Marshall Islands

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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 MajuroMajuro
, atoll and town (c.4 sq mi/10 sq km; 1988 pop. 19,664), capital of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Located in the Ratak Chain in the W central Pacific, Majuro has port facilities and an international airport. Commercial fishing is economically important.
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, the capital; Arno; Ailinglaplap; JaluitJaluit
, atoll, c.40 mi (60 km) long and c.20 mi (30 km) wide, central Pacific, one of the Ralik Chain in the U.S. Marshall Islands. It comprises some 85 islets, of which Jaluit Island (4 sq mi/10.4 sq km) is the largest.
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, with a fine natural harbor, the archipelago's chief trade center; and KwajaleinKwajalein
, coral atoll, 6.5 sq mi (16.8 sq km), central Pacific, in the Ralik Chain of the Marshall Islands. The largest atoll of the Marshalls, Kwajalein, consists of a group of 97 islets surrounding a lagoon.
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, 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 KrusensternKrusenstern, Adam Johann von
, 1770–1846, Russian navigator. From 1803 to 1806 he circumnavigated the globe. Although the voyage was undertaken to stimulate the fur trade of the Pacific coast and to revive trade with China and Japan, its real contribution was to the
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 (1803) and Otto von KotzebueKotzebue, Otto von
, 1787–1846, Russian naval officer and explorer; son of A. F. F. von Kotzebue. He accompanied A. J. von Krusenstern on his circumnavigation (1803–6) and himself commanded two voyages around the world (1815–18, 1823–26).
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 (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 IslandsPacific Islands, Trust Territory of the,
former UN trust territory administered by the United States, consisting of the Caroline Islands, Marshall Islands, and Mariana Islands (excluding Guam). The territory included c.
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 in 1947. After the war both EnewetakEnewetak,
or Eniwetok
, circular atoll, central Pacific, one of the Ralik Chain in the Marshall Islands. Enewetak is c.50 mi (80 km) in circumference and comprises about 40 islets surrounding a large lagoon.
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 and BikiniBikini
, atoll, c.2 sq mi (5.2 sq km), W central Pacific, one of the Ralik Chain, Marshall Islands. It comprises 36 islets on a reef 25 mi (40 km) long. After its inhabitants were removed (1946) to Rongerik, Bikini was the scene of 23 U.S.
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 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).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia™ Copyright © 2013, Columbia University Press. Licensed from Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
The following article is from The Great Soviet Encyclopedia (1979). It might be outdated or ideologically biased.

Marshall Islands


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.

The Great Soviet Encyclopedia, 3rd Edition (1970-1979). © 2010 The Gale Group, Inc. All rights reserved.

Marshall Islands

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%

Legal Holidays:

Christmas DayDec 25
Constitution DayMay 1
Customs DaySep 30
Fishermen's DayJul 4
Good FridayApr 22, 2011; Apr 6, 2012; Mar 29, 2013; Apr 18, 2014; Apr 3, 2015; Mar 25, 2016; Apr 14, 2017; Mar 30, 2018; Apr 19, 2019; Apr 10, 2020; Apr 2, 2021; Apr 15, 2022; Apr 7, 2023
KamololDec 4
New Year's DayJan 1
Nuclear Victims' Memorial DayMar 1
Presidents' DayNov 17
Workers' DaySep 1
Holidays, Festivals, and Celebrations of the World Dictionary, Fourth Edition. © 2010 by Omnigraphics, Inc.
References in periodicals archive ?
A probable outbreak-associated mumps case was defined as the occurrence of mumps-compatible symptoms on or after November 1, 2016, and an epidemiologic link to the Marshallese community in the Denver metropolitan area.
Marshallese have the rights of the US citizens and have resettled widely in the US.
In "Two Degrees," she shoots from the lip about what a temperature increase of two degrees will do, not just to the Marshallese but the world; it will wash the "crumbs" of the Pacific "off the table," swallowed by rising seas of affluence, nuclear testing, melting icebergs, and the arrogance of some of the worlds people who have forgotten their source.
It turns out that palm trees were soaking up vast amounts of radioactive elements from the soil and transferring it to coconuts, a staple of the Marshallese diet.
Along with coordinating aid, the embassy is encouraging the Marshallese to develop more efficient water management techniques, and providing them with the tools they need to better prepare for an uncertain future.
Marshallese citizens may work and study in the United States without a visa, and serve in the U.S.
Commodore Ben Wyatt, a US Navy representative, in 1946 instructed a Marshallese translator to communicate the following message to the people of Bikini (whose homeland in the Marshall Islands had been chosen as a 'proving ground' of the destructive abilities of nuclear weapons): '[T]ell them, please, that the United States government now wants to turn this great destructive power into something for the benefit of mankind and that these experiments here at Bikini are the first step in that direction' (cited in Barker 2004:80).
Barker H (2004) Bravo for the Marshallese: Regaining Control in a Post-Nuclear, Post-Colonial World.
Earlier this year, the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences (UAMS) Northwest in Fayetteville announced a $194,200 grant from the Walmart Foundation to support its ongoing effort to treat diabetes in the region's Marshallese community.
"What many Americans seem to want to forget," wrote scholar Sandra Crismon, as quoted recently byRobert Alvarezin the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, "is that for the Marshallese, nuclear testing is not a historical event, as they continue to deal with the huge environmental and human health costs."
The Marshallese, meanwhile, say that a country with a population of 53,000 people and a GDP of $190m - most of it from US aid programs - is simply incapable of dealing with the potential radioactive catastrophe left behind by the Americans.
When the Marshalls gained independence from the United States and signed the defense arrangement three decades ago, the islands were not yet a ship registration haven so no one had presumably ever thought about protecting Marshallese shipping.