For more than fifty years, the Bahai Faith has been part of the Mariana Islands community. The Mariana Islands Bahá’í Community encompasses both Guam and the Northern Marianas. There are 17 localities in which Bahá’ís reside throughout the islands, 6 of which have elected administrative bodies called Local Spiritual Assemblies. The National Bahá’í Office for the Mariana Islands is located in Hagatna, Guam.
Bahá'í Communities in the Mariana Islands hold regular activities including devotional meetings, classes for children and junior youth, focusing on moral development in the context of the oneness of humankind and the unity of the world religions, small group meetings, called study circles, devoted to the study of the Bahá'í teachings, and informal gatherings held in homes to share the Bahá'í Faith.
History of the Bahá'í Faith in the Mariana Islands
First Mention: The first mention of the Bahá'í Faith in the Mariana Islands occured in 1936, when a Bahá'í from Hawaii, Mrs. Mary Sweyze, the wife of scientist Dr. Otto Herman Sweyze, joined her husband on a survey to study insects on Guam. Dr. and Mrs. Sweyze arrived on Guam on 27 April, 1936 and remained until 30 November, a period of seven months. It was during this time that Mrs. Sweyze introduced the Bahá'í Faith to members of the Manibusan family in Sinajana. This is the first mention of the name of Baha'u'llah in the Marianas of which we are aware.
Better known is the time spent on Tinian and Saipan towards the end of the Second World War, around 1945, by Mr. Paul Pettitt, a member of the United States Armed Forces. Mr. Pettitt has written an account for our records of the "first teaching conference" held on Saipan by himself and two other young Bahá'í servicemen.
First Settlers: In April and May of 1954, the first Bahá'í settlers, Robert Powers, Jr. and Cynthia R. Olson, arrived on Guam, seperately. Cynthia was soon joined by her husband Edgar, better known as Olie. Soon afterwards, in July, Mrs. Mildred Mottahedeh, a well known Bahá'í of international stature, travelled through Guam as the first Bahá'í "travelling teacher." This was soon followed by the first Bahá'í Holy Day observance, and weekly advertisements of the Faith's activities in the "Guam Daily News."
In November of that same year the first presentation of Bahá'í books was made to island libraries. The Bahá'í Fund was established and contributions were soon being sent to the Bahà'í International Fund, and to a special fund to assist the persecuted Bahá'ís in Iran. Before a year had elapsed, in March l955, the first declaration of belief in Baha'u'llah by a local resident was made by a U.S. civil service worker, Mr. Charles Mackey, followed by the first mention of the Bahá'i Faith on radio, KUAM, made by Cynthia Olsen as part of the "Calendars of the World" program.
First Micronesian: One of the most historic events to occur in these early days was the enrollment of the first Micronesian Bahá'í, a Palauan by the name of Joe Erie Ilengelkei, aged 21. This enrollment assured the formation of the first Spiritual Assembly in Micronesia, the Guam Spiritual Assembly, on April 21, 1956.
Members included: Charles T. Mackey, Ellis S. Adkins, Antonio Alfonso, Joe Erie Ilengelkei, DeWitt Haywood Jr., Louanna Haywood, Robert Powers, Jr., Cynthia R. Olson and Edgar A. Olson - representing members of the African, Caucasian, Asian and Pacific Island peoples. (See official photo: The Bahá'í World, Vol. Xlll, p. 1126.)
Translations & Publications: That summer, the first Chamorro translation of Bahá'í Writings, "Blessed is the Spot," was prepared by Mrs. Angeline Isezaki of Umatac. Later in 1956, the Guam Department of Education recognized Bahá'í Holy Days and permitted Bahá'í children to be absent from school on those days. The "Bahá'í Grapevine," a newsletter for the Bahá'í community, also commenced publication during 1956. In August, the Olsons were the first to make a teaching trip to the island of Rota. And on 12 November - the anniversary of the Birth of Baha'u'llah - a series of half-hour radio programs on the Bahá'í Faith began on KUAM radio.
Incorporation: The Guam Spiritual Assembly was officially incorporated in April of 1957, and the first Bahá'í marriage took place in June of that year, with precedent-setting legal recognition which has remained in effect on Guam to this day. As a climax to those first 3 years of "firsts," in November of 1957, Shoghi Effendi, the Guardian and Head of the Bahà'í Faith at that time, identified and recorded the Mariana Islands as an "Outstanding Centre." The goal set for the Bahà'ís in the Marianas at that time was to have these islands "opened," with at least one believer residing here. This goal was exceeded three-fold with the formation of the Guam Spiritual Assembly, its legal incorporation, and the translation of Bahá'í literature into the indigenous language.
Developments in the Northern Mariana Islands: The first Bahá'í settler in the Northern Marianas, Miss Virginia Breaks, who had been the first Bahá'í resident in the Eastern Caroline Islands, arrived on Saipan in June of l962. Her job had been transferred to Saipan when the Trust Territory Government was moved there from Chuuk. A year later, in July 1963, the first Bahá'í television program was aired in the Mariana Islands, a slide slow on Bahá'í history, produced by Edgar Olson and shown on Guam's KUAM-TV.
First Bahá'í on Saipan; First Chuukese: A very prominent Bahá'í, Mr. H. Collis Featherstone, came to visit the Bahá'ís of the Marianas in May of 1965. This was the first of nine visits he would eventually make here. A teaching conference was held on Guam during that visit, and Mrs. Patience Robinson, an African-American who was living on Saipan, became the first resident from that island to declare her Faith in Baha'u'llah. The first Bahá'í to actually be enrolled on Saipan was Sibina Siren, a Chuukese nurse stationed there. She was also the first Chuukese to become a Bahá'í. A year and a half later, the first Chamorro believer, "Duke" Manibusan of Sinajana, declared his belief in Baha'u'llah.
Another prominent Bahá'í, Mr. A. Q. Faizi, visited the Marianas in January of 1970, and this began a period of great change for the Bahá'í Faith here. The first National Teaching Committee for Micronesia, appointed by the Hawaiian National Spiritual Assembly as a precursor to the first National Spiritual Assembly of the region, was subsequently formed and based on Guam. In preparation for that welcome event, the Bahá'ís on Guam valiantly arose to travel and teach the Faith throughout the islands of Micronesia, forming 4 Spiritual Assemblies: 2 in Pohnpei, 1 in Truk and 1 in Majuro. A year later, in April of 1971, the Spiritual Assembly of Guam was divided into four village, or local, Assemblies: Dededo, Inarajan, Mangilao and Tamuning. And at the end of that year, Dr. Rahmatu'llah Muhajir, another prominent Bahá'í, also visited the Marianas.
Physical Expansion: The first National Spiritual Assembly of the North West Pacific Ocean was formed during April of l972. Members included: Francis Reimer (Marshalls), Rose Makwelung, Harlan Lang, Yaokin Francis, Saimon Rehobson and Stem Salle (Eastern Carolines), Joy Benson, Richard Benson and Cynthia Olson (Marianas). The following April, 1973, Superior Court of Guam Judge Mr. Richard Benson was the first person from Micronesia to be appointed to the Bahá'í Continental Board of Counsellors for Northeastern Asia. This board, now covering Australasia, is composed of eminent Bahá'ís who serve to encourage and protect Bahá'í communities in this region.
Significant developments continued to occur on a yearly basis. A special meeting was held on Guam on 3 April 1976 to discuss the need for a National Bahá'í Center, with $15,000 raised that day. In l977 the National Assembly of the Marshall Islands was formed, and at the National Convention for the North West Pacific Ocean, held on Guam, Mr. Featherstone read a letter from the Universal House of Justice announcing that the formation of the National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the Marianas Islands would take place on April 21 during the following year, l978.
Land for a Bahá'í House of Worship site in the Marianas was purchased in August of 1977, and the National Bahá'í Center land was acquired in January of 1978. Local Centers were also acquired, first on Saipan and then in Dededo, Guam, both of which fulfilled national Bahá'í goals during those years.
In May of 1978, Dr. Muhajir, returned to the Marianas to attend its first National Convention. A banquet was held at the Guam Reef Hotel, with the Governor of the Territory of Guam and his party attending, and, as a part of this occasion, a ground-breaking ceremony was held for the National Bahá'í Center in Malojloj-Inarajan, Guam. Dr. Muhajir's assurance that "...in the Mariana Islands, you have the potential to become a model Bahá'í community" has been frequently quoted and is a continuing source of inspiration.
In 1980, the Bahá’ís opened the National Bahá’í Center in Malojloj, Inarajan. The center was moved to it present location in Hagatña, in 2002.
During all this period, the Marianas Bahá'í Community continued to grow and develop as it worked to bring the light of Bahá'u'lláh's message of peace and unity to these islands.
The Bahá'í Faith is an independent world religion that is established in all parts of the world, and whose World Centre is located on Mt. Carmel, in Haifa, Israel. The worldwide Baha'i community is striving with our fellow human beings everywhere to bring about that Great Peace promised in all the sacred Scriptures.
Bahá'í House of Worship, Apia, Samoa,
Dedicated by King Malietoa Tanumafili II, a member of the Bahá'í Faith
For Further Reading, visit the official website of the Bahá'í International Community:
© National Spiritual Assembly of the Bahá'ís of the Mariana Islands