Saipan is the largest island of the United States Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The population is 67,000. The Commonwealth’s center of government is located in the village of Capital Hill on the island, which is about 120 miles north of Guam. The western side of the island is lined with sandy beaches and an offshore coral reef which creates a large lagoon. The eastern shore is composed primarily of rugged rocky cliffs and a reef. Its highest point is a limestone covered mountain called Mount Tapochau at 1,560 feet. Besides English, the indigenous Chamorro language is spoken by approximately 19 percent of the inhabitants and many Chamorros on Saipan consider their culture more intact than on Guam. The U.S. Military has only one small permanent presence on Saipan, the U.S. Coast Guard.
More than 5,000 American marines, soldiers, seamen, and airmen died in Operation Forager (the battles for Saipan and Tinian) and in the Battle of the Philippine Sea and there are many war related sights around the island. One in particular, Banzai Cliff, relates to the Japanese occupiers and many other island inhabitants who leapt to their deaths rather than face capture.
I signed up for a cultural tour. We went to the home of a Chamorro woman, Kiki, to engage in making crafts. We worked outside in her lovely garden. She recently received TV coverage from a Russian Planet Earth film crew. Under the guidance of Kiki and her brothers, nieces and other family members, we made bead bracelets, wove bamboo fish mobiles, made floral headpieces and tried painting with bamboo. We watched a brother prepare coconut oil and enjoyed some bananas prepared with coconut made by yet another brother. All the while the family members spoke to us about the Chamorro culture and described the Chamorro lifestyle. It was a very interesting experience. Below are some photos of our visit. Our next port is Kobe, Japan.