Encyclopædia Britannica, Ninth Edition/Ladrone Islands
LADRONE or MARIANA ISLANDS, a chain of fifteen islands in the North Pacific Ocean, situated to the north of the Carolines, and between 13° and 21° N. lat., and 144° and 146° E. long. The name Islas de los Ladrones, or “Islands of the Thieves,” was given them by the ship's crew of Magellan on account of the thieving propensity of the inhabitants. Magellan himself styled them Islas de las Velas Latinas, or “Islands of the Lateen Sails.” San Lazarus archipelago, Jardines, and Prazeres are among the names applied to them by later navigators. They received their present recognized official appellation “Las Marianas” in 1668 in honour of Maria Anna of Austria, widow of king Philip IV. of Spain, and they still form a Spanish colony under the general government of the Philippines. A broad channel divides the Ladrones into two groups, containing a total area of about 417 square miles. The northern group (Gani) consists of ten islands, now uninhabited; five islands, of which four are inhabited, form the southern group, viz., Guahan (Guam, Spanish Guajan, the San Juan of old Spanish charts), Rota, Aguigan, Tinian, and Saypan. On Guahan, the largest and southern most of the group, is the only town in the colony, San Ignacio de Agaña, and the fortified harbour of Umata.
The general surface of the southern islands is far inferior in elevation to that of the northern group, which is mountainous, though the altitudes do not exceed 2600 to 2700 feet. The predominant rock in the southern group is madreporic limestone, but in some instances, and especially at Guahan, volcanic formations occur. The northern islands are entirely of igneous origin, and on Pagan and Uraccas are smoking craters. The coasts of the southern islands are in many instances surrounded by reefs. All the islands except Farallon de Medinilla and Mangs (in the northern group) are more or less densely wooded, and the vegetation is luxuriant, much resembling that of the Philippines, whence many species of plants have been introduced. Owing to the humidity of the soil cryptogams are very numerous, as also most kinds of grasses. Among the useful vegetable products may be mentioned areca and cocoa-nut palms, rice, maize, sugar, tobacco, cotton, indigo, breadfruit, bananas, and castor oil. In consequence of the laziness of the native population, agriculture is almost entirely neglected, in spite of the exceptional advantages offered by the climate and soil. On most of the islands there is a plentiful supply of water; at Guahan, however, the partial clearing away of the woods has caused several full streams to dwindle to mere brooks.
The fauna of the Ladrones, though inferior in number and variety, is similar in character to that of the Carolines, and certain species are indigenous to both colonies. Swine and oxen are allowed to run wild, and are hunted when required: the former were known to the earlier inhabitants; the latter with most other domestic animals were introduced by the Spaniards. The roe was imported from the Philippines.
The climate of the Ladrones, though humid, is salubrious, whilst the heat, being tempered by the trade winds, is milder than that of the Philippines. The yearly mean temperature at Guahan is about 81° Fahr. August and September are the warmest months, but the variations of temperature are not great. The year may be divided into a wet and dry season, though even in the latter rain often falls. From October to May the general winds are north-easterly; during the other four months they are often north-westerly and south-westerly, the latter being accompanied by much rain.
The present population of the Ladrones consists of descendants from the original inhabitants, called by the Spaniards Chamorros, of Tagal settlers from the Philippines, and of a mixed race formed by the union of Spaniards and Chamorros. On the island of Saypan there is a colony from the Carolines. With the exception of the last-mentioned settlers, who are very active, and have founded the village of Garapan, the inhabitants are generally wanting in energy, of indifferent moral character, and miserably poor. Little has yet been done for the improvement of their intellectual and social condition, with the exception of the establishment of a few schools, now mostly fallen into decay. The number of the original inhabitants previous to the subjection of the islands by the Spaniards in 1668 has been variously estimated at from 40,000 to 60,000. The Spanish conquest and the forcible suppression of the protracted opposition of the natives reduced their numbers to such an extent that in 1741 the population was only 1816. From that date, however, owing to the introduction of new colonists from the Philippines, the population began to increase, and in 1856 was 9500. In the last year a severe epidemic carried off more than a third of the inhabitants. Since 1871 the total population of the Ladrones has been roughly estimated at 8000. All the inhabitants understand and are able to speak Spanish, which is gradually supplanting the native language, a Micronesian dialect nearly allied to that used by the Tagals of the Philippines. The residence of the governor is at Agaña in Guahan. Spain gains no revenue by the possession of these islands.
Europeans in the Pacific, is due to Magellan, who upon the 6th of March 1521 observed the two southernmost islands, and sailed between them (O. Teschel, Geschichte des Zeitalters der Entdeckungen, Stuttgart, 1877, p. 500). Modern research in the archipelago began with the visit of Commodore Anson, who in August 1742 landed upon the island of Tinian, where he found extensive ruins (Anson's Voyage, bk. iii. ). The Ladrones were visited by Byron in 1765, Wallis in 1767, and Crozet in 1772. Great additions to our knowledge of the islands were made in the present century by Freycinet, in 1829 (Voyage autour du monde, part histor. ii.), and the Spanish captain Sanchez y Zayas, in 1865.
des Stillen Oceans, Leipsic, 1875-76, part ii.; “The Marianas Islands,” in the Nautical Magazine, vols. xxxiv., xxxv., London, 1865. 1866; and P. A. Lesson,Les Polynésiens, leur origine, &c., Paris, 1880. (E. D. B.)