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  • Tiempon I Manmofo'na: Ancient Chamorro Culture and History of the Northern Mariana Islands
  • J. Stephen Athens
Tiempon I Manmofo'na: Ancient Chamorro Culture and History of the Northern Mariana Islands. Scott Russell. Micronesian Archaeological Survey Report No. 32. Division of Historic Preservation, Saipan, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, 1998. x + 390 pp., 180 figures, 11 tables, table of contents, references. ISBN 1-878453-30-0.

As suggested by its title, this nicely produced book presents a compilation of knowledge concerning the prehistory and early contact history of the indigenous inhabitants of the Northern Mariana Islands, a region including all of the islands of the archipelago except Guam (the political designation for this area is the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or CNMI). Given the nature of the subject and the fact that the book continually refers to Guam, the largest of the Mariana Islands, it is hard to understand why this island was not more directly represented in the book. Nevertheless, such a comprehensive treatment of ancient Chamorro culture, as the indigenous people are called, is long overdue given advances in archaeological and historical knowledge since Alexander Spoehr's extensive work in the 1950s. Although written with primarily a popular readership in mind, the engaging [End Page 313] and clear writing style of Russell and his ability to integrate the subjects of prehistory and history so well will make this book a useful resource for the professional archaeologist and historian. Extensive notes following each chapter add to its academic value, along with its bibliography. One of the nice features of the book is that in subtle ways it does much to provide the public with an appreciation of the contribution of the CNMI and Guam historic preservation programs to the expansion of our knowledge about Marianas prehistory since the time of Alexander Spoehr, and later, Fred Reinman, who worked in Guam during the mid-1960s. Perhaps because it is primarily oriented toward the nonprofessional, Russell did not stint on figures; the book is profusely illustrated with photographs, maps, and drawings, many of which are from historical sources. This greatly adds to our appreciation and understanding of Chamorro culture, besides giving us a "feel" for what the archaeology is like.

Following a Forward by historian Francis Hezel, who introduces the volume, a Preface by the author that briefly recounts his introduction to Chamorro history and prehistory besides presenting an explanation of the book's organization along with acknowledgments to those who have helped, the Introduction succinctly orients the reader both geographically and environmentally. This sets the stage for Chapter I, which recounts the main characters-historic and modern-who have provided us with so much information about Chamorro culture. In doing so, Russell is also given a chance to briefly introduce the main outlines of Chamorro culture history to his readers. It is a clever way to humanize what in less capable hands often becomes a dry and dull presentation of facts. We also gain an appreciation right from the start of the main problems of Chamorro culture history and the difficulties faced by the various explorers, religious people, adventurers, civil servants, historians, and archaeologists who have sought to provide information. Russell is careful that the reader understands the historical and social context of those offering observations and information, something he does throughout the book (especially Chapter IV, which concerns the historical period).

Chapters II and III constitute the heart of the book, discussing archaeological findings and the chronological sequence (Chapter II), and also an ethnography of Chamorro culture as reconstructed from archaeology and ethnohistory (Chapter III). Russell's discussion of the Austronesian origins of Chamorro culture is particularly useful in that it helps us to understand the background to the colonizing of the Mariana Islands and some of the basic characteristics of Chamorro culture (language, subsistence, pottery), besides suggesting a possible origin for the earliest settlers (island Southeast Asia, possibly the Philippines).

Russell also does a good job indicating the interpretive difficulties faced by archaeologists, and conveying to the reader that there are still a number of uncertainties regarding our understanding of the past. Perhaps the main example of this concerns how to understand the...