History, Language & Culture Marshall Islands
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. Early settlers traveled between the islands by canoe using traditional stick charts.
The Spanish explorer Alonso de Salazar landed there in 1526, and the archipelago came to be known as "Los Pintados" ("The Painted (Ones)", possibly referring to the indigenous people first found there), "Las Hermanas" ("The Sisters") and "Los Jardines" ("The Gardens") within the Spanish Empire. It first fell within the jurisdiction of the Viceroyalty of New Spain, and was then administered by Madrid, through the Captaincy General of the Philippines, upon the independence of Latin America and the dissolution of New Spain starting in 1821. 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 in 1905. 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 to Canton 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.
Following papal 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 (Jolo) and Ebon to carry out the flourishing copra (dried coconut 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, Japan 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.
From 1946 to 1958, it served as the Pacific Proving Grounds for the United States and was the site of 67 nuclear tests on various atolls. The world's first hydrogen bomb, codenamed "Mike", was tested at the Enewetak atoll in the Marshall Islands on November 1 (local date) in 1952, by the United States. 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 US 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. A significant radar installation was constructed on Kwajalein atoll. 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. The islands signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1986. Trusteeship was ended under United Nations Security Council Resolution 683 of December 22, 1990. Until 1999 the islanders received US$180M for continued American use of Kwajalein atoll, US$250M in compensation for nuclear testing, and US$600M in other payments under the compact. Despite the constitution, the government was largely controlled by Iroij. It was not until 1999, following political corruption allegations, that the aristocratic government was overthrown, with Imata Kabua replaced by the commoner Kessai Note. The Runit Dome was built on Runit Island to deposit U.S.-produced radioactive soil and debris, including lethal amounts of plutonium. There are ongoing concerns around deterioration of the waste site and a potential radioactive spill.