Thursday, June 20, 2019


View of Tinian from Anson's ship in 1742

Hopefully it is by now well-known by my readers that Tinian was used, during the major part of the Spanish period, for cattle raising and a few other animals.

The island is, in the main, quite flat and suitable for animal grazing.

Under Spain, Tinian was also depopulated, so the entire island could be dedicated to agriculture and animal husbandry. The sale of Tinian beef, pork and other farm produce helped fund the Spanish government and the care of lepers and other needy people in Guam.

Since Tinian itself had no population, the Spanish government employed Chamorro workers from Guam, often single men who could work on Tinian for a couple of years then return to Guam, replaced by a new batch of workers repeating the cycle. Towards the end of the 1800s, Carolinian workers were brought in, but that didn't last long.

Thanks to an English shipwreck survivor, we have a bit of a description of life in Tinian in 1835, lived by these Chamorro workers from Guam.

The survivor, whose name was William Reney, sailed in a boat with five other shipmates after his ship had crashed in the Kiribati (Gilbert) Islands, some two thousand miles away. When they spotted Tinian a month later, they had depleted their meager store of food and water. They were overjoyed to find land!

They arrived at night so it wasn't until dawn's light that they met human beings on Tinian. The men described themselves as being "exiles" from Guam. I'm not sure what was exactly meant by the term. Were they found guilty of some crime on Guam and sentenced to work the Tinian farms as punishment? Or was the term "exile" misapplied or misunderstood by either party? In any case, Reney met men from Guam. He doesn't say how many men he met, but the impression given is not too many; certainly not in the hundreds. From other documents, we can estimate some thirty or forty men, more or less.

These workers are under the command of a sergeant, sent from Guam as well. He had the power to punish any man by flogging. The men lived in little huts. There is water from a well, and the water, though brackish, is drunk. As an alternative, the men make and drink their own tuba (coconut toddy).

Today's Tinian Cattle

Tinian was abundant with fruit. Coconuts, oranges, breadfruit, sweet potatoes and more. The workers raised cattle, all milky white, and pigs, and many of these ran wild. Well-trained dogs were employed to hunt down wild pigs. Sometimes twenty to thirty pigs were caught in a day. They were cut open and emptied of the inner organs then hung up over a fire to burn off the hair.

One man was in charge of making salt from sea water. Then the others would salt the meat. Three times a year, a vessel from Guam would come up to collect the dried, salted meat to take back to Guam, and to supply the Tinian workers with whatever supplies might be needed.

Though no priest regularly lived on Tinian, the Chamorro men got up every morning at the sound of a horn, and gathered as one body to say their morning prayers. Around 9PM at night, they gathered for prayer one more time, then went to sleep.

Reney's report makes no mention of women. Unless each man was able to bring his own wife and children to Tinian, it would be dangerous, if experience is any teacher, to have a small number of women on an island inhabited by that many men. No wonder, then, that the men from Guam served in Tinian only for a few years then went home, either to find a wife or return to the one they already had.

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