discovering Saipan, the main island of the

The eleventh edition of the Pacific Mini-Games takes place in the Northern Mariana Islands, an organized unincorporated territory of the United States. Focus on Saipan, the main island, which hosts the majority of athletes from the 20 countries involved in the competitions this year.

The Mariana Islands are located east of the Philippine Sea, north-northeast of Guam. An organized unincorporated territory of the United States, incorporated as a Commonwealth. The archipelago consists of 15 islands, including the three main ones: Saipan, Tinian and Rota. At the last census, in 2016, it counted 53 467 inhabitants. A population of which almost half is made up of Asian-Americans and Oceano-Americans.

Saipan, the largest island in the archipelago covers 115 km2. It is on this island that the competitions of the Mini-games take place for the most part. Here, the American identity is displayed everywhere. From buses to commercial signs, including cars.

American influence in the Northern Mariana Islands, in Saipan.

©Alix Madec / NC the 1st

Northern Marianas, Saipan

Buses in American colors, in Saipan.

©Alix Madec / NC the 1st

Saipan is the most inhabited island of this archipelago, colonized by the Spaniards 500 years ago, then the Germans and the Japanese in the 20th century. In 1944, during the Second World War, the United States invaded it. 29,000 Japanese soldiers are killed. The Saipan war left 4,000 dead on the American side and among the first people, the Chamorro. The American Memorial Park recalls this history.

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The American Memorial Park recalls the history of Saipan.

©Alix Madec / NC the 1st

On the nearby tennis courts, the Mariannes have forgotten nothing of their painful history. But they prefer to look ahead. “If we look back to the past, history is quite dark, with the war”, launches Colin Sinclair, professional tennis player from Marianne. “The territory is now American, since 1975. I was lucky to grow up here and to know this island life, as an American. Today, it is a very beautiful island, with heavenly beaches. You have to come and find out.”

Colin, in his own way, made the name of the Northern Marianas resonate. From the grounds of Saipan, he entered the ATP circuit. His best ranking: 400th worldwide. This year, he won 2 doubles titles and a singles final. Before finding his favorite places at home. “There is Managaha, an island that allows you to see the beaches of Saipan in the distance. A beautiful place. And then the Grotto, to the northeast of the island. A very beautiful underwater cave. You can dive there and go out in the ocean”, details the athlete.

Another historical site but this time, in the north of the island, the Last Japanese Command Post, which recalls this history marked by the war.

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The Last Japanese Command Post, north of Saipan.

©Agathe Calandreau / NC the 1st

Still in the north of the island, the Banzai Cliff Cliffs offer a unique panorama of the deep waters of the Northern Marianas.

Northern Mariana Islands

The Banzai Cliff cliffs, north of Saipan.

©Agathe Calandreau / Nc the 1st

The first inhabitants settled in Saipan more than 4,000 years ago. The first people, the Chamorros, were joined by the Carolinians from Micronesia. Their descendants continue to perpetuate their values.

The #1 thing in our culture is respect“says Jorge Castro, host of the va’a Mini-games competition. “If you go to a local festival, you will see the young people take the hands of the elders and bring them up to their noses. We are very respectful, very proud. We love representing our culture. We are a small population but capable of hosting Mini-games like that. We want the world to discover our hospitality, like nowhere else“.

Many people from the Philippines live in Saipan and settle there to work. In the evening, families come to share a moment around a barbecue by the sea, like here, in the center of Saipan.

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Two inhabitants of Saipan, originally from the Philippines, meet for a barbecue with family and friends.

©Alix Madec / NC the 1st

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Many people from the Philippines come to settle in the Northern Mariana Islands to work.

©Alix Madec / NC the 1st

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Saipan’s main street is lined with a heavenly beach.

©Alix Madec / Nc la 1ere

Most of the Mariannes turn out to be of the Catholic faith, but a small part of the inhabitants is also of the Protestant religion. Other religions practiced: Buddhism and Shintoism.

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The church of Kristo Rai, on the island of Saipan.

©Alix Madec / Nc la 1ere

In the heart of the market not far from the city center, freshly cut coconuts, fruits and vegetables of all kinds, spring rolls and pad Thai are presented with pride.

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The market in downtown Saipan.

©Agathe Calandreau / Nc the 1st

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Saipan market women.

©Agathe Calandreau / Nc the 1st

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Homemade dishes in the spotlight at the Saipan market.

©Agathe Calandreau / Nc the 1st

Find the report by Martin Charmasson and Christian Favennec:

In downtown Saipan, stands a building of disproportionate dimensions and sparkling golden adornments. Is it the high place of a local institution? Well no, it’s a Chinese casino that closed its doors due to the health crisis.

Mariana Islands Saipan Casino

A Chinese casino in the center of Saipan, closed due to the health crisis.

©Alix Madec / Nc la 1ere

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Gigantic dragon statues sit enthroned in the entrance hall of the casino now closed to the public.

©Alix Madec / Nc la 1ere

And as in some states in the United States, cannabis has been freely available for almost a year in the Northern Mariana Islands. Hemp is legally sold there in specialized shops, right in the city center.

Mariana Islands Saipan Cannabis store

Cannabis has now been legal, in the Mariana Islands for almost a year.

©Agathe Calandreau / Nc the 1st

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