The door of the Northern Marianas Museum of History and Culture is just within your reach, a key to transport us back in time when the islands were under different governments.
From the outside, many of the residents in the islands may not even give a side glance to the old building that used to be a Japanese hospital before, but the old buildings hold valuable treasures and pieces of history that every resident, as well as visitors must not miss.
“Every piece and every artifact that is in the museum carries a piece of history of the CNMI and it tells its own story about the past,” museum executive director Robert H. Hunter said.
A tour of the museum will take you back to the pre-compact period or the Spanish period, German period, Japanese period, the Trust Territory and the present commonwealth.
“We have hundreds of boxes of artifacts in our storerooms that were donated by people from everywhere, and these are very valuable pieces that should be preserved as they are a part of the history of the islands,” Hunter said.
Going back, Hunter said the idea of putting up a museum took place in the early 1970s when some dedicated individuals worked together to get the museum organized.
He said the first museum was located at the old Japanese building by the old mayor’s office in Chalan Kanoa. It was later moved to a smaller building down in Garapan which is the present location of American Memorial Park where it went into operation for about a couple of years before closing down.
“It was relocated somewhere else afterwards, until the government invested about $10 million for the rehabilitation of the museum,” he said.
Hunter said the present location of the museum is the first permanent place which has been designed as a formal museum.
Hunter said credit goes to persons like Herman Guerrero and Mike Fleming who persevered in trying to come up with a proper museum.
“This is the only state museum in the Marianas, and we get a fair share of archaeologists from Guam and other places who come here,” he said.
He said that the displays are just about 20 percent of the total collections. The rest are in the storeroom as a bigger display area is needed.
He said that on the average, the museum gets about 20-40 visitors daily, and an approximation of 500 visitors monthly, mostly from student field trips.
Hunter is inviting everybody, and not just the visitors to step into the museum and get a glimpse of how their ancestors lived years ago.
You have to step into the museum to get the feel of the place. Each artifact that had been a mute witness to the lives of people of the past portrays its own message.
The NMI Museum is open from 9am to 4:30 pm Mondays to Fridays, and from 9am to noon on Saturdays. For more information, call 664-2160.