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The Marshall Islands , officially the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI), is a Micronesian nation of atolls and islands in the middle of the Pacific Oceanmarker, just west of the International Date Line and just north of the Equator. This nation of roughly 62,000 people is located north of Nauru and Kiribatimarker, east of the Federated States of Micronesiamarker, and south of the U.S. territory of Wake Islandmarker, to which it lays claim.


Original settlement

Although the Marshall Islands were settled by Micronesians in the 2nd millennium BC, little is known of their early history. People traveled by canoe between islands using traditional stick charts.

Arrivals of the Europeans

Spanishmarker explorer Alonso de Salazar was the first European to see the islands in 1526, but they remained virtually unvisited by Europeans until the arrival of Britishmarker Captain John Charles Marshall in 1788. The islands were named after him in the British maps. However, they were claimed under the Spanish sovereignty as part of the Spanish Oceania. In 1874 the Spanish sovereignty was recognized by the international community. They were sold to Germany in 1884 through papal mediation.

A Germanmarker trading company settled on the islands in 1885. They became part of the protectorate of German New Guinea some years later.

World War I

Under German Imperialmarker control, and even before then, the Marshall Islands were from time to time visited by Japanese traders and fishermen, but contact with the islanders was not on a regular basis. After the Meiji Restoration the Japanese government undertook a policy of turning Japan into a great economic and military power in East Asia.

In 1914, Japan joined the Entente powers during World War I, and found it possible to capture German colonies in China and Micronesia. On September 29, 1914, Japanese troops occupied the atoll of Enewetak, and on September 30, 1914 the atoll of Jaluit the administrative center of the Marshall Islands. After the war, on June 28, 1919, Germany renounced all of its Pacific possessions, including the Marshall Islands. On December 17, 1920, the Council of the League of Nations approved the mandate for Japan to take over all former German colonies in the Pacific Ocean, located north of the equator. The Administrative Center of the Marshall Islands atoll remained Jaluitmarker.

Unlike the German Empire, which had economic interests primarily in Micronesia, the accession of the territory to Japan, a small area and with few resources, would to some extent alleviate Japan's problem of increasing population but the ever increasing scarcity of land to house the exploding population. During the years of colonial rule in the Marshall Islands Japan moved more than 1,000 Japanese to the Marshall Islands. Unlike in the Mariana Islands and Palau, their share in the archipelago never exceeded the number of indigenous people.

Under Japanese rule a greatly enlarged administration was introduced and local leaders were appointed by the Japanese, which weakened the authority of local traditional leaders. Japan also tried to change the social organization in the islands from Matrilineality to the Japanese Patriarchal system, but with no success. In addition during the 30s one third of all land up to the high water level was declared the property of the Japanese government. On the archipelago, before it banned foreign traders, the activities of Catholic and Protestant missionaries were allowed.

Indigenous people were educated in Japanese schools, studying Japanese language and Japanese culture. This policy was the government strategy not only in the Marshall Islands, but on all the other mandated territories in Micronesia. In March 27, 1933, Japan left the League of Nations, but despite that, it continued to manage the islands in the region and in the late 1930s, even started the construction of air bases on some atolls, which also further served local residents. The Marshall Islands were an important geographical position, being the easternmost point in Japan's defensive ring at the beginning of World War II.

World War II

In World War II, the United Statesmarker, during the Gilbert and Marshall Islands campaign, invaded and occupied the islands (1944) destroying or isolating the Japanese garrisons. The archipelago was added to the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, along with several other island groups in the South Sea.

In the months before the attack on Pearl Harbor, Kwajalein Atoll was the administrative center of the 6th Fleet Forces Service, whose task was the defense of the Marshall Islands. After the Battle of Tarawamarker ended, the U.S. military minimized further losses by capturing individual Japanese bases and circumventing others. Nevertheless, the battle in the Marshall Islands caused irreparable damage, especially on Japanese bases. During the American bombing, the islands' population suffered from lack of food and various injuries. For example, by August 1945, half of the Japanese garrison of 5100 people in the atoll Mili died from hunger because of the U.S. attacks which started from mid-1943. In 1944, Americans captured Kwajalein Atoll, Majuro and Enewetak in just one month, and in the next two months the rest of the Marshall Islands except Wotje, Mili, Maloelap and Jaluit.

Nuclear tests after World War II

From 1946 to 1958, as the site of the Pacific Proving Grounds, the U.S. tested 66 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, including the largest nuclear test the U.S. ever conducted, Castle Bravomarker. In 1956, the Atomic Energy Commission regarded the Marshall Islands as "by far the most contaminated place in the world".

Nuclear claims between the U.S. and the Marshall Islands are ongoing, and health effects from these nuclear tests linger. Project 4.1 was a medical study conducted by the United States of those residents of the Bikini Atollmarker exposed to radioactive fallout.


In 1979, the Government of the Marshall Islands was officially established and the country became self-governing.

In 1986, the Compact of Free Association with the United States entered into force, granting the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) its sovereignty. The Compact provided for aid and U.S. defense of the islands in exchange for continued U.S. military use of the missile testing range at Kwajalein Atoll. The independence procedure was formally completed under international law in 1990, when the UN officially ended the Trusteeship status.


Marshall Islands Capitol building

The government of the Marshall Islands operates under a mixed parliamentary-presidential system as set forth in its Constitution. Elections are held every four years in universal suffrage (for all citizens above 18 years of age), with each of the twenty-four constituencies (see below) electing one or more representatives (senators) to the lower house of RMI’s bicameral legislature, the Nitijela. (Majuromarker, 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.

Legislative power lies with the Nitijela. The upper house of Parliament, called the Council of Iroij, is an advisory body comprising twelve tribal 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 three political parties in the Marshall Islands: Aelon Kein Ad (AKA), United People's Party (UPP), and United Democratic Party (UDP). Rule is shared by the UDP and the UPP.


Map of the Marshall Islands
Beach scenery of the Marshall Islands.
The country consists of 29 atolls and 5 isolated islands. The atolls and islands form two groups: the Ratak Chainmarker and the Ralik Chainmarker (meaning "sunrise" and "sunset" chains).24 of them are inhabited (see above section). The uninhabited atolls are:

A majority of the islands' land mass is at sea level.

Territorial claim on Wake Island

The Marshall Islands also lays claim to Wake Islandmarker. While Wake has long been administered by the United Statesmarker, the Marshallese government refers to it by the name Enen-kio.


The climate is hot and humid, with a wet season from May to November. The islands occasionally suffer from typhoons. Many Pacific typhoons start in the Marshall Islands region and grow stronger as they move west toward the Mariana Islandsmarker and the Philippinesmarker.

Climate-related emergencies

On March 21, 2007, the government of the Marshall Islands declared a state of emergency due to a prolonged drought. In December 2008 the Islands were pounded several times in quick succession by long period swell waves generated by an extra tropical storm. These extreme waves combined with high tides, causing widespread flooding in the capital city of Majuro and other urban centres, located at just one meter above sea level. On Christmas morning, the government declared a state of emergency.


General economic conditions

Over the past decade, GDP growth averaged only 1% due to government downsizing, drought, a drop in construction, the decline in tourism and foreign investment due to Asian financial difficulties, and less income from the renewal of fishing-vessel licenses. The 2007 edition of "Doing Business," prepared by the World Bank's private sector development department, declared the Marshall Islands to be the world's "Best Performer" for its ease and low expense in hiring and firing employees. But the study gave the Marshall Islands extremely-low ratings for its protection of investors and contract enforcement.


In 2007, the Marshall Islands joined the International Labor Organization, which means its labor laws will comply with international benchmarks. This will impact business conditions in the islands.


Taxes are relatively low. The income tax has two brackets with small rates (8% and 14%). The corporate tax is 11.5%. The general sales tax is 6%. There are no property taxes.

Foreign assistance

United Statesmarker government assistance is the mainstay of the economy.

Under the terms of the Amended Compact of Free Association, the U.S. will provide millions of dollars per year to the Marshall Islands (RMI) through 2023, at which time a trust fund made up of U.S. and RMI contributions will begin perpetual annual payouts.

The United States Army maintains its Ronald Reagan Ballistic Missile Defense Test Site on Kwajalein Atoll. It is important for the local economy, as the Marshallese land owners receive rent for the base, and a large number of Marshallese work there. Majuro Atoll also benefited from foreign assistance. The main airport was built by the Japanese during World War II, and the only tarmac road of the capital was built partly by the Taiwanmarker and partly by the Americans.

Foreign assistance is also granted to the Marshall Islands by Taiwan, Japan, Australia and the EU.


Agricultural production is concentrated on small farms. The most-important commercial crops are coconuts, tomatoes, melons, and breadfruit.


Small-scale industry is limited to handicrafts, fish processing, and copra.


The tourist industry, now a small source of foreign exchange employing less than 10% of the labor force, remains the best hope for future added income. The islands have few natural resources, and imports far exceed exports.

In 2005, Aloha Airlines canceled its flight services to the Marshall Islands as part of its withdrawal from several markets in the region. Though other international airlines still serve Majuro, the Aloha decision was a setback in the country's hopes of increased revenues from tourism.


Fishing has been critical to the economy of this island nation since its settlement.

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 Majuromarker) said power authorities, private companies, and entrepreneurs had been experimenting with coconut oil as alternative to diesel fuel for vehicles, power generators, and ships. Coconut trees abound in the Pacific's tropical islands. Copra, the meat of the coconut, yields coconut oil (1 liter for every 6 to 10 coconuts).

On July 3, 2008, the government of the Marshall Islands declared a state of emergency related to energy shortages due to a lack of financial reserves and unusually-high energy costs.


The Marshallese are of Micronesian origin and migrated from Asia several thousand years ago. A minority of Marshallese have some recent Asian ancestry, mainly Japanese. Two-thirds of the nation's population lives on Majuromarker, the capital, and Ebeyemarker. The outer islands are sparsely populated due to lack of employment opportunities and economic development. Life on the outer atolls is generally still fairly traditional.


Virtually all Marshallese are Christian. Most of them are Protestant.


The Marshall Islands Ministry of Education operates the state schools in the Marshall Islands.

There are 2 colleges operating in the Marshall Islands. The College of the Marshall Islands (CMI) and The University of the South Pacific.


The Marshall Islands are served by the Marshall Islands International Airportmarker in Majuro, the Bucholz Army Airfieldmarker in Kwajalein, and other small airports and airstrips.


The Marshall Islands has the highest rate of leprosy in the world.


Marshallese fans.

Although English is an official language and is spoken widely, though not fluently, Marshallese is used by the government. Japanese is also spoken occasionally in some areas. Although the skills are now in decline, the Marshallese were once able navigators, using the stars and stick-and-shell charts. They are also experienced in canoe-building. They still hold annual competitions involving the unique oceanic sailing canoe, the proa.


File:The Marshall Islands - Majuro - Surroundings.jpgFile:The Marshall Islands - Majuro - Burial grounds.jpgFile:The Marshall Islands - Majuro - Rusty.jpg

See also


Further reading

  • Hein, J.R., F.L. Wong, and D.L. Mosier. (2007). Bathymetry of the Republic of the Marshall Islands and vicinity [Miscellaneous Field Studies; Map-MF-2324]. Reston, VA: U.S. Department of the Interior, U.S. Geological Survey.
  • Woodard, Colin (2000). Ocean's End: Travels Through Endangered Seas. New York. Basic Books. (Contains extended account of sea-level rise threat and the legacy of U.S. Atomic testing.)

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