Sunday, January 14, 2007

Saipan - General Information and History

The Christmas holidays saw us in Saipan. This entry will give general information and history on the island.

The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is a chain of 14 volcanic islands in the western Pacific Ocean. CNMI is south of Japan and east of the Philippines, and 120 miles north of Guam. These islands are considered part of Micronesia.

Most of the population of CNMI is located on three of the Northern Mariana islands (Saipan, Rota and Tinian), with the largest population on Saipan. Total population is estimated at 80,400. Saipan is 12.5 miles long and 5.5 miles wide; roughly the size of San Francisco.

The UN granted administrative authority of The Northern Marianas to the U.S. as a UN trust territory in 1947. The citizenship voted in the 70’s not to seek independence, rather to build stronger ties to the U.S. Agreement was achieved in 1975 to establish a commonwealth in political union with the U.S. Self-government was formed with a new government and constitution in 1978 (when the residents became U.S. citizens). The UN trusteeship ended in 1986.

The islands were inhabited in prehistoric times, with the peoples being known as the Chamorro race. Magellan claimed the islands for Spain in 1521. The islands gained their name, “Las Marianas” in 1668 in honor of Mariana of Austria, the widow of Philip the 4th of Spain.

Spain sold the islands to Germany in 1899, who held the islands until the Japanese forced them out at the start of WWI. The islands were administered as a Japanese Mandated Territory under the League of Nations. By the time of Japan’s withdrawal in 1935 from the League of Nations, the islands had been essentially annexed by the Japanese.

As WWII lead to battles over control of the Pacific, American forces invaded the islands on June 15, 1944. The majority of the Japanese army on the islands were killed during the intense battles to take control of the islands.
By July, they had gained control of the islands and construction of bases and airfields started. The nuclear bomb dropped on Hiroshima by the Enola Gay lifted off from Tinian.

Despite assurances by loudspeaker to the Japanese civilians that surrender would not be shameful or dangerous, hundreds of families jumped or fell to their deaths from the high cliffs of northern Saipan.

A small group of Japanese held out on the island, finally surrendering on June 30, 1951 after letters from Japan were dropped on the island.

Remnants of the battles from WWII including sunken tanks and ships, gun emplacements and gravestones are among the visitor sights on these islands.

“Northern Mariana Islands: Definition and Much More from”,

William H. Stewart. “The CNMI Guide”, various pages on

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