THE NORTHERN MARIANAS
THE FIRST EUROPEAN EXPLORATION OF THE AREA WAS
THAT LED BY FERDIN-and
Magellan in 1521, who landed on nearby Guam and claimed the islands for
In 1668 the islands were renamed by Padre Diego
Luis de San Vitores as Las Marianas after Mary Anne of Austria
(1606-’46), widow of Spain's Philip IV.
Spanish-American War of 1898, Spain ceded Guam to the United States and sold
the rest of the Marianas (along with the Caroline and Marshall Islands) to
war on Germany during World War I and invaded the Northern Marianas. In 1919,
the League of Nations, precursor of the United Nations, awarded the islands
to Japan by mandate.
Near the end of World War II, the United States
military invaded the Mariana Islands on June 15, 1944. After Japan's defeat,
the islands were administered by the United States as part of the United
Nations Trust Territory
of the Pacific Islands. The people of the Northern Mariana Islands
decided in the 1970s not to seek independence, but instead to forge closer
links with the United States. Negotiations for territorial status began in
1972. A covenant to establish a commonwealth in political union with the U.S.
was approved in 1975. A new government and constitution went into effect in
The seal of the Northern Marianas shows a latte-stone
charged with a five pointed star, surrounded by a garland of flowers. Below
are the words UNITED STATES 1976 OFFICIAL SEAL. The legend reads COMMONWEALTH
OF THE NORTHERN MARIANAS.
The seal was adopted in 1978 and modified in
1990. Recently a somewhat simplified form has shown up on which the words
‘United States, 1976’ are omitted. This version is mainly used by the police forces.
The latte-stone and the star are from the
flag adopted 31 March 1972. This flag is the result of a competition for the
design of a new flag won by Vito K. Calvo. On this flag the blue symbolizes
the Pacific which “encloses the islands with its affection and peace”. The star
symbolizes the state. The latte-stone refers to the legendary hero
Taga. The symbolism of the seal is similar. 
Latte Stones are the stone pillars
of ancient Chamorro houses. Found nowhere else in the world, he Latte Stone
has become a symbol, and the signature, of Guam and the Marianas Islands.
Original Latte Stones were
comprised of two pieces, a supporting column (halagi) made from coral
limestone, and topped with a capstone (tasa), made from coral heads
which were usually carried several miles from the quary site or reef to the
location of the house. Customarily, bones of the ancient Chamorros, their
possessions, such as jewelry or canoes were buried below the stones. Latte
Stones are respected and are untouched. A human interloper at Latte sites may
encounter Taotaomoa, or ancestral Chamorro spirits.
Archaeological milestones of
ancient Guam are tied to the Latte Stones as: Transitional Pre-Latte (AD 1 to
AD 1000) the larger Latte Period (AD 1000 to AD 1521) and Early Historic
period (AD 1521 to 1700).
According to legend, Taga was born on the island of Guam.
Already in childhood, he exhibited supernatural powers such as the ability to
uproot large trees and leap from one Pacific island to another. When Taga
grew up and became chief of Rota, he engaged in and won numerous contests of
wit and strength with other chiefs. Taga’s fame spread throughout the Mariana
islands and caused him to be the envy of all people, including his own
children. To build a house great enough to please him, Taga quarried and
carved very big stones and formed large pillars which he covered with wood
and thatch. The house was very fine and admired by all who saw it. Taga's
downfall began, however, as soon as his house was completed. His pride in his
own superior strength prompted him to murder his little son, and his other
children died soon afterwards out of remorse. As each child died, a pillar of
Taga's home fell down. Soon only one pillar remained as a witness to Taga's
glory. From the legend of Taga, students can gain insight into human
strengths and weaknesses as well as into how the big latte stones of Rota and
Tinian came into existence. 
© Hubert de Vries 2009-12-21