The first known Northern Mariana Islands residents arrived from the Philippines, Indonesia, and the Malay Peninsula around 2,000 BC.

History of the Northern Mariana Islands

Around 2,000 BC. the Chamorro people, as they came to be known, built their homes and other significant structures on giant pillars of latte stones. Tinian’s House of Taga (San Jose, Tinian) and Rota’s As Nieves Latte Stone Quarry (Sinapalo, Rota) are the two most impressive surviving structures from this era.

In 1521, Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan became the first European to land on the Northern Mariana Islands. After the islands became Spanish territory, the Chamorro farmers, hunters, and fishers pillaged items from Magellan’s ships. This caused Magellan to first name these territories ‘the islands of the thieves.’ The islands were renamed the Marianas after Spanish king Philip IV’s widow, Maria Anna, in 1668

New migrants from Micronesian islands migrated to the Northern Mariana Islands after most of the original Chamorro population perished during Spanish rule. These residents were called Carolinians because a large number of them came from the Caroline Islands during the 1800s. In 1899, the islands became German territories, then fell under Japanese control during WWI.

WW2 in Northern Mariana Islands

Throughout WWI and well into WWII, the islands served mainly as Japanese military garrisons until United States Marines landed on Saipan in 1944 and launched the Battle of Saipan. This bitterly fought three-week battle ended with the Americans defeating the Japanese. The American Memorial Park (P. O. Box 5198-CHRB, Garapan) is the most obvious reminder of this tumultuous time in Northern Mariana Islands history.

The islands have been United States territories since the end of the Battle of Saipan, but chose not to seek complete independence during the 1970s. Instead, the Northern Mariana Islands, like Puerto Rico, are now a Commonwealth of the United States. Although native islanders are United States citizens by birth, they cannot vote in presidential elections and don’t pay federal taxes.