Micronesian colonists reached the Marshall Islands using canoes circa 2nd millennium BC
, with interisland navigation made possible using traditional stick charts
. They eventually settled here.
Islands in the archipelago were first explored by Europeans
in the 1520s, starting with Ferdinand Magellan
, a Portuguese explorer in the service of Spain, Juan Sebastián Elcano
and Miguel de Saavedra. Spanish explorer Alonso de Salazar
reported sighting an atoll in August 1526.
Other expeditions by Spanish and English ships followed. The islands derive their name from John Marshall
, who visited in 1788. The islands were historically known by the inhabitants as "jolet jen Anij" (Gifts from God).
Spain claimed the islands in 1592, and the European powers recognized its sovereignty over the islands in 1874. They had been part of the Spanish East Indies
formally since 1528. Later, Spain sold some of the islands to the German Empire
in 1885, and they became part of German New Guinea
that year, run by the trading companies doing business in the islands, particularly the Jaluit Company.
In World War I
, the Empire of Japan
occupied the Marshall Islands, which, in 1920, the League of Nations
combined with other former German territories to form the South Seas Mandate
. During World War II
, the United States
took control of the islands in the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign
in 1944. Nuclear testing began on Bikini Atoll
in 1946 and concluded in 1958.
Marshall Islanders sailing in traditional costume, c. 1899–1900
Marshall Islanders sailing, with sails brailed
), c. 1899–1900
Evidence suggests that around 3,000 years ago successive waves of human migrants from Southeast Asia
spread across the Western Pacific Ocean
, populating its many small islands. The Marshall Islands were settled by Micronesians
in the 2nd millennium BC. Little is known of the islands' early history. Marshall Islanders, among the many great Oceanic voyagers, designed stick charts
to map ocean swells and navigate between the islands .
American whaling ships visited the islands in the 19th century. The first on record was the Awashonks
in 1835 and last was the Andrews Hicks
The islands were only formally possessed by Spain for much of their colonial history, and on European maps were grouped with the Caroline Islands which today make up Palau
and the Federated States of Micronesia
or alternatively the "Nuevas Filipinas" ("New Philippines"). The islands were mostly left to their own affairs except for short-lived religious missions (documented in 1668 and 1731) during the 16th and 17th centuries. They were largely ignored by European powers except for cartographic demarcation treaties between the Iberian Empires (Portugal and Castilian Spain) in 1529, 1750 and 1777. The archipelago corresponding to the present-day country was independently named by Krusenstern
, after British explorer John Marshall
, who visited them together with Thomas Gilbert
in 1788, en route from Botany Bay
with two ships of the First Fleet
, and started to establish German and British trading posts, which were not formally contested by Spain.
The Marshall Islands were formally claimed by Spain
in 1874 through its capital in the East Indies, Manila
. This marked the start of several strategic moves by the German Empire
during the 1870s and 80s to annex them (claiming them to be "by chance unoccupied").
This policy culminated in a tense naval episode in 1885, which did not degenerate into a conflict due to the poor readiness of Spain's naval forces and the unwillingness for open military action from the German side.
mediation and German compensation of $4.5 million, Spain reached an agreement with Germany
in 1885: the 1885 Hispano-German Protocol of Rome. This accord established a protectorate
and set up trading stations on the islands of Jaluit
(Joló) and Ebon
to carry out the flourishing copra
meat) trade. Marshallese Iroij
(high chiefs) continued to rule under indirect colonial German administration, rendered tacitly effective by the wording in the 1885 Protocol, which demarcated an area subject to Spanish sovereignty (0-11ºN, 133-164ºE) omitting the Eastern Carolines, that is, the Marshall and Gilbert archipelagos, where most of the German trading posts were located.
The disputes were rendered moot after the selling of the whole Caroline archipelago to Germany 13 years later.
At the beginning of World War I
assumed control of the Marshall Islands. The Japanese headquarters was established at the German center of administration, Jaluit
. On January 31, 1944 American forces landed on Kwajalein atoll
and U.S. Marines and Army troops later took control of the islands from the Japanese on February 3, following intense fighting on Kwajalein and Enewetak
atolls. In 1947, the United States, as the occupying power, entered into an agreement with the UN Security Council
to administer much of Micronesia
, including the Marshall Islands, as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands
Nuclear testing began in 1946 on Bikini Atoll
after residents were evacuated. Over the years, 67 weapon tests were conducted, including the 15-megaton Castle Bravo hydrogen bomb test, which produced significant fallout in the region. The testing concluded in 1958. Over the years, just one of over 60 islands was cleaned by the U.S. government, and the inhabitants are still waiting for the 2 billion dollars in compensation assessed by the Nuclear Claims Tribunal. Many of the islanders and their descendants still live in exile, as the islands remain contaminated with high levels of radiation.
On May 1, 1979, in recognition of the evolving political status of the Marshall Islands, the United States recognized the constitution of the Marshall Islands
and the establishment of the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The constitution incorporates both American and British constitutional concepts.
There have been a number of local and national elections since the Republic of the Marshall Islands was founded. The United Democratic Party, running on a reform platform, won the 1999 parliamentary election, taking control of the presidency and cabinet.
Map of the Marshall Islands
Aerial view of Majuro, one of the many atolls
that make up the Marshall Islands
Beach scenery at the islet of Eneko, Majuro
View of Marshall Islands
The Marshall Islands sit atop ancient submerged volcanoes rising from the ocean floor, about halfway between Hawaii
north of Nauru
, east of the Federated States of Micronesia
, and south of the disputed U.S. territory of Wake Island
, to which it also lays claim.
The atolls and islands form two groups: the Ratak (sunrise)
and the Ralik (sunset)
. The two island chains lie approximately parallel to one another, running northwest to southeast, comprising about 750,000 square miles (1,900,000 km2
) of ocean but only about 70 square miles (180 km2
) of land mass.
Each includes 15 to 18 islands and atolls.
The country consists of a total of 29 atolls
and five individual islands situated in about 180,000 square miles (470,000 km2
) of the Pacific.
The largest atoll with a land area of 6 square miles (16 km2
) is Kwajalein. It surrounds a 655-square-mile (1,700 km2
Twenty-four of the atolls and islands are inhabited. The remaining atolls are uninhabited due to poor living conditions, lack of rain, or nuclear contamination. The uninhabited atolls are:
The average altitude above sea level for the entire country is 7 feet (2.1 m).
In October 2011, the government declared that an area covering nearly 2,000,000 square kilometers (772,000 sq mi) of ocean shall be reserved as a shark sanctuary
. This is the world's largest shark sanctuary, extending the worldwide ocean area in which sharks are protected from 2,700,000 to 4,600,000 square kilometers (1,042,000 to 1,776,000 sq mi). In protected waters, all shark fishing is banned and all by-catch
must be released. However, some have questioned the ability of the Marshall Islands to enforce this zone.
Territorial claim on Wake Island
The Marshall Islands also lays claim to Wake Island
While Wake island has been administered by the United States
since 1899, the Marshallese government refers to it by the name Enen-kio
Average monthly temperatures (red) and precipitation (blue) on Majuro
The climate has a relatively dry season from December to April and a wet season
from May to November. Many Pacific typhoons
begin as tropical storms in the Marshall Islands region, and grow stronger as they move west toward the Mariana Islands
and the Philippines
Due to its very low elevation, the Marshall Islands are threatened by the potential effects of sea level rise
According to the president of Nauru
, the Marshall Islands are the most endangered nation in the world due to flooding from climate change
Population has outstripped the supply of fresh water, usually from rainfall. The northern atolls get 50 inches (1,300 mm) of rainfall annually; the southern atolls about twice that. The threat of drought is commonplace throughout the island chains.
Most birds found in the Marshall Islands, with the exception of those few introduced by man, are either sea birds or a migratory species.
There are about 70 species of birds, including 31 seabirds. 15 of these species actually nest locally. Sea birds include the black noddy
and the white tern
The only land bird is the house sparrow
, introduced by humans.
There are about 300 species of fish, 250 of which are reef fish
Panorama of Majuro
, capital and largest city of Marshall Islands
Historical population figures for the Marshall Islands are unknown. In 1862, the population of the Islands was estimated at 10,000.
In 1960, the population of the Islands was approximately 15,000. The 2011 Census
counted 53,158 island residents. Over two-thirds of the residents of the Marshall Islands live in the capital city, Majuro
, and the secondary urban center, Ebeye
(located in Kwajalein Atoll
). This figures excludes Marshall Islands natives who have relocated elsewhere; the Compact of Free Association
allows them to freely relocate to the United States
and obtain work there.
Approximately 4,300 Marshall Islands natives relocated to Springdale, Arkansas
in the United States; this figure represents the largest population concentration of Marshall Islands natives outside their island home.
Most residents of the Marshall Islands are Marshallese. Marshallese people are of Micronesian
origin and are believed to have migrated from Asia
to the Marshall Islands several thousand years ago. A minority of Marshallese have some recent Asian ancestry (mainly Japanese
). About one-half of the nation's population lives in Majuro and Ebeye.
The official languages of the Marshall Islands are English
. Both languages are widely spoken.
Christians in the Marshall Islands
Major religious groups in the Republic of the Marshall Islands include the United Church of Christ – Congregational in the Marshall Islands
, with 51.5% of the population; the Assemblies of God
, 24.2%; the Roman Catholic Church
and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints
Also represented are Bukot Nan Jesus (also known as Assembly of God Part Two), 2.2%; Baptist
, 1.0%; Seventh-day Adventists
, 0.9%; Full Gospel
, 0.7%; and the Baháʼí Faith
Persons without any religious affiliation
account for a very small percentage of the population. Islam
is also present through Ahmadiyya Muslim Community
which is based in Majuro
, with the first mosque opening in the capital in September 2012.
During the Castle Bravo
test of the first deployable thermonuclear bomb, a miscalculation resulted in the explosion being over twice as large as predicted. The nuclear fallout
spread eastward onto the inhabited Rongelap
and Rongerik Atolls
. These islands were not evacuated before the explosion. Many of the Marshall Islands natives have since suffered from radiation burns and radioactive dusting, suffering the similar fates as the Japanese fishermen aboard the Daigo Fukuryū Maru
, but have received little, if any, compensation from the federal government
The Marshall Islands Capitol (now in disuse)
The government of the Marshall Islands operates under a mixed parliamentary-presidential system as set forth in its 1979 Constitution
Elections are held every four years in universal suffrage
(for all citizens above 18), with each of the twenty-four constituencies (see below) electing one or more representatives (senators) to the lower house of RMI's unicameral legislature, the Nitijela
, the capital atoll, elects five senators.) The President, who is head of state as well as head of government, is elected by the 33 senators of the Nitijela. Four of the five Marshallese presidents who have been elected since the Constitution was adopted in 1979 have been traditional paramount chiefs
In January 2016, senator Hilda Heine was elected by Parliament as the first female president of the Marshall Islands; previous president Casten Nemra
lost office after serving two weeks in a vote of no confidence
Legislative power lies with the Nitijela. The upper house of Parliament, called the Council of Iroij, is an advisory body comprising twelve paramount chiefs. The executive branch consists of the President and the Presidential Cabinet, which consists of ten ministers appointed by the President with the approval of the Nitijela. The twenty-four electoral districts into which the country is divided correspond to the inhabited islands and atolls
. There are currently four political parties in the Marshall Islands: Aelon̄ Kein Ad
(AKA), United People's Party
(UPP), Kien Eo Am
(KEA) and United Democratic Party
(UDP). Rule is shared by the AKA and the UDP. The following senators are in the legislative body:
- Ailinglaplap Atoll – Christopher Loeak (AKA), Alfred Alfred, Jr. (IND)
- Ailuk Atoll – Maynard Alfred (UDP)
- Arno Atoll – Mike Halferty (KEA), Jejwadrik H. Anton (IND)
- Aur Atoll – Hilda C. Heine (AKA)
- Ebon Atoll – John M. Silk (UDP)
- Enewetak Atoll – Jack J. Ading (UPP)
- Jabat Island – Kessai H. Note (UDP)
- Jaluit Atoll – Casten Nemra (IND), Daisy Alik Momotaro (IND)
- Kili Island – Eldon H. Note (UDP)
- Kwajalein Atoll – Michael Kabua (AKA), David R. Paul (KEA), Alvin T. Jacklick (KEA)
- Lae Atoll – Thomas Heine (AKA)
- Lib Island – Jerakoj Jerry Bejang (AKA)
- Likiep Atoll – Leander Leander, Jr. (IND)
- Majuro Atoll – Sherwood M. Tibon (KEA), Anthony Muller (KEA), Brenson S. Wase (UDP), David Kramer (KEA), Kalani Kaneko (KEA)
- Maloelap Atoll – Bruce Bilimon (IND)
- Mejit Island – Dennis Momotaro (AKA)
- Mili Atoll – Wilbur Heine (AKA)
- Namdrik Atoll – Wise Zackhras (IND)
- Namu Atoll – Tony Aiseia (AKA)
- Rongelap Atoll – Kenneth A. Kedi (IND)
- Ujae Atoll – Atbi Riklon (IND)
- Utirik Atoll – Amenta Mathew (KEA)
- Wotho Atoll – David Kabua (AKA)
- Wotje Atoll – Litokwa Tomeing (UPP)
Foreign affairs and defense
The Compact of Free Association with the United States gives the U.S. sole responsibility for international defense of the Marshall Islands. It gives islanders the right to emigrate to the United States and to work there.
The Marshall Islands was admitted to the United Nations
based on the Security Council
's recommendation on August 9, 1991, in Resolution 704
and the General Assembly
's approval on September 17, 1991, in Resolution 46/3.
In international politics within the United Nations, the Marshall Islands has often voted consistently with the United States with respect to General Assembly resolutions.
On April 28, 2015, the Iranian navy
seized the Marshall Island-flagged MV Maersk Tigris
near the Strait of Hormuz
. The ship had been chartered by Germany's Rickmers Ship Management, which stated that the ship contained no special cargo and no military weapons. The ship was reported to be under the control of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard
according to the Pentagon
. Tensions escalated in the region due to the intensifying of Saudi-led coalition attacks in Yemen
. The Pentagon reported that the destroyer USS Farragut
and a maritime reconnaissance aircraft were dispatched upon receiving a distress call from the ship Tigris
and it was also reported that all 34 crew members were detained. US defense
officials have said that they would review U.S. defense obligations to the Government of the Marshall Islands in the wake of recent events and also condemned the shots fired at the bridge as "inappropriate". It was reported in May 2015 that Tehran
would release the ship after it paid a penalty.
In March 2017, at the 34th regular session of the UN Human Rights Council, Vanuatu
made a joint statement on behalf of the Marshall Islands and some other Pacific nations raising human rights violations in the Western New Guinea
, which has been occupied by Indonesia
and requested that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights produce a report.
Indonesia rejected allegations.
More than 100,000 Papuans have died during a 50-year Papua conflict
In 2021, the governments of Australia
decided to fund two major law enforcement developments of the Marshall Islands.
The Marshall Islands have a small club league, including Kobeer
as the most successful club. One tournament was held by Play Soccer Make Peace
. There is a small Football Association
on the island of Majuro
. The sport of association football
in its growth is new to the Marshall Islands. The Marshall Islands does not have a national football team
presently. The Marshall Islands is the only sovereign country in the world that does not have a record of a national football match.
Marshall Islands Baseball / Softball Federation Softball
are held under one sports federation in the Marshall Islands. The President is Jeimata Nokko Kabua. Both sports are growing at a fast pace with hundreds of Marshallese people behind the Marshall Islands Baseball / Softball Federation. The Marshall Islands achieved a silver medal
in the Micronesian Games
in 2012, as well as medals in the SPG Games.
Graphical depiction of Marshall Islands's product exports in 28 colour-coded categories
The islands have few natural resources, and their imports far exceed exports. According to the CIA, the value of exports in 2013 was approximately $53.7 million while estimated imports were $133.7 million. Agricultural products include coconuts, tomatoes, melons, taro, breadfruit, fruits, pigs and chickens. Industry is made of the production of copra and craft items, tuna processing and tourism. The GDP in 2016 was an estimated $180 million, with a real growth rate of 1.7%. The GDP per capita was $3,300.
The International Monetary Fund
reported in mid-2016 that the economy of the Republic had expanded by about 0.5 percent in the Fiscal Year 2015 thanks to an improved fisheries sector. A surplus of 3% of GDP was recorded "owing to record-high fishing license fees. Growth is expected to rise to about 1.5 percent and inflation to about 0.5 percent in FY2016, as the effects of the drought in earlier 2016 are offset by the resumption of infrastructure projects."
In 2018, the Republic of Marshall Islands passed the Sovereign Currency Act
, which made it the first country to issue their own cryptocurrency
and certify it as legal tender; the currency is called the "Sovereign".
The Marshall Islands plays a vital role in the international shipping industry as a flag of convenience
for commercial vessels.
The Marshallese registry began operations in 1990, and is managed through a joint venture with International Registries, Inc., a US-based corporation that has offices in major shipping centers worldwide.
As of 2017, the Marshallese ship registry was the second largest in the world, after that of Panama
Unlike some flag countries, there is no requirement that a Marshallese flag vessel be owned by a Marshallese individual or corporation. Following the 2015 seizure of the MV Maersk Tigris
, the United States announced that its treaty obligation to defend the Marshall Islands did not extend to foreign-owned Marshallese flag vessels at sea.
As a result of ship-to-ship transfers by Marshallese flag tanker vessels, the Marshall Islands have statistically been one of the largest importers of crude oil from the United States, despite the fact that the islands have no oil refining capacity.
In 2007, the Marshall Islands joined the International Labour Organization
, which means its labor laws will comply with international benchmarks. This may affect business conditions in the islands.
United States government
assistance is the mainstay of the economy. Under terms of the Amended Compact of Free Association
, the U.S. is committed to provide US$57.7 million per year in assistance to the Marshall Islands (RMI) through 2013, and then US$62.7 million through 2023, at which time a trust fund, made up of U.S. and RMI contributions, will begin perpetual annual payouts.
palms in the Marshall Islands
Majuro is the world's busiest tuna
transshipment port in the world, with 704 transshipments totaling 444,393 tons in 2015.
Majuro is also a tuna processing center; the Pan Pacific Foods plant exports processed tuna to a number of countries, primarily the United States under the Bumble Bee
Fishing license fees, primarily for tuna, provide noteworthy income for the government.
In 1999, a private company built a tuna loining plant with more than 400 employees, mostly women. But the plant closed in 2005 after a failed attempt to convert it to produce tuna steaks, a process that requires half as many employees. Operating costs exceeded revenue, and the plant's owners tried to partner with the government to prevent closure. But government officials personally interested in an economic stake in the plant refused to help. After the plant closed, it was taken over by the government, which had been the guarantor of a $2 million loan to the business.
On September 15, 2007, Witon Barry (of the Tobolar Copra processing plant in the Marshall Islands capital of Majuro
) said power authorities, private companies, and entrepreneurs had been experimenting with coconut oil
as alternative to diesel fuel
, power generators
, and ships
. Coconut trees
abound in the Pacific's tropical islands
, the meat of the coconut
, yields coconut oil (1 liter
for every 6 to 10 coconuts).
In 2009, a 57 kW solar power
plant was installed, the largest in the Pacific at the time, including New Zealand.
It is estimated that 330 kW of solar and 450 kW of wind power would be required to make the College of the Marshall Islands
Marshalls Energy Company (MEC), a government entity, provides the islands with electricity. In 2008, 420 solar home systems of 200 Wp each were installed on Ailinglaplap Atoll, sufficient for limited electricity use.
In the 1994–1995 school year the country had 103 elementary schools and 13 secondary schools. There were 27 private elementary schools and one private high school. Christian groups operated most of the private schools.
Historically the Marshallese population was taught in English first with Marshallese instruction coming later, but this was reversed in the 1990s to keep the islands' cultural heritage and so children could write in Marshallese. Now English language instruction begins in grade 3. Christine McMurray and Roy Smith wrote in Diseases of Globalization: Socioeconomic Transition and Health
that this could potentially weaken the children's English skills.
Media and communications
The Marshall Islands have several AM and FM radio stations. AM stations are 1098 5 kW V7AB Majuro (Radio Marshalls, national coverage) and 1224 AFN Kwajalein (both public radio) as well as 1557 Micronesia Heatwave. The FM stations are 97.9 V7AD Majuro,
V7AA 96.3 FM Uliga
and 104.1 V7AA Majuro (Baptist religious). BBC World is broadcast on 98.5 FM Majuro.
The most recent station is Power 103.5 which started broadcasting in 2016.
stations include 99.9 AFN Kwajalein (country), 101.1 AFN (adult rock) and 102.1 AFN (hot AC).
There is one broadcast television station, MBC-TV operated by the state.
Cable TV is available. On cable TV, most programs are shown two weeks later than in North America but news in real time can be viewed on CNN, CNBC and BBC.
American Forces Radio and Television also provides TV service to Kwajalein Atoll.
The Marshall Islands National Telecommunications Authority (NTA) provides telephone, cable TV (MHTV), FAX, cellular and Internet services.
The Authority is a private corporation with significant ownership by the national government.
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* English: Republic of the Marshall Islands /
* Marshallese: Aolepān Aorōkin Ṃajeḷ ([ɑɔlʲɛbʲænʲɑːorˠɤɡinʲ(i)mˠɑːzʲɛlˠ])
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Last edited on 9 June 2021, at 20:41
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