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The Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands is a chain of 14 islands in the western Pacific Ocean, just north of Guam. It is a self-governing commonwealth in political union with the United States. The capital is Saipan. Saipan, Tinian and Rota are the main inhabited island.
The original inhabitants of the islands were Micronesians. Ferdinand Magellan was the first European to reach the islands in 1521. He named them Islas de Ladrones "Islands of Thieves." Spain took possession of the islands in 1565, colonizing them and giving them their present name after Spanish Queen regent Mariana in 1688. Spain sold the islands to Germany in 1899 after losing the Spanish-American War. In 1914, during World War I, Japan seized the Northern Marianas and later secured them as a mandate under the League of Nations.
During World War II, the United States invaded the islands, eventually gaining control of them. After the war, a U.S. military government was established there. In 1947 the islands became part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In 1976 the islands moved toward becoming a commonwealth of the United States, and its residents adopted their own constitution the following year. The Northern Marianas officially became a U.S. commonwealth in 1986, when the trusteeship was dissolved.
The islands are diverse, with Asians--mainly Filipino and Chinese--making up the bulk of the population. There are smaller groups of Chamorros and Carolinians. Chamorro, Carolinian and English are official languages. The predominant religion is Roman Catholicism.
Aside from U.S. government aid, tourism is the major source of income for the islands and employs about half of the workforce. Other significant economic activities include subsistence farming and clothing production.
The Northern Marianas are self-governed, and its residents elect a local governor, lieutenant governor and legislature. The bicameral legislature consists of a Senate with nine members who are popularly elected to four-year nonconsecutive terms and a House of Representatives with 20 members who are popularly elected to two-year terms. The islands have one non-voting delegate in the U.S. House of Representatives.