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Orientation to Tanapag


Area Map

The Tanapag Area. The two streams designate the boundaries of the village proper.


"Tanapag village extends all the way down to the harbor. When we look at the map we see 'Tanapag Harbor,' but people living in that area above the harbor refer to their home as Puerto Rico, so we don’t have that land designated as Tanapag," Ben says.

While legal boundaries of Saipan's villages may be unclear, the conceptual boundaries can be drawn.



The Tanapag area traditionally was fairly large. But following the Second World War, the U.S. Navy built a large facility that took up much of the Southern portion of the Tanapag area. This part of Tanapag is still referred to as "Lower Base."

Ben explains, "Hardly anybody lives down here in what’s Lower Base now. It’s all garment factories and government offices. We still have the Public Works Divisions down in that Lower Base. The power plant is still there, the main power plant, and companies like the water company, the paint company, the glass company, the company that fabricates parts, and the bus company are down there. Now the transfer station for our garbage is down in those Lower Base areas."


Garment Factory

This garment factory is part of the industrial activity that now occupies much of Lower Base.


Harbor Entrance

The opening through the reef to Tanapag Harbor. Garapan village is to the left, Mañagaha island to the right.


"Puerto Rico is the port of Saipan. It has a large opening for big vessels. But it's not as big as some military prepositioning ships that we often see anchored out there. They should be in the dock area, but they’re so big that their draft is too deep for the harbor channel, which is only about 30 to 40 feet.

"Puerto Rico is a new name. During the Japanese time it wasn’t called Puerto Rico, which is Spanish, Puerto means the ‘way in’ and Rico means ‘rich,’ so it’s a rich harbor. That’s the significance of Puerto Rico."



"Achugao is the name of a village, and this stream, Saddok Dogas, creates the boundary between Achugao and Tanapag. Achugao is one of the first areas where the Chamorros landed when they migrated to Saipan. That has been documented. "


Village Map

Some of the principal features of the village that will be discussed by our guides.


"There are two bridges that bound the village proper. Those are over two dry creeks; the water would be running when it rains, so they constructed bridges. They’re not elaborate bridges, but you would recognize them when you pass through the village.

"I can still remember that there weren’t that many houses in those days. There were quite a few people in this village, but we cooperate very closely. If somebody was to build a house, all the villagers would come and help put up a house for an individual or a family. And in about five or six days this house would be livable."


Fence map

The red line indicates the barbed-wire fence that separated Lower Base from the residential village. The houses to the left are more recently constructed.


"Half of today’s settlement is actually a new village. It is a homesteading program. The boundary line goes down from the main thoroughfare through the village, past our church. The church is Santa Remedio. North of this road going down the beach is the old village.

"The old village comprised hardly any concrete houses in my days, so there were tin roofs and wooden houses. They didn't follow along the main road; they actually just hugged the coastline of the village. The old village, of course, has changed tremendously over a period of time. A lot more people have built houses."


Because Tanapag was settled by Carolinians, who are predominantly fishing people, the houses originally hugged the shore. But the settlement pattern in the village has been considerably reshaped since Typhoon Jean, with 140 mile per hour windes, swept the island in 1966. The storm surge of Typhoon Jean reached all the way up to the church, where many people were sheltered.

After Typhoon Jean, residents were encouraged to settle further uphill. Now the residents of Tanapag are spread over a larger area, and few homes remain on the shore.


Storm Surge

The blue area shows the approximate reach of the sea during Typhoon Jean.



"Tanapag is a culturally oriented village, and I think we are living very peacefully here," Ben concludes. "When I was growing up, we considered ourselves to be a community that centers our livelihood primarily on two things.The majority of the people were actually fisherman, and they still practice traditional fishing methods. The other section of the population were farmers, so there was an ongoing barter, trade back and forth between the farmers and the fisherman. And so we had a very lively little community that traded amongst ourselves."



We will explore Tanapag more closely. But first, we need to get there.



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