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Variations | Good ol’ days

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ON Sept. 1, 1976, about a month before the first constitutional convention election, a Marianas Variety op-ed writer expressed concern about certain candidates who were trash-talking instead of discussing the issue at hand, which was drafting a constitution.

“This is not the time to publicly discuss who beats up his wife or who does not pay his debts,” our op-ed writer said. “Let us be conscientious,” he added; “let us be serious; and let us choose our [ConCon delegates] not on the basis of vocal quantity….” 

In its next issue, MV reported that local public schools had opened their doors after a one-week delay that was caused by “teacher shortages and problems with registration.” MV quoted a source as saying that teaching positions at Marianas High School “were filled just a few days prior to the opening of school with persons who had come to Saipan as visitors…. The new teachers were asked to conduct classes which they are not qualified to teach…. In one instance, a person was hired to teach the Micro[nesian] Civics course after having been on the island only one month. At the end of the first week, however, the [Trust Territory] education department decided not to process the teacher’s contract.”

At Chalan Kanoa (now William S. Reyes) Elementary School, then “the largest on Saipan,” 780 student had enrolled, and this “necessitated a reallocation.” Each class had to accommodate 33 students. At Hopwood the main problem was “inadequate restrooms.”

Also on the front-page was the news story about a 17-year-old who was charged with 13 counts of various unlawful acts that included burglary, grand theft and attempted rape of a 10-year-old girl. Bail was set at $10,000 (about $45,500 today). “Police note that crimes have increased drastically in this past year, with records indicating that the number of crimes has almost tripled. Approximately 3,000 cases of various offenses have already been reported for this year up to the month of September.”

Trust Territory government travel was the banner story of MV’s Sept. 28th issue. The territorial affairs director, who was from the states, had, “on more than one occasion…,used TT funds to travel to and from the Trust Territory, and on at least one occasion charged the [TT government] for a trip that took him halfway around the world.” The same TT official, Variety noted, had “repeatedly criticized…Trust Territory government trips within and outside of the Trust Territory.” 

A trip to Pagan and the other inhabited Northern Islands was the subject of MV’s three-part special report in Sept. 1976. Every three months, a TT government-chartered ship leaves Saipan’s Charlie Dock to bring services and supplies to the Northern Islands. The report noted that Japanese fishermen and even Russian trawlers were among the visitors of Pagan. They “are welcome, since they offer the islanders their only chance to trade with anyone besides the entrepreneurs on the quarterly [TT] government fieldtrip ship.” At the end of three months, “supply levels can become depleted and precarious,” and the “replenishment of [supplies] is on every person’s mind as the government ship drops anchor.”

The ship’s arrival was a big event for the people on Pagan — “every island villager stands on the beach to watch the ship’s arrival.” After distributing supplies, the report added, “the ship prepares to receive Pagan’s only export and cash crop: copra. At the unstable price of 105 dollars [about $486 today] a ton, the islanders of Pagan, together with their neighbors on Alamagan and Agrihan, are only able to make enough money to buy a few non-essentials. These…are purchases from merchants on the ship.” 

“As with all of the residents of the Marianas,” the report stated, “the people of Pagan have grown accustomed to food grown outside their island. Imported rice is preferred by everyone to the locally produced tapioca, taro and breadfruit.” 

Five years later, Mount Pagan would erupt, resulting in the evacuation of the island’s (less than 100) residents to Saipan. But in Sept. 1976, life was easy on Pagan, the MV report stated. The “residents enjoy the freedom to set their own pace.” However, “there is a growing desire for the modern conveniences which are taken for granted on Saipan. The people of Pagan are well aware that the purchase of these commodities will require their earning a greater income. For these reasons, most people are behind the [TT] government-sponsored proposal to build a hotel on Pagan.”

Prior to World War II, the MV report noted, Pagan supported a population of 5,000, but most of them were there for military purposes. Pagan was a Japanese “fighter base.”

Back on Saipan, an MV op-ed writer complained about the “very disgusting…trash and garbage that people drop on the side of the roads, on the road itself, and other public places including the beach. In addition, we even see dead dogs, cats and other dead animals…on the highways…. I believe that if we are going to continue to progress…if we are going to govern ourselves and become responsible citizens, we must enforce a type of law that will guarantee that our island will be kept clean, safe, attractive and able to give our people pride in themselves…. It is not difficult to make such laws and to enforce them.”

About that…

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November 2020 pssnewsletter

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