Dutch expedition

In 1597 the Dutch began raiding into the Pacific, hoping that by attacking the Spanish colonies and ships they could force the Spanish to grant them independence. In 1598 the Dutch launched an expedition to the Pacific under Admiral Oliver van Noort, who was acclaimed a hero for striking at the Spanish and completing the fourth expedition (after Magellan, Hawkins, and Cavendish) to circumnavigate the globe.

Van Noort first sighted Guam on 15 September 1600, approaching the island on the east side. He wrote that a canoe came alongside when they were still half a league away, and soon many more came out in their canoes with fish, coconuts, bananas, yams, and sugarcane to barter for iron.

Noted CHamoru’s swimming abilities

Van Noort made note of the how strong the CHamorus were and about their excellent swimming abilities. He also said they were tricksters:

We were coasting the island which runs south and north about seven or eight leagues according to our estimate. We doubled the south cape, from which we saw a low point coming out where we thought we could anchor and the canoes were coming out from all sides to barter. There must have been over 200 canoes and aboard each two, three, four and five men, pressing together noisily, shouting hiero, hiero, which means iron, iron. Because of the pressing we must have crushed two or three underneath our keel; but, they did not care, because they are very good swimmers, know how to upturn their canoes and put back everything that was in it.

These islands bear their true name of Ladrones, because everybody there is inclined to steal, and is very subtle at it, even remarkable, because they cheated us in various ways in trading with them; by placing a handful of rice on top of a basket of coconut leaves; it looks as if there was much inside, but upon opening it, one finds only leaves and other things, because when bartering they place their canoes behind or on the side of the ships without coming aboard, and one must tie a piece of iron to a cord, and take in exchange what they give.

Some of them came aboard the ship, where they were given some food and drink, and one of them seeing one of our people who had a sword in hand, who was doing his turn at guard duty, grabbed it from him and leapt overboard with it, diving under the water. We aimed a few shots at others who had also stolen some things: but they all jumped overboard to avoid the shots, and the others who were not guilty did not care at all.

These people live in the water as well as on land, according to our opinion, because they know how to dive so skilfully, the women as well as the men, which we noticed when we threw five pieces of iron into the water which one single man went in to get all from below, something that amazed us very much.

Van Noort also commented on the canoes:

Their canoes are very beautiful and well made, such as any that we have seen in the Indies, being about 15 or 20 feet in length, and one feet and a half wide: They knew how to handle them well, sailing before the wind rather skillfully, without turning around to tack; rather, they sail against the wind with the other end forward, leaving the sail as is, which is made of reeds like dressed sheepskin.

Some women came aboard as well completely naked as the men, except that they had a green leaf before their middle. They wear their hair long and the men shorn just like we see at home, Adam and Eve in paintings.

By Shannon J. Murphy

For further reading

Lévesque, Rodrigue. History of Micronesia: A Collection of Source Documents. Vols. 8-11. Québec: Lévesque Publications, 1996-1997.

Madrid, Carlos. Beyond Distances: Governance, Politics and Deportation in the Mariana Islands from 1870 to 1877. Saipan: Northern Mariana Islands Council for Humanities, 2006.