Northern Mariana Islands
|THE NORTHERN MARIANA ISLANDS COAT OF ARMS|
Location of Northern Mariana Islands within the Geographic Region of Oceania
Map of Northern Mariana Islands
Flag Description of Northern Mariana Islands:The flag of Northern Mariana Islands was officially adopted in 1972.
The islands are a territory of the United States, symbolized by the centered white star. Under that star, a gray latte stone is representative of a traditional foundation stone, one used in building. The surrounding wreath is comprised of colorful local flowers.
Official name Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands
Political status self-governing commonwealth in association with the United States, having two legislative houses (Senate ; House of Representatives )1
Head of state President of the United States: Barack Obama
Head of government Governor: Eloy S. Inos
Seat of government on Saipan2
Official languages Chamorro; Carolinian; English
Official religion none
Monetary unit dollar (U.S.$)
Population (2013 est.) 49,700COLLAPSE
Total area (sq mi) 176.5
Total area (sq km) 457.1
- Urban: (2009) 90.8%
- Rural: (2009) 9.2%
Life expectancy at birth
- Male: (2012) 74.6 years
- Female: (2012) 80.1 years
Literacy: percentage of population age 15 and over literate
- Male: not available
- Female: not available
GNI per capita (U.S.$) (2013) 13,639
1In November 2008 residents elected their first nonvoting delegate to the U.S. Congress.
2Executive and legislative branches meet at Capital Hill; the judiciary meets at Susupe.
- 1 Background of Northern Mariana Islands
- 2 Geography of Northern Mariana Islands
- 3 Demography of Northern Mariana Islands
- 4 Economy of Northern Mariana Islands
- 5 Government and Society of Northern Mariana Islands
- 6 Culture Life of Northern Mariana Islands
- 7 History of Northern Mariana Islands
- 8 Disclaimer
Background of Northern Mariana Islands
Northern Mariana Islands, also called Northern Marianas, officially Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, a self-governing commonwealth in association with the United States. It is composed of 22 islands and islets in the western Pacific Ocean. The commonwealth is a part of the Mariana Islands, a chain of volcanic mountain peaks and uplifted coral reefs. (The Marianas chain also includes the politically separate island of Guam, to the south.) Saipan (46.5 square miles [120 square km]), Tinian (39 square miles [101 square km]), and Rota (33 square miles [85 square km]) are the principal islands and, together with Anatahan, Alamagan, and Agrihan, are inhabited. Another island, Pagan, was evacuated in 1981 after a severe volcanic eruption there. The capital is on Saipan.
Geography of Northern Mariana Islands
Rota, the southernmost island, consists of a volcanic base capped with coral limestone, giving it a terraced appearance. Four southern islands (Farallon de Medinilla, Saipan, Tinian, and Aguijan) are composed of limestone and have gently rolling elevations and few mountains. The islands farther north are volcanic peaks. Mount Pagan, one of the two volcanoes that make up Pagan Island, has erupted many times during recorded history; Farallon de Pajaros, the northernmost of the Marianas, and Asuncion are also active volcanoes. Agrihan volcano, the highest of the Northern Mariana group, rises to 3,166 feet (965 metres). Besides Guam, the nearest neighbours are the Bonin Islands (north) and the Federated States of Micronesia (Caroline Islands; southeast).
The climate is tropical, with average yearly temperatures on Saipan ranging between 79 and 82 °F (26 and 28 °C) and annual precipitation averaging about 70 inches (1,800 mm). Heavy rains are common, and typhoons strike the islands periodically. Precipitation is significantly less on the northernmost islands.
The four limestone islands have tropical or scrub forests at higher elevations and coconut palms and casuarina trees along the coast, with the exception of Farallon de Medinilla, which is barren. Where level or gently sloping areas occur, cattle are grazed. The steep slopes of the volcanic islands from Guguan northward are mostly barren. The soils in these areas are generally shallow and low in fertility. The islands are major nesting sites for many types of migratory seabirds, including several endangered species.
Demography of Northern Mariana Islands
The native people of the Northern Mariana Islands are Micronesians. Only about one-fifth of the total population are Chamorros, descendants of the original inhabitants, who intermingled with Spaniards, Mexicans, Filipinos, and various other Europeans and Asians. About one-fourth of the people are Filipino and one-fourth are Chinese. A smaller number are Carolinians, descendants of people who migrated from the central Carolines during the 19th century. About two-fifths of the Northern Marianas population is native-born; small numbers come from Guam, the United States, or nearby island states. More than half of the people are nonresident aliens, or guest workers, mostly from Asia and largely employed in the garment industry. Since the late 1990s the government has attempted to control and reduce the number of nonresidents.
Having lost most of their original Pacific Islands culture, the people of the Northern Mariana Islands have a mode of life that is Spanish Roman Catholic but is influenced by American culture. Saipan has more than nine-tenths of the commonwealth’s total population. Chamorro, related to Indonesian, is the principal language. Chamorro, Carolinian, and English are official languages; Chinese and Filipino are also widely used. About nine-tenths of the population speaks a language other than English at home. Although Roman Catholicism predominates, there are significant minorities of independent Christians, Protestants, and Buddhists.
Economy of Northern Mariana Islands
Tourism is the principal economic activity. Saipan and Rota are the main tourist centres and offer luxury hotels. The tourists are mainly Japanese and Americans. Subsistence farming, including the cultivation of taro, cassava, yams, breadfruit, vegetables, and bananas, is practiced extensively by many islanders to supplement their cash income. Investors from Korea, China, and the Philippines have expanded the islands’ production of clothing and accessories, making the garment industry a major component of the Northern Marianas economy. The investors are attracted by duty-free and quota-free access to the U.S. mainland. However, the employment practices in the factories have been criticized. Labour and immigration regulations have been relatively lax, and it has been alleged at times that working conditions are sweatshoplike. The U.S. government has taken steps to improve conditions for workers.
Saipan, Tinian, and Rota have paved roads; public transportation is almost nonexistent, but shuttle buses serve major towns. Transportation between the islands is largely by air, with some boat traffic primarily for cargo. Saipan is the largest port, followed by Tinian and Rota. Saipan has an international airport; there are smaller airports on Rota and Tinian.
Government and Society of Northern Mariana Islands
Part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands granted to the United States by the United Nations in 1947, the Northern Marianas voted in a plebiscite for status as a U.S. commonwealth in 1975. Some aspects of the commonwealth status were implemented in 1976, and the full commonwealth became effective upon the dissolution of the trust territory for the Marianas by the U.S. government in 1986. Eligible residents of the commonwealth became U.S. citizens at that time.
According to the constitution of 1978, the U.S. president is head of state. The head of government is a governor, who is elected by residents to a four-year term, as is a lieutenant governor. The bicameral legislature consists of a 9-member Senate and an 18-member House of Representatives. The commonwealth also elects one representative to the U.S. House of Representatives.
All inhabited islands have primary schools and hospitals. Schooling is compulsory between the ages of 6 and 16. There are public and church-run secondary schools on Saipan. Northern Marianas College, a public institution with its main campus on Saipan and branches on Tinian and Rota, was established in 1981. A high percentage of students earn university degrees, notably from the University of Guam and the University of Hawaii.
Culture Life of Northern Mariana Islands
The latte stone is the emblematic representation of Chamorro strength, pride, resistance, and survival, and is the central symbol of the Northern Mariana flag. A megalithic structure used to elevate houses in the pre-colonial period, latte stones are large coral blocks composed of a trapezoidal stone pillar called a haligi and a hemispherical cap called a tasa The earliest of these latte stones date from 800 C.E. Construction of these stones ceased after the onset of wars against Spanish colonizers. Jungle areas and sites in which latte stones are located are considered sacred. In pre-colonial years people buried family members beneath latte stones and thus ancestral spirits are assumed to reside there.
Rice dominates the diet, which is based of vegetables and marine resources. Most food is imported from Japan, Australia, and the United States. Normally, three meals a day are eaten at home – even for those working in towns. Families bring prepared food and additional food and drink for preparation on site for religious and secular ceremonies.
Siblings and neighbors form a network of caregivers for infants, who are rarely left alone. Chamorros value formal education. School age in the Marianas is from six to sixteen. Schools operate on the American model. There are preschool opportunities for children under six years old. The Northern Marianas College on Saipan is a two-year school that offers degrees in education, liberal arts, and business. Students who wish to continue their education attend the University of Guam or the University of Hawaii. Young people who leave the territory to complete their higher education often do not return. The literacy rate for the total population is 97 percent.
Chamorro folk music remains an important part of the islands' culture, though elements of music left by American, German, Spanish, and Japanese colonizers can be heard. There are both Carolinian and Chamorro traditional chant styles. A variant of the Spanish cha-cha-chá is popular, as is a Caroline Islands "stick dance" which combines improvised percussion and foot stomping.
The national anthem is Gi Talo Gi Halom Tasi in Chamorro language (or Satil Matawal Pacifico in Carolinian), which was adopted on October 1996. The song's melody comes from a German tune. Music festivals include the Fiestan Luta, an annual celebration.
History of Northern Mariana Islands
Archaeological evidence at Chalan Piao on Saipan indicates that the Northern Marianas were settled by an insular people originating in Southeast Asia. They made a distinctive form of red-slipped pottery, sometimes incised with lime-filled decoration, closely related to Philippine ceramics. By ad 800 a plain, unslipped pottery style was in use. Stone architecture had also developed, characterized by parallel rows of upright pillars topped with hemispheric capstones (halege). According to early Spanish accounts, the pillars were supports for structures called latte (for which term the culture is named), which may have served as houses or canoe sheds. Each village had from one to several latte structures. Stone and shell tools were used and betel nuts were chewed, as shown by extended burials most often located between the rows of latte.
The Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to arrive on the Marianas when he stopped there briefly in 1521. There is some historical question as to which island he actually visited, but Magellan named the islands the Ladrones (Spanish: “Thieves”) because while he was there some of the islanders took a small skiff that he had trailing behind one of his ships.
In 1565 Miguel López de Legazpi landed at Umatac, Guam, and proclaimed Spanish sovereignty over the Ladrones; some priests went ashore to perform mass. No colonies were started at that time, however, because the Spanish were more interested in conquests in the Americas, the Philippines, and the Moluccas. The British adventurer Thomas Cavendish was the next to visit the Marianas, in 1588 aboard the Desire. He traded briefly, and as he left he ordered his men to open fire from the rear of the ship to discourage the islanders from following.
The effects of the early explorers and those who followed them to the islands were mixed. On one hand the Europeans provided ironware and cloth, which was traded for fresh produce. On the other hand they introduced infectious diseases, including influenza, smallpox, leprosy, venereal diseases, and tuberculosis, which severely depleted the indigenous population.
- Spanish colonial rule
The permanent colonization of the islands began with the arrival of the Jesuit priest Diego Luis de Sanvitores in 1668. With him were priests, laymen, women, and some Filipino soldiers. Mariana of Austria, the regent of Spain, financed his mission, and he renamed the islands the Marianas in her honour. Sanvitores and his colonists established churches and religious schools. A series of revolts attended those efforts, since the islanders resisted conversion to a religion that did not fit traditional beliefs. In response, the Spanish moved the population of the Marianas into enclaves and segregated the people into villages. Many islanders were killed in the process of relocation. Others died from the rapid spread of disease in the settlements, thus further decreasing the population.
In 1680 the Spanish sent reinforcements led by José Quiroga, who was interim governor of the Marianas from 1680 to 1696. He subdued the islanders after a series of revolts, sieges, murders of missionaries, and burning of churches that was known as the “Chamorro wars” and that resulted in many islanders fleeing to the hills. In reprisal, the entire native population was relocated from Saipan and Rota in the northern Marianas to the island of Guam. Finally, the Chamorro people took the oath of allegiance to the king of Spain, accepted Spanish customs, and began to wear Western-style clothes, cultivate corn (maize), and eat red meat—some of the cultural traits that the Europeans associated with “higher” civilization. Artisans were sent to the villages to teach sewing, spinning, weaving, tanning, iron forging, stone masonry, and other crafts. By 1698 the subjugation of the Marianas was complete.
The Spanish branched out from the Marianas into the rest of Micronesia, meeting only mild resistance. Guam became a regular stop for the Spanish galleons traveling between the Philippines and Mexico.
By the 19th century the Marianas had become involved in European colonial rivalries. German and British soldiers and settlers began to encroach on Spanish claims in Micronesia, and difficulties were averted in 1886 by the mediation of Pope Leo XIII, whose efforts in this regard prevented war between Germany and Spain. But Spain’s empire was weakening, and by 1898 war with the United States was at hand. After American naval forces under the command of Commodore George Dewey defeated the Spanish fleet in the Philippines and took Guam, Spain decided in 1899 to withdraw entirely from the Pacific. It subsequently sold its possessions—including all of the Marianas except Guam, which the Americans still held—to Germany.
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