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History and Government

The islands of the Marianas were first populated some 3,500 years ago by ocean going migrations thought to have originated from South East Asia. The Marianas came under the rule of the Spanish after the landing of Magellan in 1521. Spanish rule continued until the end of the Spanish-American war in 1899, when Saipan and its neighbors were administered by the Germans. At the end of World War I, the Japanese took over the islands from the Germans. The Japanese period continued until the end of World War II. At that time, the Northern Mariana Islands, along with vast portions of Micronesia, became trust territories of the United Nations, administered by the United States. Following the principle of self-determination, in 1975, the people of the CNMI voted to remain associated with the United States rather than becoming an independent nation. The Covenant between the United States and the CNMI allows that individuals born here are US citizens. The CNMI controls its own immigration and labor, which allows for relatively easy entry into the CNMI by non-US nationals. However, there are no provisions that allow for these non-US nationals to become permanent residents or US citizens as a result of residing in the CNMI. The CNMI is represented by the United States in international affairs. Although there is little military presence in the CNMI, the US is responsible for defense of the Commonwealth.

The CNMI government is modeled after that of most US states. There is an elected governor, as well as elected House of Representatives and Senate. The judicial branch consists of a Supreme court, and a Superior court, and various lower courts. The people of the CNMI also elect a non-voting delegate to the US Congress.

The Federal government does have a small presence here, with a Federal Court, a small FBI office, a few DEA and IRS officers, and a small US Coast Guard attachment.

Cultures & Languages

History and geography have given Saipan a unique mix of populations. The indigenous Chamorro and Carolinians share the island with American, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Bangladeshi and European communities, creating an eclectic mix of east, west and Pacific traditions and cultures. Since Saipan is a Commonwealth of the United States, it is probably unique in having three official languages under its Constitution. In addition to English, the local languages of Chamorro and Carolinian are also declared official. In tourist areas, understandably, Japanese is widely spoken. Fortunately, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is a land of bi- and multi-lingual persons. Most people here have at the very minimum a working command of English and it is generally spoken in government offices and other public places.


Religion plays a major role in the lives of most of the people of Saipan. Because of the influence of the Spanish on the indigenous population, probably 90% of the island’s population is Roman Catholic. There are active Baha’i, Buddhist, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim communities. There are also a variety of Christian churches present, including Baptists, Methodists, Mormons, non-Denominational, Seventh Day Adventists, and some Evangelical groups.