Marshall Islands History and Politics

By | June 23, 2021

Early settlement of the islands

Settlement of the islands began around 3500 years ago. It is believed that the ancestors of today’s residents came from mainland Asia. The islands were settled gradually. If the food supply became scarce or if too many people lived on one island, they moved on to the next. The richness of the existing flora was the basis of life for the people who inhabited the islands.

They knew the art of boat building and navigation over the sea. This was the only way they could overcome the many nautical miles to the remote islands in the middle of the Pacific. At that time chiefs ruled over various atolls. But none of these chiefs ever ruled the entire island area. Even in today’s society on Marshall Island, this chief character is still important.

Who do the islands owe their name to?

A Spaniard named Alonso de Salazar was probably the first European to see the islands. And this happened in 1526. But the islands owe their name to another navigator who came a few years later: Captain Marshall. He circumnavigated the islands in 1788 and quickly entered their location on a map. The first missionaries came in the middle of the 19th century to convert the residents to the Christian faith. Even today, many people in the Marshall Islands profess Christianity.

The German Baltic Otto von Kotzebue was the first to make maps of the islands when he was sailing past the Marshall Islands on one of his world trips.

The German Reich and the Marshall Islands

In 1860 the German Empire began to show an increasing interest in the Marshall Islands, a country in Oceania defined by simplyyellowpages. A trading post was established there. So, like today, copra was primarily used. In 1885 the German Empire bought the islands that were then part of Spain. There were trade relations with the chiefs and other countries were excluded from trading.

German New Guinea

All German colonies in the South Seas were grouped together under the term “German New Guinea” with the exception of German Samoa. These included: Kaiser-Wilhelms-Land located on the island of New Guinea, the Admiralty Islands, Neuhannover, Neulauenburg, Neumecklenburg, Neupommern, Western Islands, northern Solomon Islands, Carolines, northern Marianas, Palau, Nauru and the Marshall Islands.

Japanese and Americans

In 1914 the Japanese occupied the islands and administered them from 1920 on behalf of the League of Nations asmandate. When the Second World War threatened to break out in the Pacific, the Japanese set up military bases on the Marshall Islands in advance. In 1944 the Allies succeeded in defeating the Japanese in the Pacific and invading the Marshall Islands.

Now the Americans saw themselves as administrators of the islands and began to experiment with nuclear weapons on the islands after the end of World War II. The Bikini Atoll achieved sad fame hereon which the first atomic bomb was detonated. A short time later, the Enewetak Atoll was also affected by these attempts. The climax of these tests was the detonation of the most powerful American hydrogen bomb. In 1957 the USA stopped these experiments, but the people who lived there and still live there still have to struggle with the dire consequences of these tests (see everyday life – guinea pigs).

The way to independence for the islands

Preparations for the independence of the islands have been made since the mid-1960s. Actual independence did not come until the late 1970s. On May 1, 1979, the Marshall Islands Constitution came into force. May 1st is still a public holiday today.

However, there is still a contractual agreement between the USA and the Marshall Islands that the islands receive financial support from the USA and that the latter may maintain their bases in return.

Today the Marshall Islands are a presidential republic called the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Marshall Islands Politics


What happened on June 30, 1946?

On June 30, 1946, many things were to change for many residents of the Marshall Islands. On that day, the first American atomic bomb exploded in the South Pacific on Bikini Atoll. But life changed not only for the islanders, for many others too. It also marked the beginning of the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union and the beginning of a long-term arms race.

These tests would take twelve years to finally end. In 1954, the “Bravo” bomb also exploded on Bikini Atoll, the largest American bomb ever built. 23 bombs were detonated on Bikini Atoll alone, a total of 67. According to the Americans, the destructive power was equivalent to 7,000 Hiroshima bombs.

The consequences

Millions of tons of radioactively contaminated water were thrown into the air, along with sand and lime. Islands were completely destroyed or so badly contaminated for millennia that nobody could live there anymore and still can today.

While the Americans had evacuated the inhabitants of Bikini Atoll, other people lived on other islands. And since the wind was blowing strongly that day, many islanders were affected by the radioactive radiation.

Many people there became ill with cancer and are still suffering today. Many children are born damaged because the experiments have changed the human genome. Even if many residents have been relocated, the rays do not stop and spread over many kilometers.

What to do with the residents of Bikini Atoll?

The residents of Bikini were first brought to the island of Rongerik. When they went hungry there, they were moved to an American Air Force base. This did not last. In the end, they landed on an island called Kiri, which, however, did not provide them with their vital livelihood, namely fish. The coast was too wild to be able to fish here. So in 1967 she was brought back to her bikini island. But it was found that the island was still shining tremendously and people relocated again.

The islanders asked for compensation. The Americans paid, but there were repeated arguments about the amount of the payments. But what does money mean for lost human life? The residents of the Marshall Islands are now accepting that they receive money from the USA for the destruction of their natural environment. They don’t have many alternatives.