This article is about the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a political entity. For the Marianas archipelago, see Mariana Islands
The United States Department of the Interior
cites a landmass of 183.5 square miles (475.26 km2
According to the 2010 United States Census
, 53,883 people were living in the CNMI at that time.
The vast majority of the population resides on Saipan
, and Rota
. The other islands of the Northern Marianas are sparsely inhabited; the most notable among these is Pagan
, which for various reasons over the centuries has experienced major population flux, but formerly had residents numbering in the thousands.
The administrative center is Capitol Hill
, a village in northwestern Saipan
. However, most[quantify]
consider Saipan to be the capital because the island is governed as a single municipality.
The Mariana Islands were the first islands settled by humans in Remote Oceania
. Incidentally it is also the first and the longest of the ocean-crossing voyages of the Austronesian peoples
, and is separate from the later Polynesian
settlement of the rest of Remote Oceania. They were first settled around 1500 to 1400 BC by migrants departing from the Philippines
. This was followed by a second migration from the Caroline Islands
by the first millennium AD, and a third migration from Island Southeast Asia
(likely the Philippines or eastern Indonesia
) by 900 AD.
After first contact with Spaniards, they eventually became known as the Chamorros
, a Spanish word similar to Chamori
, the name of the indigenous caste system's higher division.
The ancient people of the Marianas raised colonnades
of megalithic capped pillars called latte stones
upon which they built their homes. The Spanish reported that by the time of their arrival, the largest of these were already in ruins, and that the Chamorros believed the ancestors who had erected the pillars lived in an era when people possessed supernatural abilities.
In 2013 archaeologists posited that the first people to settle in the Marianas may have made what was at that point the longest uninterrupted ocean-crossing voyage in human history. Archeological evidence
indicates that Tinian
may have been the first Pacific island to be settled.
Colonial tower, a vestige of the former Spanish colony
The Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan
, sailing under the Spanish
flag, arrived in 1521. He and his crew were the first Europeans to arrive in the Mariana Islands. He landed on Guam, the southernmost island of the Marianas, and claimed the archipelago for Spain
. The Spanish ships were met offshore by the native Chamorros, who delivered refreshments and then helped themselves to a small boat belonging to Magellan's fleet. This led to a cultural clash: in Chamorro tradition, little property was private and taking something one needed, such as a boat for fishing, did not count as stealing. The Spanish did not understand this custom and fought the Chamorros until the boat was recovered. Three days after he had been welcomed on his arrival, Magellan fled the archipelago. Spain regarded the islands as annexed and later made them part of the Spanish East Indies
in 1565. In 1734, the Spanish built a royal palace, the Plaza de España
, in Guam for the governor of the islands. The palace was largely destroyed during World War II, but portions of it remain.
Guam operated as an important stopover between the Philippines and Mexico for Manila galleon
carrying trading between Spanish colonies.
Most of the islands' native population (90–95%)
died from European diseases carried by the Spaniards or married non-Chamorro settlers under Spanish rule. New settlers, primarily from the Philippines and the Caroline Islands, were brought[by whom?]
to repopulate the islands. The Chamorro population gradually recovered, and Chamorro, Filipino
, and Refaluwasch
languages and other ethnic differences remain in the Marianas.
During the 17th century, Spanish colonists forcibly moved the Chamorros to Guam, to encourage assimilation and conversion to Roman Catholicism
. By the time they were allowed to return to the Northern Marianas, many Carolinians from present-day eastern Yap State
and western Chuuk State
had settled in the Marianas.
Both languages, as well as English, are now official in the commonwealth.
The Northern Marianas experienced an influx of immigration from the Carolines
during the 19th century. Both this Carolinian subethnicity and Carolinians in the Carolines archipelago refer to themselves
as the Refaluwasch
. The indigenous Chamoru word for the same group of people is gu'palao
. They are usually referred to simply as "Carolinians", though unlike the other two monikers, this can also mean those who actually live in the Carolines and who may have no affiliation with the Marianas.
The conquering Spanish did not focus attempts at cultural suppression against Carolinian immigrants, whose immigration they allowed during a period when the indigenous Chamoru majority was being subjugated with land alienation, forced relocations and internment. Carolinians in the Marianas continue to be fluent in the Carolinian language
, and have maintained many of the cultural distinctions and traditions of their ethnicity's land of ancestral origin.[need quotation to verify]
German possession and Japanese mandate
Saipan under the administration of Japan
Early in World War I
declared war on Germany and invaded the Northern Marianas. In 1919, the League of Nations
(LoN) awarded all of Germany's islands in the Pacific Ocean
located north of the Equator
, including the Northern Marianas, under mandate
to Japan. Under this arrangement, the Japanese thus administered the Northern Marianas as part of the South Seas Mandate
. During the Japanese period, sugar cane
became the main industry of the islands. Garapan
was developed as a regional capital, and numerous Japanese (including ethnic Koreans
, and Taiwanese
) migrated to the islands. In the December 1939 census, the total population of the South Seas Mandate was 129,104, of whom 77,257 were Japanese (including ethnic Taiwanese and Koreans). On Saipan the pre-war population comprised 29,348 Japanese settlers and 3,926 Chamorro and Caroline Islanders; Tinian
had 15,700 Japanese settlers (including 2,700 ethnic Koreans and 22 ethnic Chamorro).
World War II
On December 8, 1941, hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor
, Japanese forces from the Marianas launched an invasion of Guam
. Chamorros from the Northern Marianas, which had been under Japanese rule for more than 20 years, were brought to Guam to assist the Japanese administration. This, combined with the harsh treatment of Guamanian Chamorros during the 31-month occupation, created a rift that would become the main reason Guamanians rejected the reunification referendum approved by the Northern Marianas in the 1960s.
Marine infantrymen in Garapan
On June 15, 1944, the United States military invaded the Mariana Islands, starting the Battle of Saipan
, which ended on July 9. Of the 30,000 Japanese troops defending Saipan, fewer than 1,000 remained alive at the battle's end.
Many Japanese civilians were also killed, by disease, starvation, enemy fire, and suicide. Approximately 1,000 civilians committed suicide by jumping off the cliffs at Mt. Marpi or Marpi Point.
U.S. forces then recaptured Guam on July 21, and invaded Tinian
on July 24. A year later Tinian
was the takeoff point for the Enola Gay
, the plane that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima
was left untouched (and isolated) until the Japanese surrender in August 1945, owing to its military insignificance. The story of the holdouts on Anatahan
was sensationalized as a lurid tale of sex and violent death by the mass media, and was portrayed in 1953 by Josef von Sternberg
in his film The Saga of Anatahan
The war did not end for everyone with the signing of the armistice. The last group of Japanese holdouts
surrendered on Saipan on December 1, 1945. On Guam, Japanese soldier Shoichi Yokoi
, unaware that the war had ended, hid in a jungle cave in the Talofofo
area until 1972.
United Nations trusteeship
The people of the Northern Mariana Islands decided in the 1970s not to seek independence, but instead to forge closer links with the United States. Negotiations for commonwealth status
began in 1972 and a covenant to establish a commonwealth in political union with the United States
was approved in a 1975 referendum
A new government and constitution partially came into effect in on January 9, 1978:188
after being approved in a 1977 referendum
The United Nations approved this arrangement pursuant to Security Council Resolution 683
. The Northern Mariana Islands came under U.S. sovereignty
on November 4, 1986 and the islanders became US citizens.
Also on November 4, 1986, the Northern Mariana Islands constitution
became fully effective under the Covenant.
In May 1981, volcanic eruptions led to evacuation of the island of Pagan
Most residents of Pagan have not yet returned to Pagan.
The Chamorro-Carolinian Language Policy Commission was created in 1982 to carry out policies in support of the Chamorro and Carolinian languages and cultures.
In December 1986, twenty percent of the homes on Saipan were destroyed due by Typhoon Kim
, trees were stripped of foliage, thousands of coconut trees were knocked down, roads were blocked, and there was no electricity or public water supply for weeks.:186
In April 1990, the inhabitants of the western coast of Anatahan
were evacuated after earthquake swarms
and active fumaroles
indicated that an eruption might be imminent, but no eruption occurred at that time. A further earthquake swarm occurred in May 1992. The first historical eruption of Anatahan occurred in May 2003, when a large explosive eruption with a VEI
of 4 took place forming a new crater inside the eastern caldera
and causing an ash plume 12 km (7.5 mi) high which impaired air traffic to Saipan and Guam.
Map of the Northern Mariana Islands
The Northern Mariana Islands, together with Guam
to the south, compose the Mariana Islands
archipelago. The southern islands are limestone
, with level terraces and fringing coral
reefs. The northern islands are volcanic, with active volcanoes
on several islands, including Anatahan
, and Agrihan
. The volcano on Agrihan, Mount Agrihan
, has the highest elevation at 3,166 feet (965 m).
An expedition organized by John D. Mitchler and Reid Larson made the first complete ascent to the summit of this peak on June 1, 2018.
Anatahan Volcano is a small volcanic island 80 miles (130 km) north of Saipan. It is about 6 miles (10 km) long and 2 miles (3 km) wide. Anatahan began erupting from its east crater on May 10, 2003. It has since alternated between eruptive and calm periods.
On April 6, 2005, an estimated 50,000,000 cubic feet (1,416,000 m3
) of ash and rock were ejected, causing a large, black cloud to drift south over Saipan and Tinian.
Politics and government
Some critics, including the author of the political website Saipan Sucks
, say that politics in the Northern Mariana Islands is often "more a function of family relationships and personal loyalties" where the size of one's extended family is more important than a candidate's personal qualifications. They charge that this is nepotism
carried out within the trappings of democracy.
In April 2012, anticipating a loss of funding by 2014, the commonwealth's public pension fund
declared Chapter 11 bankruptcy
The retirement fund is a defined benefit
-type pension plan and was only partially funded by the government, with only $268.4 million in assets
and $911 million in liabilities
. The plan experienced low investment returns and a benefit structure that had been increased without raises in funding.
In August 2012, cries for impeachment
arose, as the sitting governor Benigno Fitial
was being held responsible for withholding payments from the pension fund,
not paying the local utility (Commonwealth Utilities or "CUC") for government offices,
cutting off funding to the only hospital in the Northern Marianas,
interfering with the delivery of a subpoena
to his attorney general,
withholding required funds from the public schools,
and for signing a sole source $190 million contract for power generation.
Long Beach, Tinian
The islands total 179.01 square miles (463.63 km2
). The table gives an overview, with the individual islands listed from north to south:
Download coordinates as: KML
Map including the inhabited islands of the Northern Mariana Islands (DMA
The Northern Islands (north of Saipan) form the Northern Islands Municipality
. The three main islands of the Southern Islands form the municipalities of Saipan
, and Rota
, with uninhabited Aguijan forming part of Tinian municipality.
Because of volcanic threat, the northern islands have been evacuated. Human habitation was limited to Agrihan, Pagan, and Alamagan, but population varied due to various economic factors, including children's education. The 2010 census showed no residents in Northern Islands municipality and the Northern Islands' mayor office is located in "exile" on Saipan.
Saipan, Tinian, and Rota have the only ports and harbors and are the only permanently populated islands.
In 1947, the Northern Mariana Islands became part of the post–World War II United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands
(TTPI). The United States became the TTPI's administering authority under the terms of a trusteeship agreement. In 1976, Congress approved the mutually negotiated Covenant to establish a Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands in Political Union with the United States of America
. The Covenant was codified on March 24, 1976 as Public Law
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) government adopted its own constitution in 1977, and the new government took office in January 1978. Implementation of Covenant, which took effect on January 1, 1978, was completed on November 3, 1986, pursuant to Presidential Proclamation no. 5564; which placed into effect the Covenant With the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and the Compacts of Free Association With the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands
This allowed the CNMI to be represented to the United States Government in Washington, DC by a Resident Representative
, elected at-large by CNMI voters and whose office was paid for by the CNMI government. The Consolidated Natural Resources Act of 2008
("CNRA"), approved by the U.S. Congress
on May 8, 2008, established a CNMI delegate
's seat; Democrat Gregorio Sablan
was elected in November 2008
as the first CNMI delegate and took office in the 111th Congress
. Like the other five delegates, he can participate in debates and vote in committee but has no vote on the floor of the House of Representatives; and has no role in the U.S. Senate, but is equal to a Senator when he serves on a conference committee.
TTPI High Court judges
Under the Covenant, in general, United States federal law applies to CNMI. However, the CNMI is outside the customs territory of the United States and, although the internal revenue code does apply in the form of a local income tax, the income tax system is largely locally determined. According to the Covenant, the federal minimum wage and federal immigration laws "will not apply to the Northern Mariana Islands except in the manner and to the extent made applicable to them by the Congress by law after termination of the Trusteeship Agreement."
The local control of minimum wage was superseded by the United States Congress in 2007.
Initially under the Covenant a separate immigration system existed in the CNMI, and U.S. immigration laws did not apply. But on November 28, 2009 the CNRA unilaterally amended the Covenant to match US law; specifically, CNRA § 702(a) amended the Covenant to state that "the provisions of the 'immigration laws' (as defined in section 101(a)(17) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(17))) shall apply to the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands." Further, under CNRA § 702(a), the "immigration laws," as well as the amendments to the Covenant, "shall...supersede and replace all laws, provisions, or programs of the Commonwealth relating to the admission of aliens and the removal of aliens from the Commonwealth."
Transition to U.S. immigration laws began November 28, 2009.
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands benefits from its trading relationship with the federal government of the United States and cheap trained labor from Asia. Historically, the CNMI's economy has relied on tourism, mostly from Japan, and on the garment
manufacturing sector. The economy has declined since quotas were lifted in 2005, eventually leading all the garment factories on Saipan to close by February 2009. Tourism also declined after 2005 when Japan Airlines
stopped serving the Marianas.
The Northern Mariana Islands had successfully used its position as a free trade area with the U.S., while at the same time not being subject to the same labor laws
. For example, the $3.05 per hour minimum wage in the commonwealth, which lasted from 1997 to 2007, was lower than in the U.S. and some other worker protections are weaker, leading to lower production costs. That allowed garments to be labeled "Made in USA" without having to comply with all U.S. labor laws. However, the U.S. minimum wage law signed by President George W. Bush
on May 25, 2007, resulted in stepped increases in the Northern Marianas' minimum wage, which allowed it to reach the U.S. level in 2015.
The first step (to $3.55) became effective July 25, 2007, and a yearly increase of $0.50 will take effect every May thereafter until the CNMI minimum wage equals the nationwide minimum wage. However, a law signed by President Obama
in December 2009 delayed the yearly increase from May to September. In 2018 the minimum wage finally reached $7.25, matching the U.S. federal minimum wage.
An immigration system mostly outside of federal U.S. control (which ended on November 28, 2009) resulted in a large number of Chinese migrant workers (about 15,000 during the peak years) employed in the islands' garment trade. However, the lifting of World Trade Organization restrictions on Chinese imports to the U.S. in 2005 had put the commonwealth-based trade under severe pressure, leading to a number of recent factory closures. Adding to the U.S.-imposed scheduled wage increases, the garment industry became extinct by 2009.
Non-native islanders are not allowed to own land, but can lease it.
The islands have over 220 miles (350 km) of highways, three airports with paved runways (one about 9,800 feet [3,000 m] long; two around 6,600 feet [2,000 m]), three airports with unpaved runways, and one heliport. The main commercial airport is Saipan International Airport
In 2012 Michael Calabrese, Daniel Calarco, and Colin Richardson of Slate
stated that CNMI internet prices were five times those of Guam, and that the price per megabit increases if a customer chooses a higher level internet package due to the limited bandwidth.
According to the 2021 estimate from the World Factbook
, the population of the CNMI is 51,659, down from 69,221 in 2000.
The decrease was reportedly due to a combination of factors including the demise of the garment industry (the vast majority of whose employees were females from China), economic crises, and a decline in tourism, one of the CNMI's primary sources of revenue.
- Asian (including Filipino, Chinese, Korean, Japanese, Bangladeshi and other Asian) 49.9%
- Chamorro, Carolinian, Palauan and Other Pacific Islander 34.9%
- Multiracial 12.7%
- Others 2.5%
Our Lady of Mount Carmel Cathedral, Chalan Kanoa
Owing to the Spanish missionaries
in the Marianas, a large majority of Chamorros and Carolinians practice Roman Catholicism
. The Japanese occupation had the effect of creating a sizable Buddhist
community which remained even after their departure. Due to influence of the United States, diverse denominations of Protestantism
also entered the islands. Many people on the Northern Mariana Islands are Roman Catholic or have traditional beliefs. According to the Pew Research Center
Much of the Chamorro culture in the Mariana Islands was heavily influenced by the Spanish during the Spanish era, as well as by the Germans and Japanese. Respect is an important part of Chamorro culture, and one common display is the tradition of "manngingi'". This tradition has been around for centuries and involves an elder and a young Chamorro child. The child takes the hand of the elder, places it on their nose and says ñot to the men and ñora to the women with the elders responding diosti ayudi (from Spanish Señor, Señora, Dios Te Ayude), meaning "God help you".
culture is very similar to the Chamorro culture with respect being very important. The Carolinian culture can be traced back to Yap
, where the Carolinians originated.
Much of Chamorro cuisine is influenced by various cultures. Examples of popular foods of foreign origin include various types of sweet or savory empanada
, originally introduced from Spain, and pancit
, a noodle dish from the Philippines.
Archeological evidence reveals that rice has been cultivated in the Marianas since prehistoric times. Red rice made with achoti
is a distinct staple food that strongly distinguishes Chamorro cuisine from that of other Pacific islands. It is commonly served for special events, such as parties (gupot or "fiestas"), novenas, and high school or college graduations. Fruits such as lemmai
(coconuts), and bilimbines
(bilimbi, a fruit related to starfruit
) are included in various local recipes. Korean, Chinese, Japanese, and American cuisine are also commonly available.
Local specialities include kelaguen
, a dish in which meat is cooked in whole or in part by the action of citric acid
rather than heat; tinaktak, a meat dish made with coconut milk; and kå'du fanihi (flying fox/fruit bat soup). Fruit bats have become scarce in modern times on several islands, primarily due to the overharvesting of the species and loss of habitat; hunting them is now illegal even though poaching still occurs.
The Marianas and the Hawaiian islands are the world's foremost consumers, per capita, of Spam
, with Guam at the top of the list, and Hawaii second (details regarding the rest of the Marianas are often absent from statistics). Spam was introduced to the islands by the American military as war rations during the World War II era.
In 2002, a new § 2151 of the Commonwealth Code established within the Marianas Visitors Authority (MVA), a Commonwealth Film, Video and Media Office, also known as the Northern Mariana Islands Film Office, with the purpose of attracting foreign companies to produce movies in the Commonwealth and to develop a local cinema industry.
popular in the United States were introduced to the Northern Mariana Islands by American soldiers during World War II. Baseball
is the islands' most popular sport. CNMI teams have made appearances in the Little League World Series
(in the Little, Junior, Senior and Big league divisions) as well as winning gold medals in the Micronesian Games
and South Pacific Games
Francisco M. Palacios Baseball Field
Other sports in the CNMI include Ultimate Frisbee
, beach volleyball
, tae kwon do
, track and field
, and football
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Last edited on 17 June 2021, at 14:57
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