Rota is the only island in the Marianas other than Guam that has had a history of continuous Chamorro occupancy. When the inhabitants were removed by the Spanish in 1694, a few families escaped capture by hiding in caves. Their escape is reflected in the local language, which has a high pitch and contains words unfamiliar to other Chamorro groups. Also a larger number of original place names have been preserved than elsewhere in the Marianas.
Rota is 10 miles long and 3 miles wide. It consists of coralliferous limestone on a volcanic base. On the southeast, an extensive area of the andesitic base rock is exposed and has been eroded into ridges and ravines. The maximum elevation is 1625 feet. The upland is covered with sword grass, and the valleys are marked by dense tree growth. From early Chamorro settlement through the Japanese era, the permanent streams in this section have been utilized to irrigate rice paddies; but production has not revived since the war.
Tinian is unique among the southern Marianas in that, after removal of the inhabitants by the Spanish, the island never again became important in the Chamorro sphere of occupancy. The savanna-like nature of the vegetation cover provided good range, and the Spanish set the area aside as a game preserve. Frequent expeditions were sent from Guam to hunt wild cattle and to jerk the beef for the Spanish garrison in Agana. Small shipments were also made to Manila.
Under the Japanese Tinian became a gigantic sugar plantation. The island, 10½ miles long and 5 miles wide, is composed of two plateaus separated from each other by a valley that has a NE-SW axis. All elevations are under 600 feet, and 80 per cent of the area is arable. In 1938 four-fifths of the cultivated land was in cane; the remainder was largely in vegetable crops. The cane was processed at two mills in Tinian Town, located on the southwest coast. Sugar production outranked that of Saipan and Rota.
Saipan was unoccupied for over a century after the removal of the Chamorros by the Spanish. In 1810 a few Americans and several Hawaiians started a plantation to supply whaling vessels, but the project was without official sanction and was broken up by Spanish troops. About 1815 a small group of Carolinians, driven from their homes by a typhoon, settled on the island. Persuaded by the Spanish, others followed to collect coconuts and dry the meat for copra. A few Chamorros came in from Guam late in the Spanish period, and the German census in 1902 recorded 1631 native inhabitants.
The island was the first in the Mariana chain to be colonized and exploited by the Japanese. As under the Germans, it continued to serve as an administrative and commercial center. Saipan is 12½ miles long by 5 miles wide. It divides itself into four surface regions: a rugged northern upland occupying about two-thirds of the island area, the southern plateau, a coastal lowland on the southwest, and Kagman Peninsula. Farming, working at American government installations, fishing, and small commercial and handicraft enterprises are the chief occupations.