Artikel zu Ethnologie und Geschichte Ozeaniens
A Pre-Missionary Manuscript Record of the Chamorro, Micronesia

(Originally published in: The Journal of Pacific History, Volume 7:1972, 189-194)


Karl R. Wernhart

The Chamorro Culture of the Marianas in Micronesia disappeared long ago and as the historical sources are rare and unproductive we know comparatively little about it. We derive our knowledge only from the fragmentary reports of voyages of former centuries.

The period between the discovery of the Marianas [1] by Magellan on 6 March 1521 and the beginning of missionary activity in 1668 is one in which we would expect to find first hand accounts of Chamorro culture relatively untouched by European influences. During this period a number of voyagers visited the Marianas which became an important station for ships on the route from Mexico to the Philippines. Such expeditions were those of Loyasa (1526), Legaspi (1565), Galli (1582), Cavendish (1588), Mendana and Quiros (1596), and Van Noort (1600). There was no permanent settlement and the voyagers only landed to replenish their food and fresh water supplies.

On 10 July 1662, sailing from Mexico, the Jesuit Diego Luis de Sanvitores came for the first time to the islands. On his voyage to Manila he visited the isle of Guam and after fruitless negotiations in Manila informed his queen Maria Anna of Austria-widow of Philip IV of Spain-about the 'sad paganism of the natives'. In spite of the original objections of the Governor of Manila, the missionaries soon began ambitious activity on the islands, which after 1668 were called 'Marianas' in honour of the queen. The missionary period was characterized by innumerable wars, persecutions and treacheries which, together with different plagues, finally led to the almost complete extermination of the Chamorro and by 1700 their culture had vanished. The greatest number of sources belong to this period. Our knowledge of the culture of the Chamorro, in fact, derives chiefly from the Jesuits who had come into the archipelago with Sanvitores. These men sent reports on the inhabitants, the wars and revolts and on their missionary work to Europe. The Jesuit Le Gobien provided an outline of the culture in his book Histoire des Isles Marianes, published in 1700, intended to acquaint his contemporaries with this far-away people to whom his fellow friars had preached the Christian faith for over 30 years. This account is one of the most important sources on ancient Chamorro culture [2].

The voyagers of the 18th and 19th centuries were able to add nothing to Chamorro studies unless, like Dumont d'Urville, they based their informationon second hand sources. Instead, they deplored the ruin of a culture and people [3].

From the period before 1668 there are only a few accounts of the Chamorro, so that any surviving documentary material becomes important evidence inevaluating the accounts of the missionaries. In the private archives of the Counts of Harrach in Vienna there is a diary (post eventum) of an Austrian nobleman, Christoph Carl Fernberger, who visited the Marianas in 1623 in the course of his circumnavigation of the world [4]. Although Fernberger's account is very brief and somewhat incomplete it provides some interesting details of Chamorro life in the period in which first contact between Europeans and natives took place. At that time stereotype patterns came into being on both sides which had disastrous consequences for the Chamorro. Those who opposed the process of assimilation and acculturation were exterminated and the few who survived were forced into crossing with Spaniards and especially with Tagales,brought by them from the Philippines to the Marianas.

Unfortunately we do not know much about the personality of Christoph Carl Fernberger von Egenberg. He belonged to a noble family of'Upper Austria'. His father was Carl Ludwig Fernberger von Egenberg; his mother was Johanna Geyerin Edle von Osterburg. His parents' marriage took place on 4 December 1594 at Ybbs an der Donau. Christoph Carl was probably born between 1596 and 1600. It seems that he got a good education and was greatly interested in the new knowledge of his time, especially in geography as well as language studies. At the beginning of the Thirty Years' War he became a captain in the imperial Spanish army. He fought in the war of independence in the Netherlands and was captured near Rosenthal. After his liberation, Fernberger went from Rotterdam to Amsterdam. This was the seat of the Netherlands East India and West India Companies, which had factories in the Indies and ships sailing there. Searching for a chance to return to Austria, Fernberger found a captain who hired him as a kitchen hand on a ship bound for Africa. However the ship was wrecked in the Cape Verde Islands at the end of January 1622 and the crew was picked up by a Dutch ship bound for the Indies via South America. The ship passed through the Strait of Magellan between 18 September and 2 October; touched at Quinterno, Guayaquil and Panama; and crossed the Pacific from the southern end of the Californian peninsula. On 30 March 1623 the ship reached the Marianas, and from there she went on to Ternate via 'Capo del Spiritu' in the Philippines. She arrived in Batavia on the island of Java on 25 July of the same year.

Having retired from the service of the Netherlands East India Company in 1624, Fernberger became a merchant in the Malayan archipelago, especially on Celebes and Banda; then he went as far as Formosa and from there to Chuanchow in China. He made the acquaintance of the Portuguese Emanuel Rodrigo and accompanied him to Siam. He took part in a campaign of the Queen of Patani against the King of Siam and his strategic and military knowlegde secured the victory for the queen. Having returned to Batavia via Japan and Amboina, he set out for home on 18 August 1625. On 1 September he came to India (Gujarat) and when he continued his voyage was shipwrecked again near Ormuz. Saved by Arabs he was sold to an Armenian merchant whom he accompanied on his travels to Persia (Ispahan). After he had purchased his liberty he again returned to Batavia via Macaoand set out for home for the second time in 1627. With the fleet of the retiring Governor of Batavia, de Carpentier, he came to the southern tip of Africa and after rounding the Cape of Good Hope landed at Table Bay. Fromhere they sailed along the west coast of Africa to the north; on 11 June 1628 they came to the Channel and stopped at Dover. Finally the fleet and with it Fernberger arrived at Amsterdam on 26 July 1628. From there he travelled to Vienna via Hamburg and Prague, completing his journey round the world.

On his long voyage Fernberger made notes on tablets and sheets of paper about his adventures. After his return to Vienna he turned them into a continuous diary. On the last page of the diary his brother, Christoph Adam Fernberger, whose handwriting was compared with manuscripts in the Austrian National Library (Codex 100097, 100098 and 12390) and in the Hofkammer-Archiv (Family acts, Sig. F-V 50), added that this was the 'Raisbuch' of Christoph Carl Fernberger, who had personally undertaken this voyage. The Vienna manuscript has 271 continuously numbered pages and two unnumbered preceding pages. It measures 15 by 20 cm. In the University Library of Salzburg there is a copy of the Vienna original, but it has gaps in the contents as well as comissions in the text. The style of handwriting is of the baroque period. The Vienna manuscript is the oldest Austrian handwritten diary of a voyage round the world. It contains geographical, cartographical, historical and ethnographical information on Indonesia, America and finally the Chamorro people of the Marianas.

Den 30 Marti haben wir die
inssel Delo Latrones gesehen,
welches von ferne ein ser
schöne inssel ist, und ligt
auf 13 graden, und 18 minuden,
und alss wir davor unsser
anker lissen fallen, so sein
alssobalt in die 60 kleiner
schiftlein bey unsser schiff
komben; disse schifflein sein
ober 2 schuch nit breit und
8 schuh lang und auf iedem 5
oder 6 persohnen gesessen,
und als sie bey den schiff
komen, so ruefen sie hiero
das ist eisser; wir
winkhen ihnen sie solten
herauf komen, so sein
alssobalt in die 30 komen;
die andern wolten auch kombn
aber wir liessen nit mehr auss
forcht dass sie unss möchten
schiff ablaufen; disse leit
sein ganz schwarz und
wolgestalt von angesicht,
von persohn ein wenig lenger
und ganz nackhent; alss sie
ein lediges eisser ersehen,
so namen sie es und sprangen
ins wasser; ihre frauen
etliche die kamen auch mit
ans schiff, nahmen ihre
kinder so knäblein sein mit;
them;ob sie zwar schwarz sein sie
doch wol gebilt, aber sehr
geil den sie weissen uns dass
wir solten unzucht mit ihnen
dreiben, wie es auch von
etlichen beschehen, aber es hat
ihnen übel bekomen, dass sie
es mit den todt bezahlen
muessten; ihren knäblein thun
sie allen nögl durchs haubt
von ihrer mänligkeit und
krümben dieselben umb, dass sie
es nit herausskrigen; und wan sie
die muetter vor vogtbar [Salzburg:
fruchtbar] erkundt, so thuet
sie ihnes herauss, sonst
sagen sie wurden sich in
ihren jungen
jahren verderben; ich hab durch
einen von unssern volkh lassen
Spanish fragen, diessen so wol
spanisch kundt, sie solten
mir sagen was sie glaubten;
so sagten sie an den gressten
in the fisch imb wasser, den wer
derselbige ihr freundt nicht,
so muesten sie alle erdrinkhen,
destwegen opfern sie ihn zwen
man und zwo frauen mit vier
kindern welche weren in
stuckh gehackht, und mit grosser
selenitet ins wasser geworfen, so
bleibt er ihr freundt; ich liess
auch fragen ob einer mer als ein
frau hat, sagten sie, das die
macht bey den frauen sey sovil
männer zu nemen als sie wolt und
die kinder gehören den frauen,
diweil sie es auferziehen, so
mögen sie mit ihnen leben wie
as sie wollen. Sie brachten uns
cocosnuss und penanes,
welches ein sehr süsse frucht,
auch gaben sie unss etlich
wenig gesalzene und von der
sohnen gedruckhnete fisch, wier
in entgegen gaben ihnen alte
nögl, und waren damit
zufriden; wir liessen
ihnen andeuten unsser atmiral
sagt sie solten heimbfahren, und
wen sie geschlafen, so solten
sie wider komben; jeder gieng
in sein schifflein doch
muesst er ein wenig
eistter haben, all wer es
nur ein nagel.
Den 1. April giengen wir
ser frue zu segel; als sie
unss sahen wökh gan, folgten
sie unss ein weil nach, aber
wegen des gueten fortgangs
kunden sie unss nit
On 30 March [1623] we saw the
island called Delo Latrones,
which seen from afar, is a very
beautiful island and is
situated at a latitude of 13
degrees and 18 minutes [6] as soon
as we had dropped anchor there
came about 60 small boats to our
ship; these boats are not
broader than two feet and not
longer than eight feet and in
each of them there were five or
six persons; [7]
and when the came to the ship
they called 'hiero,hiero,
which means iron; [8] we
signaled them to
come on board ship and
soon there were about 30 that came;
the others also wished to come
but we did not allow that because
we feared that they would overrun
the ship; these people are
completely black and
of a fine shape,
a little bit bigger than we are
and completely naked; [9] the moment
they saw a bit of loose iron,
they took it and jumped
into the water; some of their wives
came with them
to the ship and had their
male children with
although they are black they are
wellshaped but very
wanton because they showed us that
we should do prostitution
with them, which some of us actually
did, but they had
to suffer for it and to pay
with their deaths; [10]
they put nails through the head
of their boys'
penis and
bend them so that
the children cannot remove them; only
when the mother finds them
procreative she
removes it because,
they say, othervise they would get
spoiled in early
years; [11]
one who could speak
was asked
by one of our crew
what belief they had;
they said they believed
greatest fish in the water because
if it would not be their friend
they would all be drowned;
therefore they sacrifice to the fish
in the form of two men and two women
with four children; these are
chopped into pieces and thrown into
the water, so the animal
remains their friend; [12] I also
asked if one man has more than one
wife; they said that it was the
power of the women to have as many
men as they like and
the children belong to the women,
because they are brought up by them
and they may live together
they like. [13] They brought us
coconuts and bananas,
which is a very sweet fruit;
they also gave us several
salted and
sun-dried fish, we
in return them gave them old
nails and they were
satisfied with them; [14] we showed
them that our admiral
said that they should go home and
after they had slept they should
come again tomorrow; everyone went
into his boat, but first he
had to have a little bit of
iron even if it were no more
than a nail.
On 1 April we weighed anchor
very early in the morning;
when they saw us sailing away,
they followed us for a while but
because of our good start
they could not
reach us.

[1] The Marianas were named 'Islas de los Ladrones' (Islands of Thieves) by Magellan owing to the theft of the boat of the 'Trinidad' - one of the ships of Magellan's fleet.
[2] C. Le Gobien, Histoire des Isles Marianes (Paris 1700).G. Fritz, Die Chamorro. Eine Geschichte und Ethnographie der Marianen, in Ethnologisches Notizblatt, III, 3 (Berlin 1904) and S. Prowazek, Die Deutschen Marianen. lhre Natur und Geschichte (Leipzig 1913) were based on Le Gubien's account.
[3] Compare E. Schlesier, Die Erscheinungsformen des Männerhauses und das Klubwesen in Mikronesien (s'Gravenhage 1953), 13,14, I5, and Prowazek, op. cit., 3.
[4] Archives of the Counts of Harrach, Vienna (Codex No. 473). See Karl R. Wernhart, Christoph Carl Fernberger, Der erste österreichische Weltreisende (1621-1628) (Wien 1972). This work contains a complete edition of Fernberger's diary, with the biography of the voyager, critical studies of the sources, and a statement of the importance of the MS for history, geography and ethnohistory.
[5] The German text is from the original version of the 17th century MS, pp. 69-72. See Wernhart, op. cit., 82-4.
[6] He might have seen the eastern coast of Guam on 30 Mar. 1623, where the ship probably anchored. It is the same island that Magellan had already reached in 1521.
[7] The ancient Chamorro were brave deep-sea fishermen and they built large sailing canoes and smaller boats. Driven off their course, they came as far as the southern Japanese islands with their outrigger canoes, resembling the Palau type. As recorded by Magellan in 1521 they had small boats with triangular sails. From them the Marianas received the name 'Islas de las Velas Latinas', islands of the lateen sails. Later on they had outrigger canoes of lemai or nonak (breadfruit tree) for inshore fishing. An account of this type was recorded by Gemelli Careri in 1696. Laura Thompson, The Native Culture of the Marianas Islands, B. P. Bishop Museum Bulletin no. 185 (Honolulu 1945), 34ff.; Alexander Slawik 'Mikronesier landen im 12. Jhdt. n. Chr. in Japan', Beiträge zur Japanologie,I (1955) 25ff; Fritz, op. cit. 79; Prowazek, op. cit., 40, 41.
[8] The Chamorro word for iron, cited in the modern dictionary of Fritz (Berlin 1908) is lulo(g) or lilo(g). Thompson, op. cit. 19; G. Fritz, 'Chamorro-Wörterbuch', Archiv für das Studium deutscher Kolonialsprachen, II (1908), 19.
[9] According to early reports, the Chamorro were tall and big-honed, with tawny skins, long black hair and regular features. Although they ate only roots, fruits and fish they were corpulent and robust but of a very great agility. The men wore no clothing; the urritaos(unmarried men) carried peculiar sticks as signs of their dignity.The women dressed with scant aprons of bark cloth (maro); they blackened their teeth, bleached their hair and adorned themselves with shells and tortoise-shell. Prowazek, op. cit., 30, 34; Schlesier, op. cit., 22-30; Fritz 'Die Chamorro . . .', 40, 52f; Thompson, op: cit., 7f.
[10] The Chamorro woman had a very high social position. She could decide over herself and her body.
[11] Perhaps the same as the wood or metal pin (palang) inserted in the penis in parts of Borneo and the southern Philippines.See Tom Harrisson, 'The "Palang", its History and Proto-History in West Borneo and the Philippines', Journal of the Malaysian Branch Royal Asiatic Society XXXVII (1964), pt 2, 162-4: 'The "Palang": II. Three Further Notes'. ibid., XXXIX (1966), pt 1, 172-4; G. N. Appell, 'The Penis Pin at Peabody Museum, Harvard University', ibid., XLI (1968), 203-5. The penis pin was also used in the Gilbert Islands. (Ed.)
[12] An importantant factor of the religion of the ancient Chamorro was the ancestor cult. Positive contact with the ancestors regulated their whole life. The macanas (priests) established contact with the anite (ancestors). The skulls of the dead were kept in their houses. According to Le Gobien the macanaswere able to influence the weather, the crops and the catch. They were also able to cure illness. Fritz. op. cit., 91f;Prowazek, op. cit., 41, 42; Thompson, op. cit., 20, 21, 22.
[13] Thompson states that little information concerning the social organization is available, but the fragmentary data indicate that society was organized into matrilineal clans. Marriages were usually monogamous, but premarital consorting of the sexes was institutionalized in the Marianas as in other parts of Micronesia.
According to Le Gobien the men could have as many wives as they liked but they did not marry relatives. Normally they had only one wife.The woman ruled in the home and her husband was not allowed to dispose of anything without her permission. The marriage could be dissolved at will, and the woman had no disadvantage. According to Fritz the woman also had to do the work in the home and on the plantations. Fritz, op. cit., 83f.; Prowazek, op. cit., 33; Thompson, op. cit., 34, 44.
[14] Breadfruit, coconuts, and bananas, as well as jungle fruits, such as arrowroot and federico nut, were among the staples. Fish, turtles,fowl, bats, and coconut crabs were important foods but the pig and dog apparently were not present at the time of discovery. According to Urdaneta salt was used by the natives.Thompson, op. cit., 34, 44.
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