The Northern Mariana Islands were settled by Austronesian people around 1500 B.C. These people became the indigenous Chamorro and were influenced by later migrations, including of Micronesians in the first century A.D., and island Southeast Asians around 900. Spanish explorer Ferdinand MAGELLAN sailed through the Mariana Islands in 1521 and Spain claimed them in 1565. Spain formally colonized the Mariana Islands in 1668 and administered the archipelago from Guam. Spain’s brutal repression of the Chamorro, along with new diseases and intermittent warfare, reduced the indigenous population by about 90% in the 1700s. With a similar dynamic occurring on Guam, Spain forced the Chamorro from the Northern Mariana Islands to resettle on Guam and prevented them from returning to their home islands. By the time the Northern Mariana Islands’ Chamorro returned, many other Micronesians, including Chuukese and Yapese, had already settled on their islands.
In 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the US following the Spanish-American War but sold the Northern Mariana Islands to Germany under the German-Spanish Treaty of 1899. Germany administered the territory from German New Guinea but took a hands-off approach to day-to-day life. Following World War I, Japan administered the islands under a League of Nations mandate. Japan focused on sugar production and brought in thousands of Japanese laborers, who quickly outnumbered the Chamorro on the islands. During World War II, Japan invaded Guam from the Northern Mariana Islands and used Marianan Chamorro as translators with Guamanian Chamorro, creating friction between the two Chamorro communities that continues to this day. The US captured the Northern Mariana Islands in 1944 after the Battle of Saipan and administered them post-World War II as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI).
On four occasions in the 1950s and 1960s, voters opted for integration with Guam, although Guam rejected it in 1969. In 1978, the Northern Mariana Islands was granted self-government separate from the rest of the TTPI and in 1986, islanders were granted US citizenship and the territory came under US sovereignty as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). In 2009, the CNMI became the final US territory to elect a nonvoting delegate to the US Congress.
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NOTE: The information regarding Northern Mariana Islands on this page is re-published from the 2023 World Fact Book of the United States Central Intelligence Agency and other sources. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of Northern Mariana Islands 2023 information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about Northern Mariana Islands 2023 should be addressed to the CIA or the source cited on each page.
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