home there, originally come from?

The answer we get from nearly all those who have studied this question is Taiwan, an island just off the coast of China. Taiwan is generally regarded as the starting point: the place in which the Austronesian language family–the broad family that embraces nearly all the major Pacific Island languages–originated. It is also where the seafaring tradition, the navigational skills, and so many of the other cultural traits associated with early island societies were formed.

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2) Where the Original Settlers Come From

(1400 BC – 200 BC)

Who were the first people to settle these islands? Where did they come from?

The early settlers in Micronesia left us clues as to who they were and how they lived. They even offered hints of where they had come from. The remains that archaeologists have found in ancient burial sites and in the garbage pits of these people (midden sites, they are called) reveal most of what we know about them. Since these settlers left no written records of their voyages or discoveries, those who wish to learn about them must poke around in the earth to discover what they may have left buried beneath the ground. So, pits were dug on most of the major high islands and even on some of the outer islands like Fais and Lamotrek.

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1) Back to the First Settlement of Our Islands

(2,000 years ago)
Where did we come from?

Most islanders have heard the story explaining how their clan first reached their island. They may also know the tales about the arrival of some of the other clans. One former student of mine, when I asked him about his clan’s origins on Fefan in Chuuk, told me that the founder of the clan was carried to his island on the back of a dolphin.

Even after their arrival, however, clans spread out, sometimes widely and in surprising ways. Often they changed names in the course of their movement. The real story of any clan will show twists and turns over the decades, and there are tales to describe all this as well.

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Micronesians:
Where Did They Come From?

I’ll always remember walking down the road in Chuuk many years ago and glimpsing the flickering light in the wooden houses–the light of the kerosene lamp.

In the old days, before most houses had electrical power, long before cell phones and even before television sets, it was story-telling time as darkness fell. The day’s work had been done, the food cooked and distributed to the family. Now the gathered family could relax in the couple of hours before the children went to sleep.

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Juan Ngiraibuuch: A Life Too Short

The photo of Juan that is unforgettable, at least for me, is the 1987 shot of him seated between his two fellow novices and their novice director, Fr. Felix Yaoch. in the rectory in Palau. They all have beaming smiles on their faces, as well they should. They were making history in an island group that had long been a mission served by other countries. Now Micronesia had its own Jesuit novitiate, its own Palauan novice master, and three island seminarians. It was a key event on the path toward the truly Micronesian church that we had all hoped for.

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Christmas, 2021

“Silver bells, silver bells. It’s Christmas time in the city…” That was the song the St. Andrew’s choir presented at our first Christmas dinner in the seminary 65 years ago. At those words, the faces of my fellow novices fell as we remembered what we had left behind just a few months earlier. Today, when I listen to the song the touch of nostalgia is still there, but now it brings a smile, in recognition of all the happy memories in the islands as well as back “in the city.”

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