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Northern Mariana Islands

1097

Country codes:MP

Introduction

The Northern Mariana Islands, officially the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI), is a commonwealth in political union with the United States, occupying a strategic region of the western Pacific Ocean. It consists of 15 islands about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines. The United States Census Bureau reports the total land area of all islands as 179.01 square miles (463.63 km).

The Northern Mariana Islands has a population of 53,883 (2010 census). More than 90% of the population lives on the island of Saipan. Of the fourteen other islands, only two — Tinian and Rota — have a significant population. The islands of Agrihan and Alamagan have fewer than ten residents each, and the remaining islands are unpopulated.

The Commonwealth's center of government is in the village of Capital Hill on Saipan. As the island is governed as a single municipality, most publications name Saipan as the Commonwealth's capital.

History

Spanish possession

The first European exploration of the area was in 1521 by Ferdinand Magellan, who landed on nearby Guam and claimed the islands 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, since in Chamorro tradition there was little private property and taking something one needed, such as a boat for fishing, was not considered stealing. The Spanish did not understand this custom. The Spanish fought against the local Chamorros until the boat was recovered. The Spanish then gave the archipelago the name Islas de los Ladrones ("Islands of the Thieves").

Three days after he had been welcomed on his arrival, Magellan fled the archipelago under attack. In 1565 Miguel López de Legazpi arrived in Guam and took possession of the islands in the name of the Spanish Crown. The islands were to be ruled from the Philippines as part of the Spanish East Indies until 1898. A Royal Palace was built in Guam for the Spanish governor of the islands. Its ruins can still be seen.

Guam was an important stop-over for the Manila Galleons, a convoy of ships carrying passengers and cargo such as silver, plants and animals from Acapulco (Mexico) to Manila. On the return trip from the Philippines to Mexico, the galleons did not call at Guam as the eastern winds were farther north, near the coast of Japan.

In 1668 Padre Diego Luis de San Vitores renamed the islands Las Marianas after Queen Mariana of Austria, widow of Spain's Philip IV.

Most of the islands' native population (90%-95%) died from Spanish diseases or married non-Chamorro settlers under Spanish rule. New settlers, primarily from the Philippines and the Caroline Islands, were brought to repopulate the islands. The Chamorro population did gradually recover, and Chamorro, Filipino and Carolinian language and ethnic differences remain basically distinct in the Marianas.

Spanish colonists forced the Chamorros to be concentrated on Guam to encourage assimilation and conversion to Christianity. By the time Chamorros were allowed to return to the Northern Marianas, Carolinians (from present-day eastern Yap State and western Chuuk State) had settled in the Marianas. Carolinians and Chamorros now are both considered as indigenous and both languages are official in the commonwealth (though not on Guam).

German and Japanese possession

Following the Spanish–American War of 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the United States and sold the remainder of the Marianas (along with the Caroline and Marshall Islands) to Imperial Germany under the German–Spanish Treaty of 1899.

Early in World War I, Japan took the opportunity to declare war on Germany and invaded the Northern Marianas, hoping to annex them. In 1919, the League of Nations, precursor of the United Nations, awarded the islands to Japan as part of the South Pacific Mandate. During Japan's occupation, sugar cane became the main industry of the islands, and labor was imported from Japan and associated colonies (especially Okinawa and Korea). In the census of December 1939, the total population of the South Pacific Mandate was 129,104, of which 77,257 were Japanese (including ethnic Taiwanese and Koreans).

Hours after the Attack on Pearl Harbor, Japanese forces from the Marianas launched an invasion of Guam on December 8, 1941. Chamorros from the Northern Marianas, then under Japanese rule for more than two decades, 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.

American Invasion

Near the end of World War II, the United States military invaded the Mariana Islands on June 15, 1944, beginning with the Battle of Saipan, which ended on July 9 with the Japanese commander committing seppuku (a traditional Japanese form of ritual suicide). Of the 30,000 Japanese troops that defended Saipan, fewer than 1,000 remained alive at battle's end. U.S. forces then recaptured Guam beginning July 21 and invaded Tinian (see Battle of Tinian) on July 24, which provided the take off point for the Enola Gay, the plane dropping the atomic bomb on Hiroshima a year later. Rota was left untouched (and isolated) until the Japanese surrender in August 1945, due to its military insignificance.

The war did not end for everyone with the signing of the armistice. The last group of Japanese soldiers surrendered on Saipan on December 1, 1945. On Guam, Japanese soldier Shoichi Yokoi, unaware that the war had ended, hid out in a jungle cave in the Talofofo area until 1972.

Between the end of the invasion and the Japanese surrender, the Saipan and Tinian populations were kept in concentration camps. Japanese nationals were eventually repatriated, and the indigenous Chamorro and Carolinians returned to the land.

Commonwealth

After Japan's defeat, the islands were administered by the United States as part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands; thus, defense and foreign affairs are the responsibility of the United States. 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 territorial status began in 1972. A covenant to establish a commonwealth in political union with the U.S. was approved in 1975. A new government and constitution went into effect in 1978. Similar to other U.S. territories, the islands do not have representation in the U.S. Senate, but are represented in the U.S. House of Representatives by a delegate (beginning January 2009 for the CNMI) who may vote in committee but not on the House floor.

Geography

The Northern Mariana Islands, together with Guam to the south, compose the Mariana Islands. The southern islands are limestone, with level terraces and fringing coral reefs. The northern islands are volcanic, with active volcanoes on Anatahan, Pagan and Agrihan. The volcano on Agrihan has the highest elevation at 3,166 feet (965 m). 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 suddenly from its east crater on May 10, 2003, at about 6 p.m. (0800 UTC). It has since alternated between eruptive and calm periods. On April 6, 2005, approximately 1,800,000 cubic feet (50,970 m) of ash and rock were ejected, causing a large, black cloud to drift south over Saipan and Tinian.

Climate

The islands have a tropical marine climate moderated by seasonal northeast trade winds. There is little seasonal temperature variation. The dry season runs from December to June, and the rainy season from July to November and can include typhoons. The Guinness Book of World Records has cited Saipan as having the most equable temperature in the world.

Inforamtion above from the Wikipedia article Northern Mariana Islands, licensed under CC-BY-SA full list of contributors here.

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