About Micronesia

History of Saipan & Micronesia (1)


The geologic event forming the Marianas archipelago occurred during the Eocene epoch, a time when dinosaurs had already become extinct, plants, fishes and invertebrate mammals had developed and the major mountains of the world had begun to rise. Man would not appear for another 25 to 50 million years, a period so distant from the present as to equal 350,000 to 700,000 human life spans.


The early history of the Mariana Islands is shrouded in the mists of antiquity but it is believed that the islands were first settled around 3,000 B.C. by an ancient seafaring people, prehistoric "Stone Age Vikings", who journeyed in outrigger canoes and eventually lost their navigational skills and were marooned. It is believed that they sailed across the vast expanse of the open Pacific, north and eastward from southeast Asia, possibly from what is now known as Indonesia. The people, who became known as Chamorros, developed unique construction skills which permitted them to carve huge, mushroom-like capped pillars of stone from solid rock known today as Latte or Taga Stones. Their precise use remains one of the great mysteries of the Pacific to this day.

THE SPANISH PERIOD (1521 to 1899)

Ferdinand Magellan sighted the islands in March 1521 when he made his landfall at Guam. He claimed the islands for Spain and first christened the archipelago "Las Isles de las Velas Latinas" (The Islands of the Latine Sails), because the triangular shape of the sails used on native canoes were similar to those used on Mediterranean vessels. In 1668 their name was changed a third time to Las Marianas in honor of Mariana of Austria, widow of Philip IV of Spain. Through an act of genocide committed in the 17th century by Spanish colonists against the local inhabitants the Chamorro race was almost wiped out. In 1815 a new wave of people from atolls west and north of Truk (Chuuk) in the Eastern Carolines migrated to Saipan.

THE GERMAN PERIOD (1899 to 1914)

The islands were sold by Spain to Germany in 1899 and so remained under the German flag until the start of World War I in 1914 when the Japanese moved against the German administration in the islands and forced them out. Defeated Germany was stripped of all overseas possessions at the end of the war in 1919. The Mariana Islands were turned over to the newly created League of Nations to be administered as the Japanese Mandated Territory. Japan had become an ally of the United States, Great Britain and France shortly before the end of the war and was named as this Pacific area's administering authority. By 1919 the islands were being administered by Japan as a mandate under the League of Nations.

THE JAPANESE PERIOD (1914 to 1944)

Japan withdrew from the League of Nations in 1935 after it had virtually annexed the Islands into the Empire. By 1936 a thriving fishing industry had developed as well as a sugar industry. The islands were assaulted by American forces on June 15, 1944 and one of the most hotly contested battles of the entire war was fought on its sandy beaches and mountainous terrain. American forces gained control of the island in July 1944 and the construction of bases and airfields began. It was from one such airfield on Tinian that the first nuclear weapon was dropped on Hiroshima by the B-29 aircraft Enola Gay hastening the end of hostilities. The airfields on Tinian which, in 1945 were the busiest in the world, are now largely abandoned.

Continue with: History 2 (WW2 begin)