Report Number: 17
Year: 1980

Freshwater Use Customs on Rota: An Exploratory Study

The purpose of this study is to delineate cultural aspects of freshwater uses on the island of Rota, Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas. The overriding theme of the study is the significance of freshwater as a natural resource for the people of Rota. Rotanese people interviewed in the course of the research expressed the opinion that there is a sufficient amount of freshwater available on their island to meet their needs. The majority of freshwater that the people use is disbursed by a piping system leading down from Matanhanom, the water cave. Rotanese people, however, also make use of rainwater.

Seventy-one Rotanese informants recounted in detail their customs, practices and beliefs concerning freshwater uses before and during World War II to the research team. A key purpose of the study was then met, that of gathering and recording the recollections of the Rotanese in regard to freshwater use customs prior to the "the present". Informants were interviewed on an individual basis; the field instrument was a questionnaire.

An archaeological survey was also conducted to suggest possible locations of freshwater sources on Rota in prehistoric and historic times. Research on the ethnohistory of Rota serves to link the past to the present. Sections of the report on land tenure, place names and world view reinforce the continuum from past to present, and set forth the contemporary perspectives of the people of Rota regarding water as a natural resource on their island.

The results of the research suggest that consistency is shown on Rota from the past to the present in regard to the value of freshwater. Before and during the war, local people were resourceful in building catchments, wells, and the like in order to insure sufficient supplies of freshwater. In the present, Rotanese people express confidence that they will continue to have sufficient supplies of freshwater to meet their daily needs.

Rebecca A. Stephenson
Darlene Moore