The Spanish Period (1521-1899)

The Spanish Period (1521-1899)

During the three months and twenty days during which Ferdinand Magellan sailed 12,000 miles through open ocean, he did not encounter a single storm. Misled by this one experience he named the ocean of the Pacific.

Magellan sighted the islands on march 1521 when he made his landfall at Guam. He claimed the islands for Spain and first christened the archipelago "Las Islas de las Velas Latinas" (The Island of the Latine Sails), because the triangular shape of the sails used native canoes were similar to those used on Mediterranean vessels.

In anger over the islanders taking property from his ship, Magellan renamed the islands "Las Islas de los Ladrones", (The Islands of the Thieves), a place name which remained on maps for many years thereafter. In 1668 their name was changed a third time to Las Marianas in honor of Mariana of Austria, widow of Philip the 4th 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 Carolinians developed unique sailing and navigational skills which, still today, are utilized by some to carry them vast distances over the open sea without the aid of charts or modern instruments.

These brave navigators must be ranked with Magellan, Cook and other pacific explorers as being among the greatest seamen of all time. The curiosity of man and his desire to explore the stars can be traced to Pacific island navigators and their desire to explore the vast emptiness of their world for minute traces of land and other life.

The CNMI Guide would like to thank Mr. William H. Stewart for providing all the information used in these pages.