Tuesday, August 16, 2022




Sometime in 1909, Chinese fishermen discovered a canoe, with three unknown sailors from a different land, off Zhoushan Island in China, very close to Shanghai. What the Chinese did know was that these three foreign sailors were hungry, thirsty and weak. Had they not been discovered, they would probably had perished.

The Chinese fishermen took the three castaways to the civil authorities, but no one could speak to them as they had no common language.

The three lost sailors were described as being dark with frizzy hair. They wore huge earrings made of coral and shell, and necklaces made of the same material. The oldest of the three, who had a beard, also had tattoos. The only possession they had were two boxes of simple fishing material such as twines and hooks. Wearing only enough to cover their private parts, some of the people who found them gave them shirts and trousers.

Finally, after two days, someone considered that the three men might be from New Guinea, controlled at the time by the Germans. So, off they went to the German Consulate. The Germans still couldn't communicate with the three to verify where they were from, but someone was inspired to take out a map of the Pacific and show the map to the lost men. The castaways most likely wouldn't have had use for a map, probably never having used maps before nor being able to read. But when one of the Germans said out the name "Saipan" the three fishermen got all excited. They made unmistakable signs that they were from the island just mentioned.

If the three lost men were from Saipan and being described as they were, especially wearing large earrings and necklaces, then undoubtedly they were Carolinians from Saipan and not Chamorros. We add to these points the fact that Carolinians were still seafaring people at the time, while Chamorros no longer sailed the high seas in the same way. A Chamorro lost in China might be able to say "Saipan" or some words in Spanish or even English, even before a map was put in front of him.

I do not know if the three castaways ever made it back to Saipan, although that was the German government's intention.

But this story reminds us that Chamorro and Carolinian sailors could have unintentionally made it to Japan, Korea, China, Taiwan and many other places and we just don't know about it. Zhoushan Island is a long, long way from Saipan, as you can see on the map.

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