Tanapag Header CNMI Home Pacific Worlds Home



The Sea

The Land





Come Ashore |  The Ancients |  Legendary Setting |  Neighbors |  Language |  Sources & Links

Come Ashore


Approaching the landing at Tanapag.


“This village is Talaabwogh.” Rosa Castro explains the original Carolinian name for Tanapag: “The custom from a long time ago, from the old people, is to say Talaabwogh. The sailors came from Guam to Rota, and maybe arrived offshore here early in the morning before sunrise. We face to the West, and the sun, when it rises, comes up behind us, so people in the boat, facing the village, they see the sun when it’s coming up. They say Talaabwogh because that’s where the sun rises. That’s what the elder told us.”



The Carolinians who migrated to Saipan came from two different parts of the Caroline Islands. “The origin of the settlement of Saipan by Carolinians began with a navigator named Aghurubw,” Ben explains. “They settled down by Micro Beach, Garapan area.” Aghurubw and his people came from the island of Satawal, in what is now Yap State.

“When these Carolinians came,” Scott recounts, “they came to a place they named Arabwal which is a vine that grows on the beach. That then came to be called Garapan, which is the first historic village if you don’t count the two mission villages that we don’t know much about. As the island was being resettled, you had Garapan that was established around the 1830s, and then in the 1880s Tanapag was settled."


Carolinian Canoe

A small Carolinian canoe at Garapan.


Namon Weite Atoll

“The Carolinians from this village are not closely associated with the Carolinians of Southern Saipan,” Ben says. “The Tanapag people came from another atoll. Most of our Carolinian ancestors who came here many years ago actually came from the atoll called Namon Weite, in what is now Chuuk state. The Carolinian would say ‘Namon Weite,’ and on the map it would be ‘Namonuito.’

"A lot of them are from the island of Unoun on that atoll, and quite a few of them are from Piherarh—my grandmother comes from that particular island on the atoll. Our clans are very strong right now on the island of Makur on Namon Weite atoll.”


Caroline Islands Map

Origins of early Carolinian settlers to the Mariana Islands.


“Tanapag village is one of two traditional historic settlements on Saipan,” Scott tells us. “Though there were two Spanish mission villages briefly from around 1730, those people were moved to Guam. And so Saipan had been de-populated by the Spanish from the mid-1700s. From that time until the Carolinians came here and settled in the 19th century, there was nobody here."



“The Carolinians who settled Tanapag village were at that time serving as plantation workers on Tinian, and they had been brought in by a fellow named Johnson who, through family connections, secured a lease from the Spanish administration on Guam. He leased Tinian, he leased Pagan, he leased a couple of the other northern islands. He then went down to the Carolines and recruited workers, and he brought them up first to Pagan, and then they moved down to Tinian.

"Johnson was later lost in a boating accident. His widow held on for a while, and then she finally gave up. So the Carolinians that were living on Tinian then moved and established the second village, which is now Tanapag, and that was around 1887 or 1888.”



The island of Tinian is visible off the coast of Saipan.


Unai Babuen Map


“In the early 1800s the island of Tinian had chickens and wild cattle,” Ben relates. “I don’t know who brought them in, but those were supply for other merchants who happened to call on either Guam, or Tinian, or Saipan. And so we were first brought in to the island of Tinian.

The people were settled on a beach called Unai Babuen, ‘Pig Beach,’ on the northern part of Tinian. It was a very small, sandy area and a very small fishing ground. Over the years, the people from this village decided not to stay there. There wasn’t that much for them to live on, and they sailed their canoe up to Saipan and looked around for a village. They decided this is a good fishing ground, and that’s how we were settled."

The different origins of Saipan’s Carolinians is made manifest in some degree of linguistic difference. Our bilingual teachers explain:

“The dialects are different out in Chuuk and Yap: the Southerners, we come from Yap’s outer islands, Satawal,” Cathy says. “The Tanapag people,” Yoane explains, “they mostly came from the Namon Weite atoll, and that’s the northern dialect. Usually the only difference is changing some letters in the word. For example the Southerners they might say schóóbwut for ‘woman,’ but in Tanapag they say rhóóbwut. We have 32 letters in our Northern alphabet for Carolinian, and out of those, I think there are three or four that the Southerners don’t use. And they have some letters that we don’t use.”

“They are not really that different," Cathy adds. "If Yoane speaks to me in the Northern dialect, I would just listen carefully, because she would use the r instead of using the l, and she would use the n instead of using the l or sh.”



“This Carolinian stone pounder is a really nice design," Noel says. “They call it ppwo, and állif is the board used with it. They use it to pound the breadfruit, after they’ve baked it and removed the skin. This is to pound something that’s already being cooked. The Chamorro style is different.” Photograph courtesy of the CNMI Museum.



We will learn more about Carolinian language and place names later. But first, we turn our attention to the pre-Carolinian Chamorro residents of the Northern Mariana Islands. Turn the page to read about the ancients.



Come Ashore |  The Ancients |  Legendary Setting |  Neighbors |  Language |  Sources & Links
Arrival |  A Native Place |  The Sea |  The Land |  Footprints |  Visitors |  Memories |  Onwards
Tanapag Home  |  Map Library |  Site Map |  Pacific Worlds Home