Northern Mariana Islands (USA)

AT A GLANCE

Nickname: America’s Best Kept Secret
Capital: Saipan (38,896)
Size: 184 sq. mi. (477 sq km)
Population: 53,467 (2016)
Statehood: Unincorporated
Electoral votes: 0
U.S. Representatives: 1 (nonvoting)

Northern Mariana Islands map

THE PLACE

The Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands is a chain of 16 islands in the Pacific Ocean, south of Japan and east of the Philippines. Combined with the island of Guam, these islands make up the full Mariana Islands. The Mariana Islands are part of the region in the Pacific Ocean known as Micronesia.

The largest island in the Northern Marianas is Saipan, which is also the capital. The second-largest island is Tinian; Rota is the third largest. Most of the population lives on these three islands. Seven of the northern islands have active volcanoes. The islands have a warm climate year-round and receive about 84 inches of rain annually.

THE PAST

A group of people known as the Chamorros first began to settle in the Northern Marianas around 1500 B.C. Another group, known as the Carolinians, first came to the Marianas after 1815, when typhoons (huge storms) washed out their homes in lower Micronesia.

The first European to see the Mariana Islands was Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Spain quickly claimed the region, but did not settle the area until 1668. The islands were ruled successively by Spain, Germany, and Japan.

Japan controlled the Northern Mariana Islands until 1944, when the United States took them over as a United Nations trusteeship during World War II. In 1975, the United States allowed the Northern Mariana Islands to choose its own government officials, and it became a U.S. commonwealth in November 1986.

THE PRESENT

Residents of the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands are considered U.S. citizens, but they cannot vote in presidential elections. They have one representative in the U.S. House of Representatives, but this representative can vote only in committees. The Northern Mariana Islands’ government is made up of a 9-member senate and a 15-member house of representatives, and the three largest islands have mayors. The United States provides defense and handles international relations for the islands.

The island of Saipan is the capital of the Northern Mariana Islands and is home to about 90 percent of its population. Saipan contains the seat of government, a busy seaport, and an international airport. The economy is based on tourism, manufacturing, and agriculture. Tourism is the largest industry. The islands manufacture textiles, and agricultural exports include vegetables, beef, and pork. Government jobs are also critical to the economy of the Northern Mariana Islands.