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Marshall Islands, officially Republic of the Marshall Islands, independent nation (2015 est. pop. 53,000), in the central Pacific. The Marshalls extend over a 700-mi (1,130-km) area and comprise two major groups: the Ratak Chain in the east, and the Ralik Chain in the west, with a total of 34 atolls, c.900 reefs, and a land area of 70 sq mi (181 sq km). The major atolls are Majuro, the capital; Arno; Ailinglaplap; Jaluit, with a fine natural harbor, the archipelago's chief trade center; and Kwajalein, the largest atoll and site of a U.S. intercontinental ballistic missile test range.
The population of the Marshalls is largely Micronesian. Over 50% of the people are Protestants and there other Christian groups. Marshallese, a Malayo-Polynesian tongue, and English are the official languages; Japanese is also spoken.
Agriculture consists of subsistence farming and the commercial production of coconuts and breadfruit. Industry is limited to agricultural processing and tourism; there is fishing, and pearls are raised. Copra, coconut oil, handicrafts, and fish are the major exports; foods and beverages, machinery and equipment, fuels, and tobacco are imported. The United States, Japan, and Australia are the main trading partners. A large portion of the Marshallese economy is dependent on U.S. aid.
The Marshall Islands are governed under the constitution of 1979. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is elected by the unicameral legislature (Nitijela) from among its members for a four-year term. The 33 legislators are popularly elected for four-year terms. Administratively, the country is divided into 33 municipalities.
Some of the islands were visited by Spanish explorers in the early 16th cent. They are named after a British captain who visited in 1788. Much mapping was done on Russian expeditions under Adam Johann von Krusenstern (1803) and Otto von Kotzebue (1815 and 1823). Germany annexed the group in 1885 and tried with little success to establish a colony. Administrative affairs continued to be managed largely by private German and Australian interests. In 1914, Japan seized the Marshalls and in 1920 received a League of Nations mandate over them.
In World War II the islands were taken by U.S. forces (1943–44); they were included in the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947. After the war both Enewetak and Bikini atolls were used as U.S. nuclear weapons test sites. In 1983, the United States gave $183.7 million to the Marshalls for damages from the tests. A nuclear claims tribunal established (1988) by the Marshalls subsequently recognized more than $2 billion in compensation claims; islanders sued (2006) in U.S. court to force the United States to pay the unfunded awards but were unsuccessful.
The Marshalls became (1979) self-governing under U.S. military protection and achieved free-association status in 1986. The first president, Amata Kabua, died in Dec., 1996. Imata Kabua was elected to succeed him in Jan., 1997. Kabua was succeeded in Jan., 2000, by Kessai H. Note, who began a second term in 2004. An amended compact of free association, extending the defense relationship with the United States and the lease on the U.S. base on Kwajalein, was signed in 2003 and took effect in 2004. The legislative elections in 2007 were marked by controversy, but an opposition coalition came to power and Litokwa Tomeing was elected president in 2008. Tomeing was ousted by a no-confidence vote in Oct., 2009; Jurelang Zedkaia, speaker of the Nitijela, was elected to succeed him. After the legislative elections in 2011, Christopher Loeak was elected (2012) president. In 2016 Casten Nemra, aligned with Loeak's supporters, was elected president despite opposition successes in the legislative elections, but he soon lost a confidence vote and was replaced by Hilda Heine. In 2020, following the 2019 legislative elections, David Kabua was elected president.
See E. H. Bryan, Life in the Marshall Islands (1972).
an archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, north of the equator, in Micronesia. Together with the Caroline Islands and the Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands are a UN trust territory administered by the USA. They consist of several hundred small coral islands, atolls, and reefs that form two chains: Ratak in the east and Ralik in the west. Total area, 181 sq km. Population, about 20,000 (1970). Almost all the inhabitants are Marshallese, who belong to the Micronesian racial type. They speak an Austronesian language, but there are some dialectal differences between the inhabitants of the Ralik chain and the Ratak chain. The inhabitants of the Marshall Islands are Protestants. The administrative center is located on the island of Majuro.
The Marshall Islands are-low-lying and composed mainly of coral limestones. The northern ones have a tropical trade-wind climate, and the southern ones a subequatorial climate. On the northern islands annual precipitation is 2,000-4,000 mm. There are coconut palm plantations; the inner lagoons are framed by mangrove forests. The main occupations of the population are fishing and farming (growing coconut palms, breadfruit trees, taro, and sweet potatoes). Copra is exported.
The Marshall Islands were discovered by the Spanish navigator A. Saavedra in 1529, but they were more thoroughly explored in 1788 by the Englishmen J. Marshall and T. Gilbert and named after J. Marshall. Many of the islands, especially in the Ratak chain, were first discovered and mapped in the early 19th century by such Russian navigators as O. E. Kotsebu and L. A. Gagemeister. Among these islands are Rimsky-Korsakov, Menshikov, Kutuzov, and Suvorov islands; the Russian names were subsequently changed mainly to local names. The Bikini and Eniwetok atolls have repeatedly been sites of American nuclear weapons tests.
Official name: Republic of the Marshall Islands
Capital city: Majuro
Internet country code: .mh
Flag description: Blue with two stripes radiating from the lower hoist-side corner - orange (top) and white; there is a white star with four large rays and 20 small rays on the hoist side above the two stripes
National anthem: “Forever Marshall Islands” by President Amata Kabua
Geographical description: Oceania, two archipelagic island chains of 29 atolls, each made up of many small islets, and five single islands in the North Pacific Ocean, about one-half of the way from Hawaii to Australia
Total land area: 70 sq. mi. (181 sq. km.)
Climate: Tropical; hot and humid; wet season May to November; islands border typhoon belt
Nationality: noun: Marshallese (singular and plural); adjective: Marshallese
Population: 61,815 (July 2007 CIA est.)
Ethnic groups: Marshallese 90%, American, Filipino, Chinese, New Zealander, Australian, other Micronesian (FSM), Kiribati, Korean, and Fijian 10%
Languages spoken: Two major Marshallese dialects from Malayo-Polynesian family; English
Religions: Protestant 54.8%, Assembly of God 25.8%, Roman Catholic 8.4%, Bukot nan Jesus 2.8%, Mormon 2.1%, other Christian 3.6%, other 1%, none 1.5%
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