The seafaring Chamorro people originally settled the Mariana Islands over 3,500 years ago, sailing large outrigger canoes know as "proas" from Southeast Asia. Around 1,000 years ago, they began constructing two-piece megalithic pillar structures out of limestone. These "latte stone" creations still exist on several Mariana Islands. Although they have endured centuries of change, the Chamorro spirit lives on in its people. Today their descendants predominantly use the Chamorro language and continue to preserve their culture and traditions.
Spanish and Carolinians
Explorer Ferdinand Magellan first sighted the Marianas when he crossed the Pacific in 1521 and made landfall on Guam. Spain officially claimed Saipan in 1565 and later named the islands for their queen, Mariana. Residents were forcibly removed to Rota and Guam under Spanish rule. Saipan remained uninhabited for decades until Carolinians from Satawal under Chiefs Aghurubw and Nguschul sought refuge there after a typhoon destroyed their island. Around 1815, the Carolinians founded a village called Arabwal in what is now American Memorial Park.
In 1899, after losing the Spanish-American War, Spain sold the Marianas (excluding Guam) to Germany, who ruled the islands until losing them in World War I. Japan assumed control in 1914, improving health conditions and boosting the economy by exporting and importing various food products. By the time the United States attacked Saipan in 1944, thousands of Japanese, Okinawans, Koreans, and Taiwanese immigrants inhabited the island.
After World War II, the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands administered the Northern Mariana Islands. In 1978, a commonwealth established in political union with the United States led to the unique island democracy enjoyed by the diverse, multicultural island community today.
Last updated: February 20, 2019