Northern Marianas Islands
Northern Mariana Islands
Official language(s) English, Chamorro, Carolinian
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 fifteen islands about three-quarters of the way from Hawaii to the Philippines, at 15°1′2″N 145°4′5″E / 15.01722°N 145.06806°E / 15.01722; 145.06806. The United States Census Bureau reports the total land area of all islands as 179.01 square miles (463.63 km2).
The Northern Mariana Islands has a population of 80,362 (2005 estimate). The official 2000 census count was 69,221. More than 90% of the Commonwealth's 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, and the remaining ten islands are unpopulated. The Northern Mariana Islands have the lowest male to female sex ratio in the world with an average of 76 men to every 100 women. That is due to the overwhelming female majority of foreign workers, especially in the garment industry.
The Commonwealth's centre of government is located in the village of Capital Hill on the island of Saipan. As the island is governed as a single municipality, most publications term "Saipan" as the Commonwealth's capital.
AnatahanThe 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 in the islands at 3,166 feet (965 m). About one-fifth of the land is arable, another tenth is pasture. The primary natural resource is fish, some of which are endangered species, which leads to conflict. Also, development has created landfills which have contaminated groundwater on Saipan, which might contribute to disease.
Anatahan Volcano is a small volcanic island 80 miles (130 km) north of Saipan and 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). Since then it has continued to alternate between eruptive and calm periods. On April 6, 2005, approximately 50,000 cubic meters (1,800,000 cu ft) of ash and rock were ejected, causing a large, black cloud to drift south over Saipan and Tinian.
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.
SaipanThe first European exploration of the area was that led by Ferdinand Magellan in 1521, who landed on nearby Guam and claimed the islands for Spain. The explorers were met offshore by the native Chamorros, who delivered refreshments to them and then helped themselves to a small boat belonging to Magellan's fleet. This led to a cultural clash because in the old Chamorro culture there was little if any private property and to take something that one needed, such as a boat for fishing, was not considered theft. Due to that cultural misunderstanding, around half a dozen locals were killed and a village of 40 homes were burned by the Spanish before the boat was retrieved. The archipelago thus acquired the ignominious name Islas de los Ladrones ("Islands of the Thieves").
Three days after he had arrived, Magellan fled the archipelago under attack—a portentous beginning to its relationship with the Spanish. The islands were then considered by Spain to be annexed, and therefore under their governance, from the Philippines, as part of the Spanish East Indies. The Spanish built a Royal Palace in Guam for the Governor of the Islands. Its remains could still be seen in 2006.
Guam was an important stop-over from Mexico for galleons carrying gold and other cargo between the Philippines and Spain. There are several lost sunken Spanish galleons off Guam.
In 1668 the islands were renamed by Padre Diego Luis de San Vitores as Las Marianas after Mariana of Austria, widow of Spain's Philip IV.
Most of the islands' native population (90%-95%)died from the diseases brought by the Spanish or intermarried with non-Chamorro settlers under Spanish rule, but new settlers, primarily from the Philippines and the Caroline Islands, were brought in to repopulate the islands. Despite this, the Chamorro population did gradually resurge, and Chamorro, Filipino and Carolinian language and ethnic differences remain basically distinct in the Marianas.
To facilitate cultural and religious assimilation, Spanish colonists forced the Chamorros to be concentrated on Guam for a period of time. By the time Chamorros were allowed to return to the present-day Northern Marianas, Carolinians (from present-day eastern Yap State and western Chuuk State) had settled in the Marianas. Hence Carolinians and Chamorros are both considered as indigenous to the Northern Marianas and both languages are official in the commonwealth (but not on Guam).
German and Japanese possession
After the Spanish–American War of 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the United States and sold the rest of the Marianas (along with the Caroline and Marshall Islands) to Germany.
Japan declared war on Germany during World War I and invaded the Northern Marianas. In 1919, the League of Nations, precursor of the United Nations, awarded the islands to Japan by 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 fact, combined with the harsh treatment of Guamanian Chamorros during the brief 31-month occupation, created a rift between the two populations that would become the main reason Guamanians rejected reunification referendum approved by the Northern Marianas in the 1960s.
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, less 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 hid out in the village of Talofofo 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.
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.
Main article: Demographics of the Northern Mariana Islands
See also: List of U.S. states and territories by population
Census Pop. %±
1970 9,640 —
1980 16,780 74.1%
1990 43,345 158.3%
2000 69,221 59.7%
The official 2000 census count was 69,221. Asian 56.3%, Pacific Islander 36.3%, Caucasian 1.8%, other 0.8%, mixed 4.8%. The Northern Mariana Islands have the highest female to male ratio in the world with 0.77 males/female (1.31 females/male).
Current Governor Benigno FitialMain article: Politics of the Northern Mariana Islands
The Northern Mariana Islands have a presidential representative democratic system, in which the governor is head of government, with a multi-party system. The Northern Mariana Islands are a commonwealth in political union with the United States. Federal funds to the Commonwealth are administered by the Office of Insular Affairs of the U.S. Department of the Interior.
Repeating the separation of powers in other U.S. territories and state governments, executive power is exercised by the Governor of the Northern Mariana Islands. Legislative power is vested in the bicameral Northern Mariana Islands Commonwealth Legislature. Senate President Joseph M. Mendiola is a founding member of the Outlying Areas Senate Presidents Caucus. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislative branches.
However, 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. Some critics, including the author of the political website Saipan Sucks, charge that this is nepotism carried out within the trappings of democracy.
Further information: Political party strength in the Northern Mariana 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 (CNMI) in Political Union with the United States. The CNMI Government adopted its own constitution in 1977, and the constitutional government took office in January 1978. The Covenant was fully implemented November 3, 1986, pursuant to Presidential Proclamation no. 5564, which conferred United States citizenship on legally qualified CNMI residents.
On December 22, 1990, the United Nations Trusteeship Council terminated the TTPI as it applied to the CNMI and five other of the TTPI's original seven districts (the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia (Chuuk, Kosrae, Pohnpei and Yap)), this was acknowledged in under United Nations Security Council Resolution 683 passed on the same day.
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 CNMI has a United States district court which exercises jurisdiction over the District of the Northern Mariana Islands (DNMI), which is coterminous with the CNMI. The United States District Court for the Northern Mariana Islands was established by act of Congress in 1977 and began operations in January 1978. The court sits on the island of Saipan, but may sit other places within the Commonwealth. The district court has the same jurisdiction as all other United States district courts, including diversity jurisdiction and bankruptcy jurisdiction. Appeals are taken to the Ninth Circuit. The district court's local rules specifically require lawyers to wear shoes to court.
Since the founding of the CNMI in January 1978 and its qualified residents becoming U.S. citizens in November 1986, the CNMI was represented in the United States (and especially Washington, D.C.) by a Resident Representative, who was elected at-large by CNMI voters and whose office was paid for by the CNMI government. In 2008, Congress enacted Pub.L. 110-229, title VII of which established a CNMI delegate's seat. Gregorio Sablan was elected in November 2008 as the first CNMI delegate and took office in the 111th Congress.
Main article: Economy of the Northern Mariana Islands
The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands benefits from substantial subsidies and development assistance from the federal government of the United States. The economy also relies heavily on tourism, especially from Japan, and the rapidly dwindling garment manufacturing sector. The tourism industry has also been dwindling since late 2005. Since late 2006, tourist arrivals fell 15.23% (73,000 potential visitors) from the eleven months prior.
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 Bush on May 25, 2007, will result in stepped increases in the Northern Marianas' minimum wage to reach U.S. level by 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.
In the extreme, the island's exemption from U.S. labor laws had led to many alleged exploitations including recent claims of sweatshops, child labor, child prostitution and even forced abortions.
A separate immigration system outside of federal U.S. control (scheduled to end on November 28, 2009) has 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 is expected to become extinct by 2009.
Agricultural production, primarily of tapioca, cattle, coconuts, breadfruit, tomatoes, and melons exists, but is relatively unimportant in the economy.
Exemptions from some federal regulations
See also: Jack Abramoff CNMI scandal
Although the CNMI is part of the United States, several members of Congress have fought hard to keep labor regulation out of the CNMI.
Some extreme labor practices, not common elsewhere in the United States, had occurred. Some of these labor practices include forcing women to have abortions, as exposed in the March 18, 1998, episode of ABC News' 20/20, and enslaving women and forcing them into prostitution, as in the U.S. Department of Justice conviction of several CNMI traffickers in 1999 attests. In 2005 and 2006, the issue of these regulatory exemptions in the CNMI was brought up during the American political scandals of Congressman Tom DeLay and lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Non-native islanders are not allowed to own land, but can lease it.
Transportation and communication
The islands have over 220 miles (350 km) of highways, three airports with paved runways (one about 9800 feet (3000 m) long; two around 6,600 feet (2000 m), three airports with unpaved runways, and one heliport.
Mail service for the islands is provided by the U.S. Postal Service (USPS). Each major island has its own zip code in the 96950-96952 range, and the USPS state abbreviation for the CNMI is "MP" (the uppercase version of its Internet top-level domain). For phone service, the islands are included in the North American Numbering Plan, using area code 670.
Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Public School System operates public schools in the commonwealth and there are numerous private schools. Northern Marianas College is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges and offers a range of programs similar to other small U.S. community colleges.
Islands, island groups and municipalities
The islands total 179.01 square miles (463.63 km2). The table gives an overview, with the individual islands from north to south:
No. Island Area Population
census) Height Highest peak Location
sq mi km2 feet m
Northern Islands (Northern Islands Municipality)
1 Farallon de Pajaros (Uracas) 0.985 2.55 — 1,047 319 20°33′N 144°54′E / 20.55°N 144.9°E / 20.55; 144.9 (Farallon de Pajaros)
2 Maug Islands[n 1] 0.822 2.13 — 745 227 (North Island) 20°02′N 145°19′E / 20.033°N 145.317°E / 20.033; 145.317 (Maug Islands)
3 Asuncion 2.822 7.31 — 2,923 891 19°43′N 145°41′E / 19.717°N 145.683°E / 19.717; 145.683 (Asuncion)
4 Agrihan (Agrigan)[n 2] 16.80 43.51 9 3,166 965 Mount Agrihan 18°46′N 145°40′E / 18.767°N 145.667°E / 18.767; 145.667 (Agrihan)
5 Pagan[n 3] 18.24 47.24 — 1,900 579 Mount Pagan 18°08′36″N 145°47′39″E / 18.14333°N 145.79417°E / 18.14333; 145.79417 (Pagan)
6 Alamagan 4.29 11.11 6 2,441 744 Alamagan 17°35′N 145°50′E / 17.583°N 145.833°E / 17.583; 145.833 (Alamagan)
7 Guguan 1.494 3.87 — 988 301 17°20′N 145°51′E / 17.333°N 145.85°E / 17.333; 145.85 (Guguan)
8 Zealandia Bank >0.0 >0.0 — >0 >0 16°45′N 145°42′E / 16.75°N 145.7°E / 16.75; 145.7
9 Sarigan[n 4] 1.92 4.97 — 1,801 549 — 16°43′N 145°47′E / 16.717°N 145.783°E / 16.717; 145.783 (Sarigan)
10 Anatahan[n 2] 12.05 31.21 — 2,582 787 16°22′N 145°40′E / 16.367°N 145.667°E / 16.367; 145.667 (Anatahan)
11 Farallon de Medinilla 0.328 0.85 — 266 81 16°01′N 146°04′E / 16.017°N 146.067°E / 16.017; 146.067 (Farallon de Medinilla)
Southern Islands (3 municipalities)
12 Saipan 44.55 115.38 62,392 1,555 474 Mount Tagpochau 15°11′06″N 145°44′28″E / 15.185°N 145.74111°E / 15.185; 145.74111 (Saipan)
13 Tinian 39.00 101.01 3,540 558 170 Kastiyu (Lasso Hill) 14°57′12″N 145°38′54″E / 14.95333°N 145.64833°E / 14.95333; 145.64833 (Tinian)
14 Aguijan (Agiguan)[n 5] 2.74 7.10 — 515 157 Alutom 14°42′N 145°18′E / 14.7°N 145.3°E / 14.7; 145.3 (Aguijan)
15 Rota 32.97 85.39 3 283 1,611 491 Mt. Manira 14°08′37″N 145°11′08″E / 14.14361°N 145.18556°E / 14.14361; 145.18556 (Rota)
Northern Mariana Islands 179.01 463.63 69,221 3,166 965 Mount Agrihan 14°08' to 20°33'N,
144°54° to 146°04'E
^ Japanese military occupation 1939 to 1944
^ a b evacuated 1990 due to volcanic eruptions
^ evacuated 1981 due to volcanic eruptions
^ formerly inhabited (population of 21 in 1935, but only 2 in 1968)
^ part of Tinian Municipality
Administratively, the CNMI is divided into four municipalities:
The Northern Islands (north of Saipan) form the Northern Islands Municipality. The three main islands of the Southern Islands form the municipalities of Saipan, Tinian, and Rota, with uninhabited Aguijan forming part of Tinian municipality.
Because of volcanic threat, the northern islands have been largely evacuated. Human habitation is limited to Agrihan, Pagan, and Alamagan, but population varies due to various economic factors, including children's education. The Census of April 2000 registered just six people in all of the Northern Islands municipality (then residing on Alamagan), 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.