Skip to main content
Select Source:

Marshall Islands


Republic of the Marshall Islands

Major City:


This chapter was adapted from the Department of State Post Report 2001 for Marshall Islands. Supplemental material has been added to increase coverage of minor cities, facts have been updated, and some material has been condensed. Readers are encouraged to visit the Department of State's web site at for the most recent information available on travel to this country.


Comprising over a thousand flat coral islands of white sand beaches and turquoise lagoons, the Marshall Islands beckon visitors with all the promise of a tropical paradise. There are pristine diving and lush tropical greenery, and the Marshallese people retain many of their precolonial crafts and traditions, especially on the outer islands. You can still watch outrigger canoes zip-ping around the lagoons, though these days you are as likely as not to find a VCR in that little grass shack and Coke replacing coconut milk as the drink of choice of many islanders.

Marshallese society has always been stratified, and despite increasing Westernization and the introduction of a moneyed economy, social status still comes as much from one's kinship as it does from one's own achievements. Chiefs continue to wield a great deal of authority over land ownership and usage.

In travels between the islands, early inhabitants learned to read the patterns of the waves and the positions of the stars, and they made stick charts to record and pass on their observations to less-experienced navigators. By tying flat strips of wood together in imitation of the wave patterns and attaching cowry shells to the sticks to represent particular islands and atolls, the experienced navigator could memorize the patterns for when he was out at sea the charts were not actually taken on the journeys.

The first Micronesian navigators arrived in the Marshall Islands sometime between 500 and 2000 B.C.E. Little is known of their origin or culture.

In 1494 Micronesia was ceded to Spain. The Marshall Islands, however, were off the main trade routes and consequently received little attention from early European explorers. In 1525, Alonso de Salazar of Spain became the first European to sight the islands, but Spain did nothing to colonize them. After another 200 years devoid of Europeans, the islands received a visit from English captain John Marshall (from whom they later took their name) in 1788.

Traders and whalers began to visit the islands en masse in the early 1800s, until encounters with the "friendly" native Marshallese began to turn sour. Ship after ship putting into port at various atolls in the Marshalls quickly weighed anchor after the death of their captain or crew members.

Germany annexed the Marshalls in 1885 but did not place government officials on the islands until 1906, leaving island affairs to a group of powerful German trading companies. Japan took over in 1914 and colonized the Marshalls extensively.

In 1973 the Marshall Islands withdrew from the Congress of Micronesia, seeking political independence. In 1979, the Marshalls' constitution became effective.

The flip side to the paradise picture is that many of the Marshallese still struggle with the effects of 20th century's technology. Two atolls-the Bikini Atoll in particular-served as testing sites for atomic bombs through 1958. And yet, despite these hardships, you will find the Marshallese exceptionally welcoming and their culture and identity alive and well.



Majuro is the political and economic center of the Marshall Islands. The inhabited islands along the southern side of Majuro Atoll have been joined over time by landfill and a bridge to form a 30-mile road from Rita, on the extreme eastern end, to Laura, at the western end. Both villages were so code-named by U.S. forces in World War II after favorite pinups Rita Hayworth and Lauren Bacall.

The main downtown business and shopping area is located in Rita and extends 4 miles to the southeast corner of the atoll, home of a second shopping center, the Capitol building, and government offices. The downtown area includes the islands of Djarrit, Uliga, and Delap (DUD). Newcomers cannot identify where one area ends and another begins, but it is not necessary for finding one's way. A single paved main street parallels the lagoon, and a smaller unimproved road follows the oceanside as far as the government office area. Schools, offices, shops, restaurants, hotels, and the hospital are along the street. No longer a village, Majuro is a small town-compact, offering far more Western amenities than one might expect in the middle of the Pacific, a place where people know one another and you cannot get lost.

The DUD area contains approximately 12,000 to 15,000 people living in mostly crowded housing, many without water and sewer facilities. Since land is in short supply and controlled by each clan, graves of family members occupy a central place in front of many dwellings.

Marshallese homes typically have no furniture, only pandanus sleeping mats, which are rolled out at night. Cooking facilities, kerosene cookers, or pit fires are often outside and may be shared by more than one family. The lagoon and ocean have traditionally been used as toilet facilities. Such use continues, despite the population increase, and causes health problems at the Rita end of the lagoon.

The population density lessens as you drive westward, and the environment becomes more suburban. The housing standard improves; green grass, coconut, and breadfruit trees are abundant. The area has a few neighborhood shops, selling individual cigarettes, some canned foods, soft drinks, and snack food.


Electrical current is 110 v, 60 cycles. The power is stable, although fluctuations are frequent and surge protectors are a good idea for any sensitive electronic equipment. Announced outages of a few hours each are necessary at times to complete system maintenance.


Majuro retail stores offer a surprising variety of consumer goods despite the country's remote location. The two largest grocery stores in Majuro are Robert Reimers Enterprises and Gibson's. Both stock a large variety of American grocery products, including packaged and canned goods, frozen meats, vegetables, ice cream, bread, fresh vegetables, and a good supply of dairy products. These two stores have a good selection of household items as well as clothing, sewing notions, cards, toys, nonprescription drugstore items, and office supplies. A limited supply of baby food and formula is available, as are disposable diapers.

Most goods are imported from California, New Zealand and Australia. Food products look a little different, for example, the cuts of meat available are not what we are accustomed to but most people agree that you can find almost anything you need. You have to plan ahead and buy when you see something that you think you may want to use in the future and freeze it if it's perishable. Depending on the item, most food is priced higher than in the U.S. Fresh vegetables are very expensive and not always of good quality.

Imported rice is a staple in the Marshallese diet. Imported chicken is the major meat; some fish is available, but most local families who catch fish only take enough to feed their own families. Until recently the only locally grown fruits and vegetables were coconut, pandanus, papaya, bananas, and breadfruit. Recently the Taiwan government started a farm in Laura, which has produced wonderful vegetables such as tomatoes, corn, and peppers, which can be purchased in the local grocery stores.


Majuro's tropical climate is best appreciated while wearing cotton. Synthetics may be comfortable in air-conditioning, but outside the office, they are uncomfortable in the heat and humidity.

Local stores offer few cotton garments and little of U.S. style and quality, except for a vast array of Majuro T-shirts, which are popular with local and visitors alike.

Men: The local dress code is basic. Around town, men wear T-shirts or Hawaiian aloha shirts (open-neck sport shirts usually worn untucked), long pants (shorts are acceptable in certain situations) and sandals, athletic shoes or, occasionally, conventional shoes.

Women: Local women wear long muumuus with short sleeves and rubber sandals. Few women wear American-style clothes; pants and shorts are not usually worn. Women's thighs and shoulders should be covered. Marshallese women swim in their muumuus, which are made of silky polyester that dries quickly.

Most women wear skirts and blouses or dresses. Either is also suitable for evening wear. Because of the climate, stockings are not worn and sandals, casual and dressy, are the norm. Fancy or revealing cocktail dresses are out of place in Majuro. Long skirts and dresses are fine for evening wear.

Foreign women normally wear clothing similar to what they wear at home during hot weather, with the exception that women do not wear shorts, except those at least knee length, in public. Foreign women may wear pants to go to town or to an evening function. Women may wear a bathing suit into the water, but should wear a skirt or a wrap around their lower torso while on the beach.

Children: Several of the private schools in Majuro require uniforms, which are locally made and available at a modest cost. Otherwise, children wear T-shirts, shorts, rubber sandals (known as "zorries"), and bathing suits. Athletic shoes are occasionally worn and are best ordered from the U.S. Boys wear long pants to church and girls wear dresses. Dress clothes are not needed. Climbing coconut trees, playing on coral sand and rocks, swimming, clothed Marshallese style, and banana and coconut stains take their toll on children's clothes.

Supplies and Services

Majuro has two hardware stores, Ace and True Value, which have lately been well supplied with basic items. Fishing tackles and rods are expensive; fishermen should bring their own and buy lures here. Most items will be more expensive, so if you anticipate needing something and have the room to ship it, then do so; you will save money in the long run. The NAPA auto parts store has an uneven inventory but may have what you need or will order it. Tires may be ordered and shipped in.

A few basic services are available in Majuro. There are a few beauty shops providing haircuts and simple styling. Repair services for appliances and electronics are limited. There is one drycleaner. Majuro has only a few reputable car repair shops, so be sure to ask for recommendations when you arrive as to where the best service can be obtained.

Religious Activities

The first Christian missionaries arrived in the Marshall Islands in 1857, and Christian religions continue to play an important part in Marshallese life. Churches provide a particularly important social setting, with gatherings throughout the week. A single village may have competing churches that create tension within the community over membership and status. The Bible, translated into Marshallese, is used as a reading textbook, and many children have Old Testament names.

Many religious denominations still support missionaries in Majuro, Ebeye, and the outer islands. Several small, private religious elementary and high schools exist throughout the Marshall Islands. Denominations represented include Unified Church of Christ (Protestant), Roman Catholic, Assembly of God, Seventh-Day Adventist, Independent Baptist, Mormon, Jehovah's Witnesses, Baha'i, and the Salvation Army program. The Unified Church of Christ and the Assembly of God churches have a theological college in Majuro.

In Majuro, Assumption Roman Catholic Church and the Assembly of God Church offer weekly services in English. Other services are in Marshallese, although most of the missionaries in every denomination are English speaking.


The two private schools in Majuro most used by foreigners are the Majuro Cooperative School and Assumption Catholic School. Both schools use American textbooks and follow an American curriculum. Home schooling is always an option and is used by many Americans living in Majuro.

Recreation and Social Life

Recreation in Majuro is almost entirely of an aquatic nature. Fishing is popular with Marshallese and foreigners alike. Small boat reef fishing, throw netting, and surf casting are popular. Larger out-board boats are available for deep-sea fishing for marlin, tuna, and other gamefish that abound in the Marshall Islands. Although no commercial charter boats are available, you can arrange for private charter or to be included in a day's fishing trip on a small boat.

The warm, clear waters are home to vast communities of fish, coral formations, and abundant tropical marine life, all easily accessible to snorkelers and divers. Sailing, windsurfing, swimming, boogie boarding, occasionally surfing, and picnicking at the beach are popular activities. The local dive shops fill air tanks, rent equipment, and offer scuba lessons, and have a small inventory of diving gear for sale.

Majuro has one large indoor athletic facility, which is used for sporting events and large assemblies. There are many outdoor basketball courts, two public tennis courts, a baseball field, and one bowling alley. Foreigners enjoy walking, bike riding, and jogging, but because of the narrow roads this can be dangerous. Rust is a problem with bicycles, and you should bring locks and patch kits for making repairs.

Evening entertainment in Majuro is limited. There are several good restaurants to go for dinner, several bars that offer live music are open at night, and there is one movie theater with three screens.

Marshallese live simply and entertain rarely, except for singular events, the most common being a "kemem," or child's first birthday celebration. These are socially important events to which large numbers of people are invited. Food preparation for a kemem takes several days. Marshallese women usually do not accompany their husbands to events, public or private, but that situation is changing slowly. It is awkward for a Marshallese to decline an invitation, so you never can be sure if an invited guest will attend. An RSVP is not usually understood.

Most of the foreign social activity consists of friends meeting at homes or at a restaurant. Many foreigners live in modest housing and have limited ability to entertain the way they are accustomed. The tiny diplomatic community, the retiring nature of the Marshallese, the small number of foreigners, and the lack of social events, public or private, are all factors that at times emphasize the sense of isolation in Majuro. Be creative, entertain yourself, and be willing to meet others.

Bring mail-order sources for all your hobbies, reading, and audio needs.

Majuro is a casual town, where people know one another and first names are used immediately. Marshallese custom places no importance on punctuality. The concepts of planning and preparation are unfamiliar.


Geography and Climate

The Marshall Islands are located in the eastern part of the geographic region known as Micronesia, or "Little Islands," a myriad of more than 2,100 coral atolls and volcanic islands scattered across 3 million square miles of the western Pacific Ocean.

The Marshall Islands lie between latitude 4-14°N. and longitude 160-173°E. The 29 coral atolls and 5 single islands of the Marshall Islands form two parallel groups extending northwest and southeast-the Ratak ("Sunrise") Chain and Ralik ("Sunset") chain. Total land area of all of the Marshall Islands is 70 square miles. Marine resources are abundant, but poor soil provides little opportunity for agriculture, except for the harvesting and drying of coconut meat into copra, the only revenue opportunity for outer islanders.

Each atoll is a cluster of small, lowlying islands, none more than a few meters above sea level, circling a lagoon. The development of a coral atoll begins with coral growth around the edge of a high, often volcanic mountain. Growth continues as the mountain slowly sinks beneath the sea, leaving behind a circular reef that grows into small islands, islets, and open reef surrounding a lagoon.

Most atolls have free-flowing water across most of the reef, with one or two openings for boats to enter the lagoon. The islands of most atolls are not contiguous, with stretches of open reef extending for miles between islands. As the distances between islands in an atoll can be many miles, travel from island to island within an atoll can be difficult.

The capital of the Marshall Islands is Majuro, which lies 2,300 miles southwest of Honolulu and nearly 2,000 miles southeast of Guam. Majuro lies west of the international dateline, making it 17 hours ahead of Eastern Standard Time.

Linking the islands of the southern side of Majuro Atoll runs the longest paved road in Micronesia, the islands having been artificially joined over the years by a 32-mile continuous road.

The climate of the Marshall Islands is tropical, with high humidity, and an average year-round temperature of 81 °F. Trade winds pick up in October or November and blow strongly from January through April, with winds varying from 12 to 22 knots. The trades, often bringing overcast skies, have a cooling effect, although the lagoon can become rough, compared to the placid days of glassy water, so frequent in summer.

Typhoon (tropical hurricane) season is from December through March. Tropical depressions form in the Marshall Islands and increase to typhoon strength as they move further west with the prevailing trade winds, making the Marshall Islands less susceptible to a full strength typhoon than most islands in the Pacific.

In Majuro, January, February, and March are traditionally the driest months, with rainfall averaging 6-8 inches a month. September through December are the wettest months, with 12-14 inches of average monthly rainfall. The temperature remains stable year-round, averaging 84°F in the day and 76°F at night.

The Marshall Islands enjoy clean air, clear ocean water, sunshine, and adequate amounts of rainfall, with the exception of the heavily populated areas of Majuro and Ebeye, where city living has taken its toll on the environment. Water shortages occur at any time when rainfall has been below normal, but in Majuro, shortages will occur most toward the end of the dry season in March. The use of water catchment devices is being promoted throughout the Marshall Islands. The outer islands rely more on a subsistence economy, occasionally experiencing food shortages due to seasonal variations.


An ethnically homogeneous population of Marshallese populates the Marshall Islands, whose origins, as determined through research of the language, appear to be in the Malayo-Indonesian area. The population shares a single language and culture, with some dialect and subcultural differences between the two island chains.

The total population of the Marshall Islands as of the 1999 census was 50,840 people. That was an increase of 7,460 people since the 1988 census. Majuro and Ebeye are the two urban population centers. Over 50% of Marshallese live on Majuro Atoll. Out of the total population, 19% live in the island of Ebeye in Kwajalein Atoll and 3% on the outer islands of Kwajalein Atoll. With just 0.14 square miles, Ebeye Island is the most densely populated area in the Marshall Islands, with an equivalent population density of 66,750 persons per square mile. The city of Majuro and Ebeye offer amenities, such as electricity, modern Western lifestyles, and employment opportunities (albeit limited) that continually draw younger Marshallese from the outer islands. On the outer atolls the lifestyle is mostly unchanged and untouched by modern development. Fewer than 3% of the population are foreigners. Countries other than the U.S. are beginning to send diplomatic representatives to the Marshall Islands. Taiwan and Japan have embassies in Majuro. The Marshall Islands is a young population, where 43% of the population is under 15 years of age and 15% is under 5. The working age group of 15 to 65 years old is 55% of the population.

The population has doubled in the last 26 years. With limited land and economic opportunities, controlling population growth has become a major goal of government authorities.

The urban areas of the Marshall Islands, where lifestyles move away from the traditional culture, are experiencing increasingly severe problems with youth suicide, alcoholism, sexually transmitted diseases, juvenile delinquency, and disregard of parental influence.

The social structure in the Marshall Islands is based on membership in a "bwij," a system of extended families or small clans. All members of the bwij work together for the common good, sharing food, housing, property, and resources. The leader of a bwij is the "alap," who acts as manager. Each bwij forms part of a larger group, led by an "iroij," or chief. It is traditionally the chief's responsibility to allocate resources among all his people and to resolve disputes.

Land is a scarce resource in the Marshall Islands and forms an important base for the establishment of social structure. Marshallese own all land; none may be sold to foreigners, although it may be leased to foreigners if all those holding an interest in the land agree. Ownership of land defines social status and family identity. Land rights are inherited through membership in a bwij, which is determined through the female line. Inheritance of titles is also matrilineal.

The traditional Marshallese method of dividing property, crops or catch, and income is one-third for the iroij, one-third for the alap, and one-third for the "dri jerbal," or common people who make up the bwij. This customary method of allocation is now creating social, economic, and legal difficulties within Marshallese society, as the country becomes increasingly westernized and moves from a subsistence economy to a money economy.

Major disputes arise over iroij titles as they command not only great prestige, but, with the advent of U.S. aid and lease payments, great wealth as well.

The Marshallese have a relaxed and casual attitude to life and informal dress is normal. Marshallese have strong family relationships, and thus, family needs and desires take precedence over non-family matters. Most Marshallese can expect family or extended family support at any time. This social network allows relatives from the outer islands, whether invited or not, to join family members in Ebeye or Majuro, and be assured of a home and food, even if the newcomer does not plan to work or make a contribution to the host family. Many young people prefer the U.S.-influenced lifestyles of Majuro and Ebeye to the remote and quiet living of an outer island. As the population density of both centers increases, there are no indications that this trend will change in the future. There are no statistics to document how many Marshallese are actually living in the US. but many do and more leave for the U.S. every day. Because of the relationship between the U.S. and the RMI, Marshallese are allowed to live and work in the U.S. at will.

Public Institutions

The Marshall Islands were claimed by Spain in 1592, but were left undisturbed by the Spanish Empire for 300 years. In 1885, Germany took over the administration of the Marshall Islands and located trading stations on the islands of Jaluit and Ebon to pursue the flourishing copra (dried coconut meat) trade. Marshallese High Chiefs continued to rule under indirect colonial German administration.

At the beginning of World War I, Japan assumed control of the Marshall Islands, first under civil and later naval administration. Their headquarters remained on Jaluit.

In early 1944, U.S. Marines and Army troops with naval air support took control from the Japanese following intense fighting on Kwajalein and Enewetak Atolls. In 1947, the U.S. as the occupying power entered into an agreement with the U.N. Security Council to administer the Micronesia area as the "Strategic Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands." The area included what is now the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Republic of Palau, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas. During the lengthy negotiations leading to the present political entities, the various peoples voted to pursue their separate courses rather than join as one country.

On May 1, 1979, the U.S. extended recognition both to the Constitution of the Marshall Islands, a document that incorporates both American and British constitutional concepts, and to the establishment of the Government of the Marshall Islands.

After 13 years of negotiation, on June 25, 1983, the Government of the Marshall Islands and the Government of the U.S. signed the Compact of Free Association. The people of the Marshall Islands approved the compact in a U.S. observed plebiscite on September 7, 1983. The U.S. Congress subsequently reviewed the compact and included several amendments that were accepted by the Government of the Marshall Islands. President Reagan signed the compact into law on January 14, 1986. The compact entered into force in the Marshall Islands on October 21, 1986. The UN voted to terminate the trusteeship with respect to the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia in December 1990.

The status of free association recognized the Republic of the Marshall Islands as a self-governing state with the capacity to conduct foreign affairs consistent with the terms of the compact.

The compact places full responsibility for defense of the Marshall Islands with the U.S. The basic relationship of free association continues indefinitely, while the economic and defense provisions of the compact are subject to renegotiating at the end of 15 years. Congress provides most of the compact funding through the U.S. Department of the Interior.

A major subsidiary agreement of the compact allows the U.S. continued use of the US. Army installation at Kwajalein, an atoll consisting of 90 islets around the largest lagoon in the world. The U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) uses the facility on a lease agreement with the Government of the Marshall Islands. DOD controls 11 islands within Kwajalein Atoll.

Another major agreement of the compact provides for settlement of all claims arising out of the nuclear testing programs that the U.S. conducted at Bikini and Enewetak Atolls from 1946 to 1958.

The legislative branch of the government is made up of the Nitijela (Parliament) with an advisory Council of Iroij (high chiefs). The Nitijela has 33 members from 25 districts that are elected for concurrent 4-year terms. Members of the Nitijela hold the title of Senator.

The executive branch is under the leadership of the President, who is elected by the Nitijela from among its membership. The President selects the other 10 members of his cabinet from the Nitijela. The first president of the republic was elected in 1979.

The Marshall Islands has four court systems: the Supreme Court, High Court, District and Community Courts, and the Traditional Rights Court. Most trial cases are heard before a judge. Jury trial is used only in unusual circumstances because of the difficulty in finding unbiased jurors within such a small population. Jurisdiction of the Traditional Rights Court is limited to cases involving titles, land rights, or other disputes arising from customary law and traditional practices. The Council of Iroij, representing traditional authority, advises the Cabinet on matters concerning customary law.

Arts, Science, and Education

The Marshall Islands has 77 public elementary schools and three public secondary schools. There are 26 private elementary schools and 13 private secondary schools. Forty-eight Head Start centers throughout the country provide preschool training. Head Start is available to 35% of the 3-to 5-year-olds in the Marshall Islands. In 1999, 84% of elementary school age children and 69% of the secondary school age children attended classes.

Test scores reveal that the education system needs to be improved. Though there is a 19 to 1 ratio of students to teachers, the quality of education is of great concern. Nearly half of the teachers in the Marshall Islands have only a secondary school diploma as their highest qualification. Scores on the entrance tests to the College of the Marshall Islands (CMI) in February 2000 required 73% of those applying to take remedial training of up to 2 years before being allowed to enroll in traditional college credit courses. CMI provides 2-year degree programs in liberal arts and sciences, teacher education, nursing and allied health, business and computer science, and vocational and occupational education and training. Remedial programs are available to prepare students to enter CMI's degree programs, and it has an adult education program to provide an opportunity for obtaining a high school diploma. CMI is in partnership in the Workforce Investment Act (WIA), which is US. federally funded. The University of the South Pacific (USP) provides post-secondary education through extension programs in Majuro. Students are able to complete full majors and degrees without having to attend classes on USP campuses. USP provides training in conjunction with a U.S. federally funded Head Start Program for pre-school certificate and a diploma in early childhood education and community nutrition.

The Marshall Islands women are respected throughout Micronesia for the quality of the woven handi-crafts they produce from coconut and pandanus fibers. Intricate and delicate baskets are decorated with many small shells; fans, mats, belts, handbags, and hats are woven to be decorative as well as practical. Most of the weaving is done by women on the outer islands who ship their goods to Majuro for sale at local handicraft stores. Men carve and assemble small replicas of the wooden sailing canoes that were once the only means of travel in the Marshall Islands. They also make modern stick charts, illustrating the principles of wave shape and change, which were used by Marshallese navigators to travel throughout the island chains.

The Marshallese have an oral tradition of song and legend, which is closely held and not shared with foreigners. With the increasing move toward a Western society, many fear that much of this tradition will soon be lost.

The Alele Museum is a private, nonprofit corporation that operates a small museum with photos and objects of traditional Marshallese culture and history It has an extensive microfilm inventory of documents relating to the history of the Marshall Islands and the Trust Territories. It actively encourages preservation and documentation of the Marshallese cultural heritage.

A Marshallese festive occasion always includes a song or two, sung by men and women in harmony, sometimes a cappella sometimes with a ukulele. As individuals, the Marshallese people are quiet and somewhat reticent, but they will spontaneously form a group and give an enthusiastic vocal performance at almost any event.

The "jepta" dancing performed by groups of youth and adults at their respective churches highlights the Christmas celebration. A month of late-night practices culminates in Christmas night dancing, each group in their own costume, performing variations of traditional dances.

Commerce and Industry

The government is the largest employer in the country, employing about one quarter of the workforce. The gross domestic product is derived mainly from U.S.-funded expenditures. Direct U.S. aid under the Compact of Free Association accounted for two-thirds of the Marshall Islands' 2000 budget of US $100 million.

Per capita gross domestic product during 1999 was about US $1,500, a figure that to understand the standard of living. The economy is a mixture of a small subsistence sector and a modern urban sector. The modern sector is largely a service-oriented economy located in Majuro and Ebeye, sustained by expenditure of the Marshall Islands Government and the U.S. Army installation at Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA). Wages, salaries, and other benefits to employees from these two sectors accounted for more than half of the gross domestic product in 1999.

The modern private sector consists of wholesale and retail trade, restaurants, banking and insurance, construction and repair services, professional services, and a small amount of copra processing. Despite its small size, however, copra cake and copra oil are by far the largest exports, standing at US $1 million in 1999. The Marshall Islands have 22,000 acres of coconut plantations, and copra production has been the most important single commercial economic activity for the past hundred years. Unfortunately, the world market for coconut oil is currently in decline and diminishes the value of the Marshall Islands' largest export commodity.

The minimum wage is US $2 an hour, which places the Marshall Islands at a competitive disadvantage vis-à-vis its potential Pacific and East Asian competitors. Skilled workers are few. The U.S. dollar is the official currency.

Outer islanders in an otherwise subsistence economy make copra and weave handicrafts as their sole source of income. These limited revenues fund what few items they can afford, such as soap, lantern fuel, and clothing. Most imports are consumed on Majuro and Ebeye.

Agriculture, marine resources, and tourism are top government development priorities. The Marshall Islands has no large-scale fishing operations. Sale of fishing rights to the Japanese, Taiwanese, and Koreans is a source of income, and the Marshall Islands is the recipient of aid, particularly from Japan to ensure the continuation of these rights. The U.S. and Japan are the Marshall Islands' major trading partners; retail trade with Australia and New Zealand is increasing. The Marshall Islands receives additional aid from the government of Australia.



Majuro enjoys the longest paved road system in all of Micronesia: from Rita, at the eastern end of Majuro Atoll, to Laura, the village on the far western end, a distance of about 30 miles. The island is so narrow that when driving the length of the island there are very few places where you are unable to see the lagoon and ocean at the same time. There are no street names and no addresses. As is typical in small towns all over the world, locations are identified by their occupant, their former occupant, or the nearest landmark. There are very few traffic signs, and there are no stop-lights. Local police are working hard to enforce good driving habits but almost anyone who pays the fee required can acquire a drivers license. Drivers must be extra cautious as children and animals dart into the street day and night. There are no sidewalks, so the narrow roads are shared with pedestrians, and one must be alert as people and cars seem to come out of nowhere. Because there are so many vehicles, traffic is becoming a problem especially in the mornings, at noon, and at 5 o'clock. The speed limit in most areas is 25mph, but at times it's impossible to maintain even that rate of speed. Gasoline costs about twice as much as in the U.S.

Taxis are the main means of transportation for the Marshallese people. A person can ride in one direction anywhere from the end of Rita to the bridge (approximately 7 miles) for 50 cents. If a person were to travel from Rita to Long Island (at the other side of the bridge) the charge would be $1.50. It becomes more costly to travel from town to the airport and beyond.

Taxis are not always convenient, especially on Long Island. At night it is very difficult and possibly dangerous to get a taxi into town from Long Island. What makes it dangerous is that there are few streetlights and people waiting on the side of the road to hail a taxi are not clearly visible. Drunk drivers are more likely to be driving at night so standing by the side of the narrow roads after dark is not a good idea. When using the taxi service you must share the car with as many people as the driver chooses to pick up. That means that there are many stops made from when one gets in, to the final destination.

The convenience of having a personal car is immeasurable. Buying a new car locally is a possibility; buying a used car in Majuro, as in the U.S., can be a gamble.

It is a requirement of the Marshall Islands that vehicles be licensed. The weight of the vehicle determines the charge, but for the average car, the fee is $35. Law requires that vehicles be inspected yearly. Inspection stickers are issued when the car is licensed, although this law is not strictly enforced. The licensing fee includes the fee for the inspection sticker. Liability insurance is required and must be obtained before the vehicle is licensed. The cost for minimum coverage locally is less then US $200. Persons planning to drive in Majuro should have a current Marshall Islands driver's license. This driver's license will be issued for $20. No test is required but you will probably be asked to present your U.S. driver's license when applying.


Those who don't have their own vehicles move about town using the local taxi service. Individuals can license cars or vans of all descriptions as taxis. Taxis cruise the road picking up passengers who hail them from the roadside. Riders are picked up until the car is full and then dropped at their various destinations. The fare schedule is simple, with downtown transfers costing 50 cents and longer rides costing $1.50. Students and children pay only 25 cents, but, as a result, may be ignored as they wait for a ride. The ride may be hot and the car rickety and you may have to wait for a taxi to drive by, but the operators are honest, and the service proves to be convenient.

To find a nice public sandy beach where you can spend the day swimming and snorkeling, you must drive to Laura. The road is paved and the drive is a pleasant one. It can take as much as an hour to drive the approximately 20 miles, but there is much to see along the way, as the scenery is beautiful. Laura is a small village, different from downtown Majuro, with more land and fewer inhabitants.

Chartered boat trips can be arranged and are a wonderful way to get away from the city. Just a few islands up the reef from Majuro you will find islands that are almost completely uninhabited. Perfectly clear warm water and beautiful sandy beaches are there to explore. Most island inhabitants welcome guests but you must ask first.

Travel to the other atolls in the Marshall Islands is by boat or plane. Air Marshall Islands (AMI) provides service to the 26 grass airstrips located on various other atolls. Travel within an atoll is by small, outboard boats, as the islands on an atoll are connected only by long sections of open reef. Arno, 12 miles away and the atoll closest to Majuro, is the only outer island accessible from Majuro by small boat in a single day. Because of the travel impediments and lack of any guest facilities, the most frequent foreign visitors to the outer islands are those on occasional sailboats passing through on cruises of the Pacific.


Both Majuro and Kwajalein Atolls have airports that accommodate large jet aircraft. Continental Micronesia provides jet service between Honolulu and Guam, via Majuro and Kwajalein. Aloha Airlines provides service between Honolulu and Kwajalein via Majuro.

Majuro has excellent shipping links to the West Coast of the U.S., Hawaii, Australia, Japan, the South Pacific, and to other parts of Micronesia. Regular shipping service is provided by PM&O Lines, Matson Navigation Company, NYK, and Forum Lines. Tiger Lines and Saipan Shipping provide transshipment facilities out of Guam and Saipan. The ports in Majuro and Ebeye provide containerized cargo handling, warehousing, and trans-shipment operations.


The Marshall Islands National Telecommunications Authority (NTA) provides telecommunications services for the Marshall Islands. NTA provides access to domestic and international telephone service, local cellular telephone service, and Internet services. Residential, one party line charge is $12 per month with a one time $35 connection fee. As in the U.S. you can subscribe to enhanced services such as Caller ID, Call Waiting, etc. Charges for these enhanced services are nominal.

Mobile cellular telephone service is $25 a month with a one-time $35 service connection. Users may avail of 60 free minutes of airtime allowed per month (not including long distance time) and $0.10 per minute airtime charge after the first 60 minutes. Cellular phones are usually available for purchase on the island.

Internet service is costly compared to the U.S. NTA charges $40 a month plus $3 an hour of use. There is an initial $15 installation fee.


The Marshall Islands is a U.S. domestic mail zone and receives international mail service through the U.S. Postal Service. Because of the close ties with the U.S. system Majuro has been assigned a two-digit state abbreviation which is MH. The ZIP Code for Majuro is 96960.

U.S. domestic rates apply to and from the U.S. Although the Marshall Islands issues its own stamps, the postal system in Majuro has accepted U.S. postage stamps on single pieces mailed to the U.S.

First-class letter mail arrives by air 610 days from the East Coast. Packages sent Priority Mail also arrive about the same time, or slightly longer. Non first class mail, including parcel post and magazines sent second class, arrive by ship within 2-4 months.

In Majuro mail is delivered only to a post office box. Outer island mail requires a first class stamp; parcels are charged as freight and delivered by local plane or ship.

Radio and TV

The Marshall Islands has two radio stations. V7AB, AM 1098, is run by the Ministry of Interior and Outer Islands Affairs, broadcasting news, announcements, the Nitijela meetings when the Nitijela is in session, and popular and Marshallese music. Some news and announcements are in both Marshallese and English. WSZF, FM 104, is run by the Baptist Church and broadcasts religious music and programs. Real time news can be heard on the hour on FM 104 from the BBC; however, the reception for the BBC is poor.

Cable TV is available in Majuro through Marshalls Broadcasting Company. Initial installation is $30 with a monthly charge of $29.99 for one TV and $10 a month extra for each additional TV that is hooked up. For an additional $10 a month a Philippine station can be accessed. There are about 11 stations in all. Real time news can be received on CNN, CNBC and BBC. At this time almost everything seen here is shown approximately two weeks after its U.S. showing. A TV schedule is not published but many shows are broadcast with some regularity so one is able to predict when some shows will be aired. Movies are shown both day and night and most are suitable for all audiences. There are many video stores on the island and the selections available are quite good.

Newspaper, Magazines, and Technical Journals

The Marshall Islands Journal is an independently published weekly newspaper and is the only printed source of local news. It is issued every Thursday at a cost of 50 cents and provides coverage of local events in both Marshallese and English.

A few magazines and paperback books are available at local stores but the selection is poor, usually out of date, and the price is high.

The Majuro public library located in the Alele Museum building is small and limited. The College of the Marshall Islands makes its library available to anyone who would want to use it.

Health and Medicine

Medical Facilities

Medical care in Majuro is not up to U.S. standards. The Majuro Hospital is staffed with doctors from many countries around the Pacific. There are no American doctors at this time at the Majuro Hospital. There is one private clinic operated by a doctor from the Philippines. The 177 Clinic is the medical facility serving those affected by the nuclear testing. At present, there is a doctor from the U.S. manning this facility. Although the 177 Clinic is there to serve this exclusive group of people, if scheduling permits you may be able to request an appointment with this doctor. The Youth to Youth in Health has a clinic in Majuro catering to the young community.

Obtaining medicine is often a problem. Many times the hospital is not able to stock an adequate supply, so they are frequently out of some of the most basic medicines. You cannot depend on being able to have a prescription filled here so bring regularly needed medications with you or make arrangements to have them sent from the U.S.

Routine laboratory work is available. More complicated tests are sent to Honolulu for evaluation.

Dental care is available for simple dental work, checkups, cleaning, and x-ray but again, not up to U.S. standards. Majuro has no facilities for optical care. Bring spare eyeglasses, and sunglasses. Selections of contact lens solutions are limited.

Try to bring with you any medicine or medical supplies you anticipate needing on a regular basis. Simple things like bandages and antibiotic cream, aspirin, Motrin, Tylenol and cold medicines are usually obtainable from the two largest stores on the island. You cannot always count on finding your favorite brands so it would be a good idea to bring a small supply of your favorites to use until you find out if they are available here.

Community Health

Ebeye Island in Kwajalein Atoll, the second-largest population center in the Marshall Islands, has an expanding health center for its large population. All other outer island communities are served by 64 health centers staffed with modestly trained health assistants who utilize small dispensaries and are connected by marine high frequency radio to the main center in Majuro. Boats or planes evacuate medical emergencies from the outer islands to Majuro. In Majuro there is also a church based health clinic in Laura, a non-government operated clinic run by the Baptist Church and one run by Mission Pacific.

Common infectious and communicable diseases in the Marshall Islands include amoebiasis, conjunctivitis, diarrhea, gastroenteritis, gonorrhea, influenza, leprosy, scabies, syphilis, and tuberculosis. Water supply, sanitation, personal hygiene and overcrowding are among factors related to the infectious and communicable diseases. Tests for HIV/AIDS in 1997-1999 found no positive cases. However, tests in 1996 detected one positive HIV case. With the increasing level of prostitution and the large number of foreign fishing boats calling at Majuro, the risk of HIV and AIDS being introduced to this area becomes more of a possibility each day.

The most prevalent noncommunicable disease in the Marshall Islands is diabetes, which is now a major health problem. Hypertension and heart disease are also on the increase. Poor eating habits, the consumption of large amounts of alcohol and tobacco, and the lack of exercise contribute heavily to these major health problems.

Preventive Measures

All should follow standard State Department immunization guidelines, including inoculation for Hepatitis A & B.

Sunburn is a problem year round. Everyone is urged to use sunscreen and wear sunglasses and protective clothing. Coral cuts are a common occurrence and no matter how small are slow to heal and susceptible to infection. Wounds should be cleaned, treated with antibiotic cream and kept bandaged until completely healed. Prevent cuts to feet by wearing shoes while in the water and out. Everyone is urged to drink plenty of fluid in order to stay hydrated.

Eating in major restaurants is safe. Be careful when eating at private or public events, because food is commonly not refrigerated properly and could be prepared in less than sanitary conditions. Most meats, fruits and vegetables are imported from the U.S., Australia and New Zealand and are safe. Local vegetables, pork, chicken and fish are also safe. Some reef fish contain toxins, and the varieties that are safe to eat vary from atoll to atoll. If you catch your own fish, check with a local fisherman to see if it is safe to eat. When purchasing products at any store be sure to check the expiration dates on the packages as it is common to find many that are still on the shelf long beyond their shelf life.

The normal tropical rodents and small lizards are present, but not in excess. Cockroaches and ants can become a problem. Flies and a few mosquitoes are a nuisance, but often the trade winds keep them away. The Majuro Water and Sewer Company, which is government-owned, provides the water and sewer system in Majuro. The public water system relies primarily on a rainwater catchment system, which is located at the airport runway and in the wells in Laura. Public water is normally available three days a week for 14 hours per day. Individual homes must have their own catchment and storage tanks to provide round-the clock water.

A 1999 census reported that 61% of all households in the Marshall Islands used flush toilets and 25% used pit latrines or no toilet facilities at all. A great part of the population continues traditional customs, using the ocean and lagoon reefs for elimination and personal hygiene, contributing significantly to local pollution. Public garbage collection exists but unfortunately, vast amounts of trash are dumped oceanside or lagoonside by residents, creating, among other problems, unsightly pollution in many areas.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Mar. 1Memorial Day

May 1Constitution Day

July (1st Fri) Fishermans'Day*

Sept. 5 Labor Day

Sept.(last Fri)Manit Day*

Oct. 21 Independence Day

Nov. 4 Thanksgiving Day

Nov. 17Presidents' Day

Dec. 25 Christmas



Passage, Customs & Duties

Travel to Majuro is via jet from Honolulu or Guam. Continental Micronesia arrives in Majuro from Honolulu on Tuesday, Thursday, and Saturday. From Majuro the plane goes on to Kwajalein and then Guam with stops in Kosrae, Pohnpei, and Chunk. The plane returns to Honolulu from Guam on Monday, Wednesday and Friday with stops in Kwajalein and Majuro. Aloha Airlines flies from Honolulu to Majuro arriving in Majuro on Friday evenings. Aloha then flies on to Kwajalein and returns through Majuro on Saturday morning back to Honolulu.

Unaccompanied baggage takes about 3-4 weeks by air from the U.S. During peak passenger seasons, lack of freight space on incoming flights can cause delays. Surface shipments arrive in 2-3 months from the East Coast. Shipments are through Los Angeles or Honolulu from points east of the Marshall Islands. West of the Marshall Islands there are also good connections, with vessels coming from Guam, Manila, and Hong Kong.

Visas are not required for U.S. citizens. A valid passport, sufficient funds for a stay, and an onward/return ticket are required for stays up to 30 days (and may be extended for up to 90 days from the date of entry). A departure fee is required. A health certificate is required if arriving from infected areas. An AIDS test may be required for visits over 30 days. (U.S. test are accepted.) For further information on entry requirements for the Marshall Islands, please contact the Embassy of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, 2433 Massachusetts Avenue, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20008. The telephone number is (202) 234-5414. Also, please see the home page for the Embassy of the Marshall Islands at

Americans living in or visiting the Marshall Islands are encouraged to register at the Consular Section of the U.S. Embassy in Majuro. The U.S. Embassy does not have a street address in Majuro. The Embassy is located on the ocean-side of the island's road, near the Church of the Latter-Day Saints and Gibson's Express, "Long Island." The U.S. Embassy's mailing address is P.O. Box 1379, Majuro, MH 96960-1379. The telephone number is (692) 247-4011. The fax number is (692) 247-4012. The U.S. Embassy home page on the Internet is


Importation of dogs and cats is allowed. However, there is a quarantine period for a minimum of 120 days. Animals are also required to have a health and rabies certificate, both for transiting Honolulu and to enter the Marshall Islands. Rabies is not present in RMI. Therefore, strict regulations must be followed. If pets are being sent unaccompanied, all airlines are obliged to deliver arriving dogs and cats to the Airport Animal Quarantine Holding Facility until their onward flight to the Marshall Islands. However, if the flight delay is over 24 hours (approximately), the pet (s) will be transported to the Animal Quarantine Branch facility in Aiea, Hawaii, where they will remain until their scheduled flight. (If the animal must be transported to the Aiea facility, there will be charges for this service to include a $35 registration fee per animal. Additionally, one cannot pay by credit card or cash; a certified check must be sent to the facility prior to any boarding arrangements. If your pets will be detained in Hawaii, it is best to call the Animal Quarantine Branch for details: Tel: (808) 483-7145; Fax: (808) 4837161. The Marshall Islands have no kennels or veterinary services, so one must be prepared for any illnesses that their pet (s) may come down with.

The following requirements must be followed in importing pets into the country: A permit must be obtained from the Department of Agriculture, Quarantine Section, which costs $10. The permit is valid for one shipment only. A copy must accompany the shipment and be surrendered to a Quarantine Officer on duty upon arrival of shipment into the RMI. The importation of animals into the RMI requires presentation of an international animal health certificate, attesting that the animal (s): a) were examined within 48 hours of shipment, found to be in good health, and showed no sign of any infectious disease; b) have been effectively vaccinated against distemper, hepatitis, and canine Parvovirus at least 1 month and not more than 3 months before shipment; c) have been effectively treated against echinococcosishydatidosis, round, hook, and whip-worms within 3 days of shipment; d) have been effectively treated against, and found on examination to be visibly free of, Ectoparasites within 3 days of shipment; e) showed no clinical sign of rabies on the day of shipment, and were kept from birth or for 6 months prior to shipment in the exporting country where no case of rabies was officially reported during the 2 years immediately preceding the importation of the animals concerned; f) have been vaccinated with an inactivated rabies virus more than 30 days prior to entry into the RMI; and g) for animals originating from a country where rabies occurs or is reported to occur or where rabies vaccination is routinely practiced, such animals must be confined for a period of not less than 120 days in an approved quarantine facility in a rabies-free area prior to entry to the RMI; or h) should meet the requirements of the State of Hawaii or the Territory of Guam.

Upon arrival in the RMI, imported animals shall immediately be taken under the control of a Quarantine Officer to the quarantine premises previously approved by the Chief of Agriculture where the animals shall remain until they are released by a Quarantine Officer.

Animals imported not in compliance with the permit requirements may be re-exported or destroyed upon arrival.

The quarantine Section of the Department of Agriculture can be contacted through the following: Tel: (692) 625-3206; Fax: (692) 625-3821; E-mail:

Firearms and Ammunition

Importation of firearms is officially prohibited. No opportunities for recreational firearm use exist in the Marshall Islands.

Currency, Banking, and Weights and Measures

The U.S. dollar is the official currency of the Marshall Islands. Credit cards are accepted at a few establishments. Travelers checks are acceptable, but ask before making purchases. Non-diplomatic passengers pay a US $20 departure tax at the airport.


The following titles are provided as a general indication of the material published on this country:

Carucci, Lawrence. Nuclear Nativity: Rituals of Renewal and Empowerment. Northern Illinois University, 1997.

Feeney, Thomas J. Letters from Likiep. S. J., D.D. Pandick Press: New York, 1952.

Hempensatall, Peter J. Pacific Islanders Under German Rule. Australian National University Press, 1978.

Hezel, Francis X. S.J. The First Taint of Civilization. University of Hawaii Press: Honolulu, 1983.

Hezel, Francis X. S.J. Strangers in Their Own Land, Century of Colonial Rule. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1995.

Kluge, RE The Edge of Paradise. America in Micronesia. Random House: New York, 1991.

William Lay and Cyrus M. Hussey. Mutiny on Board the Whaleship Globe. Corinth Books: New York, 1963.

Micronesia: A Travel Survival Kit. Lonely Planet Publications: California, 1995.

Niedenthal, Jack. For the Good of Mankind. Micronitor Publishing 2001.

Oliver, Douglas. The Pacific Islands. University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1989.

Trumbull, Robert. Tin Roofs and Palm Trees. University of Washington Press, Seattle, 1977.

Weisgall, Jonathan M. Operations Crossroads, Naval Institute Press, 1994.

Internet Sites

Marshall Islands Visitors Authority e-mail:

RMI Country Homepage:

Bikini Atoll Homepage:

Yokwe-Eok Marshallese Web site: Alele Museum:

PATA Micronesia:

Robert Reimers Ent./Marshalls Dive Adventure:

Outrigger Marshall Islands Resort:

Continental Micronesia:

Destination Micronesia Homepage:

Marshall Islands Stamp Center:

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Marshall Islands." Cities of the World. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Marshall Islands." Cities of the World. . (December 15, 2017).

"Marshall Islands." Cities of the World. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from

Marshall Islands



Republic of the Marshall Islands

CAPITAL: Majuro, Majuro Atoll

FLAG: The flag, adopted in 1979, is blue, with two diagonal strips of orange over white; in the canton is a white star with 4 large rays and 20 shorter ones.

ANTHEM: Ij iokwe lok aelon eo ao ijo iaar lotak ie (I Love My Island, Where I Was Born).

MONETARY UNIT: The US dollar is the official medium of exchange.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: British units are used, as modified by US usage.

HOLIDAYS: The government has not legislated official holidays.

TIME: 11 pm = noon GMT.


The Marshall Islands is located in the central Pacific Ocean, just north of the equator. Isolated from major population centers, Majuro, the capital, lies 3,438 km (2,136 mi) w of Honolulu, 3,701 km (2,300 mi) se of Tokyo, and 3,241 km (2,014 mi) se of Saipan, the former trust territory capital. The country consists of 29 atolls and 1,152 islands, 5 of which are major islands, extending over a sea area exceeding 1,942,500 sq km (750,000 sq mi). The main land area is only about 181 sq km (70 sq mi).

Comparatively, the area occupied by the Marshall Islands is slightly larger than Washington, DC. The atolls and islands form two almost parallel chainlike formations: the Ratak ("Sunrise"), or Eastern, group and the Ralik ("Sunset"), or Western, group. The largest atolls in the Ratak group are Mili, Majuro, Maloelap, Wotje, Likiep, and Bikini; in the Ralik group, Jaluit, Kwajalein, Wotho, and Enewetak. The Marshall Islands have a coastline of 370.4 km (230 mi).

The capital city of the Marshall Islands, Majuro, is located on the island of Majuro.


The majority of islands are in typical atoll formations, consisting of low-lying narrow strips of land enclosing a lagoon. Soils are porous, sandy, and of low fertility. Kwajalein Atoll in the Ralik, or Western, atoll is the largest atoll in the world.


The maritime tropical climate is hot and humid, with little seasonal temperature change. Diurnal variations generally range between 2134°c (7093°f). Trade winds from the northeast cool the high temperatures from December through March.

Rainfall averages about 3038 cm (1215 in) per month, with October and November the wettest and December to April the driest. Average rainfall increases from the north to the south; the northern atolls average 178 cm (70 in) annually, compared with 432 cm (170 in) in the southern atolls.


The flora and fauna of the atolls are limited in number and variety. The flora consists of species resilient to porous soils, salt spray, and relatively strong wind force. The dominant tree species include coconut palms, pandanus, breadfruit, and citrus trees. The reef systems of the islands support about 160 coral species. Fauna include rodents and indigenous strains of pig.


Among the Marshall Islands' more significant environmental problems are water pollution due to lack of adequate sanitation facilities, inadequate supplies of drinking water, and the rise of sea levels due to global warming. Any rise in the sea level is a constant and serious threat to an island nation whose land mass is 23 meters (610 ft) above sea level.

The Marshall Islands Environmental Protection Agency, established in 1984, is concerned with programs for water quality standards, solid waste disposal, earthworks, and use of pesticides. The environments of the Bikini, Enewetak, Rongelap, and Utirik atolls were contaminated by nuclear testing. Nuclear tests were carried out in the region from 1946 to 1958. The long-term environmental effects on these atolls and their populations remain undetermined.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 1 type of mammal, 2 species of birds, 2 types of reptiles, 7 species of fish, and 1 type of mollusk. The hawksbill turtle and green turtle are on the endangered species list.


The population of Marshall Islands in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 59,000, which placed it at number 185 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 3% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 42% of the population under 15 years of age. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 3.0%, a rate the government viewed as too high. The growth rate has declined due to emigration, but the fertility rate stood at 5.7 births per woman. The projected population for the year 2025 was 83,000. The population density was 328 per sq km (849 per sq mi). About 60% of the total population resided on two atolls, Majuro and Ebeye. Of the 34 atolls and major islands, 24 are inhabited.

The UN estimated that 68% of the population lived in urban areas in 2005, and that urban areas were growing at an annual rate of 1.43%. The capital city, Majuro, Majuro Atoll, had a population of 25,000 in that year.


Population has been steadily migrating from the outer atolls to the urban concentrations on Majuro and Ebeye. As a result, outer atolls have been left with unbalanced population structures of children, females, and the aged. In 2000 the total number of migrants was 2,000.

Provisions under the Compact of Free Association with the United States permit unrestricted entry into the United States and allow high-school graduates to join the US armed forces. In 2005, the net migration rate was an estimated -5.91 a change from zero in 1999.


The Marshallese people are Micronesians, who are physically similar to the Polynesian peoples. The largest non-Marshallese ethnic group is from Kosrae in the Federated States of Micronesia. There are also small numbers of Americans and Filipinos.


English is universally spoken and is the official language. Two major Marshallese dialects are also spoken. Marshallese is a Malayo-Polynesian language and the common source of each of the atolls' dialects. Both English and Marshallese are used in official communications and in commerce. Japanese is also spoken.


The people are almost entirely Christian, primarily Protestant, as a result of the arrival of American and Hawaiian Protestant missionaries in the 1860s. The United Church of Christ is the principal denomination, representing some 55% of the population. The United Church of Christ is the successor of the Congregationalists from New England and Hawaii who converted the islanders in the latter half of the 19th century. Other religious denominations represented include Assemblies of God (26%), Roman Catholics (8%), Bukot Nan Jesus (also called Assembly of God Part Two, 3%), the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (2%), Seventh Day Adventists (1%), Full Gospel (1%), and the Baha'i Faith (1%). About 1% are Muslims, Jehovah's Witnesses, and members of the Salvation Army. Certain Christian holidays are celebrated as national holidays.


There are 64.5 km (40 mi) of paved road on the Majuro atoll and on the Kwajalein atoll with less than 10% of those roads on Kwajalein in 2002. On the outer islands, roads consist primarily of cleared paths and roads surfaced with stone, coral, or laterite. There are few motor vehicles.

The many scattered atolls separated by long distances make sea and air transportation essential. Domestic sea transportation is provided by interisland ships, which service each of the outer islands about once every three months. Two commercial dock facilities in Majuro and one in Ebeye furnish port facilities for international shipping. In 2005, the merchant fleet consisted of 540 ships with a capacity of 1,000 GRT or more totaling 25,102,401 GRT.

Also in 2004, the Marshall Islands had an estimated 15 airports, only 4 of which had paved runways as of 2005. Majuro International Airport, completed in 1974, accommodates aircraft up to Boeing 707 size. The government-owned Airline of the Marshall Islands (AMI), established in 1980, provides service to all outer islands with airstrips. International airline connections are provided to Tarawa in Kiribati, Funafuti in Tuvalu, and Nadi in Fiji. Air Micronesia/Continental Airlines links Majuro with major foreign destinations, including Hawaii, Guam, Manila, and Tokyo. In 2001 (the latest year for which data was available), 18,800 passengers were carried on domestic and international airline flights.


Sighting of the islands was first recorded by the Spanish navigator Alvaro de Saavedra in 1529. The British captain John Marshall, after whom the islands are named, explored them in 1788. Throughout the late 1800s and early 1900s, foreign powers ruled the islands for such advantages as trade, religious propagation, exploitation of resources, strategic considerations, and maintenance of sea routes. Spain claimed the islands in 1874, but sold them to Germany in 1899. At the outbreak of World War I, Japanese naval squadrons took possession of the Marshalls and began formal administration under a League of Nations mandate in 1920.

In World War II, after bitter fighting between US and Japanese forces that included battles for Kwajalein and Eniwetok (now Enewetak), the islands came under US control. In 1947, the Marshalls became a district of a UN trusteeship, called the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, which was administered by the United States.

The United States used Bikini and Enewetak atolls as nuclear testing sites from 1946 to 1958, exploding 66 atomic and nuclear tests during this period. Radiation contamination from the nuclear testing program resulted in the displacement of the indigenous people of Bikini and Enewetak.

The Marshallese people adopted a constitution in 1978, under which the Marshalls were designated the Republic of the Marshall Islands. In 1979, the constitution went into effect and the republic became a self-governing territory, with Amata Kabua elected the Republic's first president. In 1983, a Compact of Free Association with the United States, providing for full self-government except for defense, was approved by plebiscite. Section 177 of the compact stated that the United States would provide a $150 million settlement for damages resulting from the nuclear testing. The money formed the basis of a trust fund which was to generate enough money to provide annual proceeds of $18 million through 2001, to be distributed to benefit the people on the affected atolls.

In January 1986, the compact was ratified by the United States, and on 21 October 1986 it went into effect. The people of Bikini and Enewetak, along with those exposed to radioactive fallout in the 1954 Bravo Blast, fought for compensation from the United States, which in February 1990 agreed to pay $45 million to the victims of the nuclear testing program. In October 1999, the United States, through the Majuro-based Nuclear Claims Tribunal, paid nearly $2.3 million toward the $45 million originally promised in 1990, bringing the amount paid toward the total to $39.4 million.

The UN Security Council voted in December 1990 to terminate the Marshall Islands' status as a UN Trust Territory. The Republic became an independent state and joined the UN in September 1991. Because of the US promise to care for the Islanders until they could return to their home, Bikinians made US president Bill Clinton their king and expected him to look after his people.

The Compact of Free Association with the United States expired in 2001, but the provisions of the compact were subsequently extended though September 2003, with the level of yearly assistance to continue at $37 million. US president George W. Bush signed the Amended Compact of Free Association in December 2003. The 20-year compact provided for a trust fund of more than $800 million, and granted the United States exclusive military access to the Marshall Islands, in return for which the United States would provide protection against any third parties. Marshallese concerns were raised when the trust funds lost value following the September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. In January 2005, the Bush administration rejected efforts on the part of the Marshall Islands to get an additional $3 billion in compensation for the tests, stating there was no legal basis for additional payments.

Fifty years after testing began, Bikini Island began to attract a few tourists; scientific surveys have declared the island habitable again, although there is still a danger in eating too many of the local coconuts. Despite the scientific assurances, the US government has yet to issue a statement saying that the island is safe to inhabit. In addition, global warming and the possibility of rising sea levels have raised concern over the long-term prospects for the islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The Marshall Islands, along with Kiribati and Tuvalu, rise only a few feet above sea level. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has suggested that the sea could rise 18 inches by 2100, but that figure could be much lower or higher.

Following the passing in China of an anti-secession law which would theoretically authorize a Chinese invasion of Taiwan, the Marshall Islands aligned itself with Taiwan, sending Taiwanese president Chen Shui-bian a letter of support.


The Marshall Islands is an independent republic. The constitution effective on 1 May 1979 incorporates a blend of the British and American constitutional concepts. It provides for three main branches of government: the legislature, the executive, and the judiciary.

Legislative power is vested in the Parliament, known as the Nitijela, which consists of 33 members elected from 24 electoral districts, each corresponding roughly to an atoll. The Council of Iroij (Chiefs) has 12 members, whose main functions are to request reconsideration by the Nitijela of any bill affecting customary law, traditional practice, or land tenure, and to express an opinion to the cabinet on any matter of national concern.

Executive power is vested in the cabinet, headed by the president, who is also head of state. The president serves a four-year term. The president, a member of the Nitijela, is elected by a majority of that assembly. The constitution requires the president to nominate not more than 10 or fewer than 6 members of the Nitijela as ministers. All citizens who have attained the age of 18 are eligible to vote.

In late 1999 and early 2000, two major political changes took place. For the first time, an opposition party, the newly formed United Democratic Party (UDP), gained a majority in parliament in the November 1999 elections. Then, in January 2000, Kessai Note, the Speaker of the Nitijela, was elected to the presidency, becoming the first president of the Marshall Islands who is a commoner (not a traditional chief). He was reelected in January 2004. The next elections were to be held in 2007.


There is no tradition of organized political parties in the Marshall Islands; what has existed more closely resembles factions or interest groups because they do not have party platforms, headquarters, or party structures. However, two major groupings have competed in legislative balloting. The Kabua Party of former President Amata Kabua was in ascendance from 1979 to 1999; during that time, Kabua was elected to five 4-year terms as president. Following his death in December 1996, the newly-formed United Democratic Party (UDP), led by Litokwa Tomeing, became more powerful, gaining a majority in parliament in November 1999, and again in the November 2003 elections. Kessai Note was elected president in legislative sessions in 2000; in January 2004, he was reelected to a second 4-year term by a vote of 20 to 9.

The next legislative elections were to be held no later than November 2007.


There are 24 local governments for the inhabited atolls and islands. Typically, each is headed by a mayor, and consists of an elected council, appointed local officials, and a local police force.


The judiciary consists of the Supreme Court, the High Court, the District Court, and community courts. The Supreme Court has final appellate jurisdiction. The High Court has trial jurisdiction over almost all cases and appellate jurisdiction over all types of cases tried in subordinate courts. The District Court has limited civil and criminal jurisdiction nationwide.

Community courts in local government areas adjudicate civil and criminal cases within their communities. In 1984, a traditional rights court was established to determine questions relating to titles or land rights and other legal interests involving customary law and traditional practice.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. The constitution also provides for the right to a fair trial. It prohibits the arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, or correspondence. Government authorities respect these provisions in practice.


There are no armed forces in the Marshall Islands. Under the Compact of Free Association, the United States provides defense for a minimum 15-year period and operation of the Kwajalein Missile Range for 30 years.


The Marshall Islands was admitted to the United Nations on 17 September 1991, and participates in several specialized agencies including the FAO, IAEA, the World Bank, UNCTAD, UNESCO, and the WHO. In 1992, it became a member of ESCAP. The country is also a member of the ACP Group, the Asian Development Bank, G-77, Sparteca, and the Pacific Island Forum.

In 1996 the Marshall Islands joined with 38 other nations to form the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). The Alliance, concerned with global warming and rising sea levels, wants the industrialize nations to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. In other environmental cooperation, the Marshall Islands is part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, MARPOL, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change, and Desertification.

The Marshall Islands operates under the Compact of Free Association signed with the United States on 25 June 1983. Amendments to the CFA went into effect on 1 May 2004. These amendments provide the Islands with a promise $62 million over the 10 years and access to US programs and services. Under the compact, the United States has full authority and responsibility for security and defense of the Marshall Islands. In return, the Marshallese government must conduct foreign affairs in cooperation with US security and defense responsibilities.


The economy consists of a monetary sector and a nonmonetary subsistence sector. The monetary sector is localized in Majuro and Ebeye and is sustained largely by expenditures of the government and Kwajalein Missile Range employees. In turn the government is heavily dependent on grants from the US government provided, particularly those under the Compact of Free Association, which went into effect in 1986. These grants, averaging ranging from $40 million/year to $60 million/year, are given in exchange for furnishing military facilities and comprise roughly 6070% of total government revenues, and 40% to over 50% of total GDP (though individual estimates are subject to statistical deficiencies due to the uncertainties in the collection of data). Copra (dried coconut meat) production provides a source of cash income for outer-atoll families engaged in subsistence activities.

The labor force has increased 160% from 1988 to 1999, to about 28,700, with the percent in industry doubling from 10% to 21%. Among the 21% engaged in agriculture and fishing, the main activities are copra (dried coconut meat) production, and the cultivation of breadfruit, taro, and pandanus. The nascent tourist industry employs less than 10% of the labor force, and efforts to capitalize on beautiful beaches enlivened with WWII relics are hampered by fears of radioactive fallout from the atomic testing done in these remote islands in the 1950s. At least half of the population still suffers from the effects of this fallout. In services, there have been attempts to develop offshore financial and ships registry services taking advantage of the time-space convergences in the computer age. In 1993, the Marshall Islands led all other countries in the passage of legislation decentralizing procedures for ship registry and mortgages so that they could be handled from distant offices, an important advantage for a country whose nearest neighbor, Hawaii, is over 2,100 miles away. By April 2001, the Marshall Islands had become the ninth-largest flag of convenience registry in the world in terms of tonnage. However, attempts to offer competitive offshore services have also put the Marshall Islands on virtually every blacklist developed during the 1990s to crack down on tax havens and regulatory avoidance, including the US Financial Action Task Force (FATF) for inadequate safeguards against money laundering and the OECD's blacklist for open registry countries with poor health and safety records.

The islands have few natural resources, and imports exceed exports by factors ranging from 11 to 18, a gap that is also financed by grants from the United States under the Compact Agreement. Negotiations to extend the terms of the agreement with the United States were initiated in 1999, although the long-term goal was to substitute grants under the Compact with returns from a Marshall Island Intergenerational Trust Fund (MIITF). In the meantime, the Compact arrangements were extended through 31 October 2003. Savings for an MIITF were expected to come out of decreased expenditures on debt servicing.

The economy underwent a recess in 2004, contracting by - 1.5%, down from positive growth figures in 2003 (2.0%), and 2002 (4.0%). The inflation rate was relatively stable, and at 2.4% in 2004 it did not pose a problem to the overall economy. There are no official numbers for the unemployment rate, but it is estimated to hover somewhere around 30%. US assistance remains the major source of income for this tiny country, and tourism is expected to play an increasingly important role in the future.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 the Marshall Islands's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $115.0 million. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $1,600. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 1%. The average inflation rate in 2001 was 1.8%. It was estimated that agriculture accounted for 14% of GDP; industry, 16%; and services, 70%.


The labor force numbered 28,698 in 2002. Approximately 58% of the labor force was engaged in the service sector, with 21% in industry and 21% in agriculture. In 1999, the estimated unemployment rate was estimated at around 31%.

Although the constitution provides for the freedom of association, and the government construes this to include labor organization, as of 2002, no labor unions existed. There is no statutory provision permitting strikes by workers nor is there a right to collectively bargain or organize. Generally wages are set in accordance with the minimum wage regulation and determined in part by market influence.

There is no prohibition against child labor but the law requires compulsory education until the age of 14. In practice this requirement is not effectively enforced, and many children work, especially in the fishing industry. A minimum wage of $2 per hour was in place by the government in 2002. There are no laws concerning maximum work hours or health and safety in the workplace.


The traditional interplanting of root crops and other vegetables with coconuts, which maintained self-sufficiency in food and provided the Marshallese with dietetic variety before modern times, is still widely practiced as a subsistence activity. Some 6,500 hectares (16,000 acres) of coconut palm are productive. Dried coconut meat, known as copra, is produced on almost all islands and atolls; production in 2004 amounted to about 5,000 tons. Taro, breadfruit, and pandanus are also grown.


Livestock on the islands consists of pigs and poultry. Most families raise pigs for subsistence and for family and community feasts. In 1981, pigs were imported from New Zealand to improve the strains of the local breed.


While subsistence fishing for inshore species is carried out from all atolls, there is little domestic commercial fishing in the nation's 1,942,500 sq km (750,000 sq mi) of sea. The total catch in 2003 amounted to 38,475 tons. Principal marine resources include tuna, prawns, shrimp, seaweed, sponges, black pearls, giant clams, trochus, and green mussels. Colorful baby giant clams for ornamental aquariums are grown for export to the United States.

A fisheries base with a freezer plant (200 tons capacity) and a chilling plant (50 tons capacity) was constructed in Majuro with Japanese government assistance. In 1986, the Marshall Islands Maritime Authority (MIMA) was reestablished to organize all marine resource activities, including protection, management, and development, under one agency. During the mid-1990s, about 10,500 foreign fishing vessels annually operated in the Marshall Islands' waters, about three-fourths of them Japanese.

The Marshall Islands has an exclusive economic zone of over 2,000,000 sq km (770,000 sq mi) of ocean that supports significant stocks of tuna. The government collects license revenue from other nations for access to tuna resources in the exclusive economic zone. These fees have been decreasing since 2002, due to migrating patterns of fish away from Marshall Islands waters.


Some 8,900 hectares (22,000 acres) are planted with coconut palm. Replanting has been undertaken on Arno, Lae, Maloelap, Rongelap, Ujae, Wotho, and Wotje. Pine species are under experimentation in a windbreak tree project on Ebeye. In 1984, a sawmill was purchased for processing coconut trunks and other tree species as lumber. In 2004, forest product imports totaled $1.9 million.


There was no mining of mineral resources. However, preliminary surveys have revealed the presence of phosphate and manganese nodules in the seabed within the territorial waters. Lagoon dredging of sand and coral for construction purposes was undertaken in Majuro and Ebeye.


The Marshall Islands is nearly 100% dependent on imported fossil fuels for electric power generation. In 1988, fuel imports amounted to $3.6 million, or 10% of total imports. In 1995, mineral fuels and lubricants accounted for about 25% of merchandise import expenditures. The urban centers of Majuro and Ebeye have major generating facilities. The Majuro power plant, commissioned in 1982, has an installed power capacity of 14,000 kW. A 5,200 kW power plant was commissioned in Ebeye in 1987. The low power requirements in the outer islands are met by solar-powered systems. However, as of 2003, there were still outer island residents without adequate access to electricity because they were not supplied with solar power. Electricity production was 57 million kWh in 1994.


The economy's small manufacturing sector, localized largely in Majuro, accounts for less than 4% of the gross revenues generated in the private sector. The largest industrial operation is a copra-processing mill under a government and private-sector joint enterprise. (Copra is dried coconut meat.) The rest of the manufacturing sector consists of small-scale and domestic operations, such as coir making, furniture making, handicrafts, and boat making. In 1986, a government-owned dairy factory was established in Majuro, producing liquid milk, ice cream, and yogurt from imported milk powder and butterfat. In 1987, a small tuna cannery began production in Majuro but did not survive the economic downturns of the late 1990s. Manufacturing output increased rapidly in the early 1990s climbing from $853 million in 1991 to a peak of $2.7 billion in 1995, a 215% increase. The growth was not sustained, and by 1998, manufacturing output had fallen almost 45% to $1.48 billion. Coconut oil was again the Marshall Islands' only appreciable manufactured export.

At the end of 1999 a tuna loining plant was opened in Majuro, an operation that performed all but the canning of tuna, which was done at a StarKist cannery in American Samoa. By 2000 manufacturing output had climbed to $1.72 billion. In the period from 1988 and 1999, the percent of the work force engaged in industry more than doubled, from 10% to 21%. The sector is dominated by small-scale, labor-intensive operations, however, and only accounts for 16% of GDP.

The tuna factory closed in 2005 due to lack of government assistance and interest. Although the plant employed 400 fully trained workers (mostly women), and although it pumped around $6 million in the economy, government officials did not provide any incentives to keep it open. This only accentuated the country's reliance on imports and aid from the United States.


While there are no institutions involved in scientific research or training, the College of Micronesia nursing facility and science center, located in the Majuro Hospital, provides instruction in nursing technology and science.


Domestic trade accounts for the majority of the total gross trade revenue from urban private enterprises. The modern commercial/retail sectors are located in Majuro and Ebeye and consist mainly of service establishments and imported goods, although increasing amounts of locally produced vegetables and fish were being marketed. Most imports are purchased and consumed at these two main locations. Other islanders are primarily employed in subsistence farming or in production of copra and woven handicrafts. Domestic trade in outer island areas is primarily for basic necessities.


Heavy and increasing trade deficits result from limited exports and dependency on imports for consumer and capital goods. Over 90% of the value of exports is accounted for by fish, coconut oil, and copra cake (made of dried coconut meat). The major imports are foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, fuels, beverages, and tobacco.

In 2000, exports totaled $9 million (FOBFree on Board), while imports grew to $54 million. In 2004, most of the exports went to the United States, Japan, Australia, and China. Imports primarily came from the United States, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Singapore, Fiji, China, and the Philippines.


The economy suffers from a long-standing imbalance of trade, with imports far exceeding exports. A comprehensive record of international transactions in the form of standardized balance-of-payments accounts was not maintained during the trusteeship period (prior to 1986). The chronic trade deficit is offset by official unrequited transfers, predominantly from the United States.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 2000 the purchasing power parity of the Marshall Islands' exports was $9 million while imports totaled $54 million resulting in a trade deficit of $45 million.

Exports of goods and services totaled $4 million in 2004, while imports grew to $75. The resource balance was consequently negative, and on downward pathfrom -$51 million in 2003, to -$55 million in 2004. The current account balance was however positive, at $24 million in 2003, and $14 million in 2004. This discrepancy between a negative resource balance and a positive current account balance can be attributed to the aid the Marshall Islands receive from the United States. Foreign exchange reserves (including gold) increased to $18 million in 2003, covering less than three months of imports.


Financial services are provided by three commercial banks: the Bank of Guam and the Bank of Marshalls, located in Majuro, and the Bank of Hawaii, located in Ebeye. The Marshall Islands Development Loan Office in Majuro was established as an independent government corporation in 1982. There were four credit unions, operated by over 2,000 members.

The Marshall Islands has no stock issues or securities trading.


Two foreign insurance companies, located in Majuro, provide coverage. A US insurance company provides loan protection policies to credit unions.


Government revenues are derived from domestic sources and US grants. Domestic revenues are from taxes and nontax sources (fishing rights, philatelic sales, and user charges). The leading areas of expenditure include health services, education, public works, and transportation and communication.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in 1999 the Marshall Islands' central government took in revenues of approximately $42 million and had expenditures of $40 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately $2 million. Total external debt was $86.5 million.


Income tax is applied to wages and salaries at graduated rates. Business tax is applied to gross revenues of service-related enterprises generated anywhere in the Marshall Islands, the Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau, except on Kwajalein. A sales tax is applied only in Kwajalein. There is also a fuel tax.


Import taxes are generally ad valorem; duties range from 575%. The average rate is 10%. Specific duties apply to cigarettes, soft drinks, beer, spirits, wine, gasoline, and other gases and fuels.


The government favors joint ventures with foreign private investors but efforts to attract foreign investment and develop new export products have been largely unsuccessful. The IMF has urged the reduction in the minimum wage and the reserved list for small scale investment as means to secure more foreign direct investment. Foreigners may lease but not own land. The US department of defense operates a missile testing range on behalf of the strategic defense command in Kwajalein.

A tuna canning plant that was opened in 1999 was subsequently closed in 2005, drawing with it disinvestments of almost $6 million annually.


The first five-year national development plan (198589), which was rephased to 1986/871990/91, to meet the requirements of the Compact of Free Association with the United States, constituted the first phase of a 15-year development program. The plan focused on economic development, with emphasis on private-sector expansion, personnel development and employment creation, regional development, population planning and social development, and cultural and environmental preservation. Total funding across the 15 year span of the agreement was envisioned at about to $1 billion or about $65 million dollars per year in financial aid from the United States. Aid was gradually decreased across the 15 year period, and a down-step in 1996 caused a budget deficit that the government filled with debt financing. Paying off the bond obligations kept government expenditures and investment strapped until they were paid off in 2001. By that time, the size of the government had been significantly reduced. Compared to 1994/95, 2002 expenditures were 25% less in current dollar terms. Also, US aid had dropped to an estimated $39 million. Under Title 11 of the Compact of Free Association, funding was scheduled to expire in 2001, with provision of a two year extension equal to the average level of assistance over the last 15 years. This increased US grant aid to almost $60 million for 2001, above the average of $45.33 million for 1997 to 2001.

Tourism was under development in the late 1990s with the opening of a first-calls resort hotel, the first in the Marshall Islands.

In 2001 the government paid off all commercial debt but usable fiscal resources remained short because of a need to set aside about $30 million in 2001 and 2002 for the initial capitalization of the Marshall Islands Intergenerational Trust Fund (MIITF). The MIITF is the government's long-term solution to the island's public finance needs, but is not projected to provide substantial yearly dividends until at least 2024. In the meantime, the government renegotiated the terms of Title II of the Compact. In an agreement signed 23 April 2002 to go into effect in 2004, US aid was extended for 20 years, to 2024, with a base grant of $37 million. The base grant was to be reduced by $500,000 each year with the decrement to be deposited in the MIITF, which was also to receive an initial $8 million contribution from the United States. Inflation indexation was set with a cap of 5%, down from 7% under the old agreement. It also agreed to establish a RMI-US Joint Economic Review Board (JERB) to monitor and oversee the spending of the grant money. The priority targets set for spending are education, health, and infrastructure. The agreement requires amendment to the Compact of Free Association, which requires passage by both houses of the US Congress.

Another agreement reached in April 2003 was a 50-year extension of the US lease of land on the Kwajalein atoll as a defense site, with an option to extend an additional 20 years. As the current lease was set to expire in 2016, this meant an extension to 2066. In calculating its assistance to the Marshall Islands, the United States includes not only the $13 million a year paid for the Kwajalein lease under the Military Use and Operating Rights Agreement (MUORA) but also an estimated $21 million in tax dollars that are infused through salaries, tax payments and telecom services, plus an estimated $10 million worth of federal programs, like the postal service. The RMI government expressed concerns that the assistance is insufficient to prevent economic stagnation, and social and infrastructure deterioration, and/or prevent recourse to debt financing to fill revenue shortfalls.


Private-sector provision of community and social services is mainly through the Marshalls Community Action Agency, a nonprofit organization. Among government agencies, the Ministry of Social Services is involved in five major areas: housing, women's and youth development, feeding programs, aging, and other community development welfare programs. Funding of these services is provided almost entirely by the United States. A social security system provides old age, disability, and survivor benefits, paid for by employers and employees. The program is funded by 7% contributions from both employers and employees. Retirement is set at age 55.

The Marshallese society retains a traditional matrilineal structure. Each person belongs to the bwij, or clan, of his or her mother, and has the right to use the land and other property of the bwij. The head of the bwij is called an alap. The alap is the spokesperson between the clan members and the members of the iroij, or royal clan. Inheritance of traditional rank and of property is matrilineal, and women occupy important positions within the traditional social system. However, within the economic system, many hold low-paid dead-end jobs. Spousal abuse is common, usually in conjunction with alcohol use. No overt instances of sex discrimination have been reported. The government is committed to protecting and promoting the rights of children.

The government fully respects the human rights of its citizens. No human rights organizations exist, but there are no legal restrictions against their formation.


There are two hospitals: the Armer Ishoda Hospital in Majuro, with an 81-bed capacity, and a renovated hospital in Ebeye. Both hospitals provide dental services. In 2004, there were an estimated 47 doctors, 298 nurses, and 185 midwives per 100,000 people.

Rudimentary health care on the outer atolls is provided through 69 dispensaries staffed by health assistants. Emergency cases are sent to the Majuro or Ebeye hospital and, when necessary, to hospitals in Honolulu. Dental services to the outer atolls are provided by periodic visits by dental teams from Majuro and Ebeye. Once the site for nuclear testing, the Marshall Islands government has once again considered testing on the uninhabitable islands of Bikini and Enewetak.

Infant mortality was an estimated 29.45 per 1,000 live births as of 2005. As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 44.98 and 6.1 per 1,000 people. Life expectancy was 70.01 years in 2005. Immunization rates were as follows: diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, 67%; measles, 59%; polio, 62%; and tuberculosis, 96%. The prevalence of anemia in children under five years of age was 43%. No polio, measles, or neonatal tetanus cases were reported. Alcoholism and drug abuse are common and there is a relatively high incidence of sexually transmitted diseases.


In 1999, there were about 6,478 households with an average of 7.8 people per household. About 70% of households relied on rain water as a primary water source, 38% of households had access to flush toilets (either inside their own residence or outside), and 63% had access to electricity for lighting and/or cooking.

Houses in the urban centers are usually simple wooden or cement-block structures, with corrugated iron roofs; because of the limited land availability, houses are heavily crowded. In the outer atolls houses are constructed of local materials, with thatched sloping roofs and sides of plaited palm fronds.

The Ministry of Social Services provides housing grants, principally to low-income families, through a low-cost housing program and a grant-in-aid program. Government housing is administered by the Public Service Commission.


Education is compulsory for nine years. Primary school covers six years of study, followed by six years of secondary school. A high school entrance examination is given to all eighth graders in order to determine the 300 or so students who will be admitted into the two public high schools each year. For students who are admitted to high school, a comprehensive four-year program of secondary education provides instruction in general studies, college preparatory courses, and vocational training.

Primary school enrollment in 2003 was estimated at about 76% of eligible students. The same year, secondary school enrollment was about 65% of eligible students. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 17:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was also about 17:1. In 2003, private schools accounted for about 24% of primary school enrollment and 34% of secondary enrollment.

Higher education is provided through formal programs of teacher training and the provision of grants for university training abroad. The Majuro campus of the College of Micronesia opened its School of Nursing and Science Center in 1986. In 1991, the Marshall Islands campus separated from the College of Micronesia system and became accredited by the Accrediting Commission for Community and Junior Colleges of the Western Association for Schools and Colleges (WASC). On 1 April 1993, the College of the Marshall Islands was established as an independent institution with its own Board of Regents. In 2001, about 18% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program. The adult literacy rate for 1999 was estimated at about 93.7%.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 11.2% of GDP.


The College of Marshall Islands Library has about 10,000 volumes, while the High Court Library holds 50,000. In Majuro, the Alele Museum, which also houses a library, was completed in 1973. Alele Museum showcases both the traditional and colonial history of the Marshalls. The library houses historical documents and photographs from the trust territory archives. More than 2,000 glass-plate negatives taken between 1890 and 1930 are on loan to the museum. One of Alele's latest attractions was the elaborate shell collection from Mili Atoll.


The inter-island communications network consists of shortwave outer-island radio stations, which link all major islands and atolls. In 2003, there were 4,500 mainline phones and 600 mobile phones in use nationwide. The island of Ebeye is linked to Majuro by radio and also by satellite.

As of 2001, there were two radio stations. The government radio station, which has advertising, relays world news from Voice of America and Radio Australia. AFN Kwajalein operates one television station and one radio station for the US military. In 2003, there were 1,400 Internet users in the country served by 6 Internet hosts.

There are no daily newspapers. A weekly newspaper, The Marshall Islands Journal (2002 circulation 3,700), is published in Majuro in English and Marshallese. The Marshall Island Gazette, established in 1982, is a free four-page government newsletter, printed in English.

The constitution provides for free expression and the government is said to respect these provisions in practice.


A number of consumers' cooperatives are in operation. The Chamber of Commerce is located on Majuro. Marshallese society is matrilineal and organized on the basis of the clan (bwij). The head of the clan (alap) serves as spokesman between clan members and members of the royal clan.

At the community level there are youth organizations, including Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts, women's organizations, and various religiously affiliated social organizations. Sports associations exist for such activities as tennis, weightlifting, baseball, and track and field. A national women's organization began in 1986. The Red Cross is also active.


Tourist attractions include the sandy beaches on the atolls, protected lagoons, underwater coral reefs, and abundant marine life, including large game fish. Diving and fishing tours are also popular. The outer atolls of Mili, Maloelap, Wotje, and Jaluit offer many Japanese and American relics from World War II. Tourist facilities are available in Majuro, the capital, however, tourism remains limited in the outer atolls and there are few accommodations for visitors.

There were 7,195 tourists who visited the Marshall Islands in 2003. United States citizens are not required to have a visa. A vaccination certificate may be required if traveling from an infected area. An AIDS test may be necessary if staying for over 30 days.

In 2005, the US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Kwajalein Atoll at us$112.


Amata Kabua (192896), president from 1979 until his death, was founder and leader of the Political Movement for the Marshall Islands Separation from Micronesia in 1972. He previously served as a member of the Congress of Micronesia and guided his country to self-governing status under the US-administered UN trusteeship. He was a graduate of the Mauna Olu college in Hawaii and taught secondary school before starting his political career. Kunio Lemari (b.1942) was in office for a month in 199697; Imata Kabua (b.1943) was president from 1997 to 2000. Kessai Hesa Note (b.1950) was elected president in 2000 and reelected in 2004.


The Marshall Islands have no territories or colonies.


Compacts of Free Association with the Marshall Islands, Federated States of Micronesia, and Palau. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, Congressional Sales Office, 1998.

Dibblin, Jane. Day of Two Suns: US Nuclear Testing and the Pacific Islanders. New York: New Amsterdam, 1990.

Harris, Michael. The Atomic Times: My H-Bomb Year at the Pacific Proving Ground: A Memoir. New York: Presidio Press/Ballantine Books, 2005.

Hezel, Francis X. Strangers in Their Own Land: A Century of Colonial Rule in the Caroline and Marshall Islands. Honolulu: Center for Pacific Island Studies, 1995.

Leibo, Steven A. East and Southeast Asia, 2005. 38th ed. Harpers Ferry, W.Va.: Stryker-Post Publications, 2005.

Weisgall, Jonathan M. Operation Crossroads: The Atomic Tests at Bikini Atoll. Annapolis, Md.: Naval Institute Press, 1994.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Marshall Islands." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Marshall Islands." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. . (December 15, 2017).

"Marshall Islands." Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from

Marshall Islands


Republic of the Marshall Islands



The Marshall Islands are located in the North Pacific Ocean some 4,000 kilometers (2,486 miles) northeast of Australia. They consist of 2 groups of small islands, atolls (coral islands), and reefs running from the northwest to the southeast. The more easterly of these is the Ratak Chain, the more westerly, the Ralik Chain. It is estimated that there are 1,152 islands and 30 atolls, but only 4 islands and 19 atolls are inhabited. With terrains of coral, limestone, and sand, none of the islands have any high ground, and the most elevated location of the islands is 10 meters (33 feet). The total land area is 181 square kilometers (70 square miles), and about 60 percent is taken up by crops. There are phosphate deposits and the possibility of minerals in the seabed within the 200 nautical mile economic zone claimed by the Marshall Islands. The capital is Majuro, which is located on an atoll of the same name.

The Marshall Islands are located within the tropics, and the weather is generally hot and very humid. Temperatures average around 27°C (81°F), and vary little during the year. There is a rainy season from May to November, with annual rainfall of about 4,000 millimeters (157 inches), but the sandy terrain means that little water is collected, and the shortage of drinking water is a continual problem. The islands are occasionally hit by typhoons.


The population was estimated at 68,126 in 2000, giving a population density of 375 persons per square kilometer (971 per square mile), quite a bit higher than in neighboring island states in the Pacific. The population was estimated to be growing at 3.9 percent a year in 2000, which is considered a very rapid rate. The birth rate was 45 births per 1,000 population, and the death rate was 6 persons per 1,000. The figures indicate negligible migration, but the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has indicated that there is in fact significant out-migration to the United States. The average fertility rate is 6.6 children per woman. With such a rapid rate of growth, the population can be expected to have a young age structure. The 0-14 age group contains 50 percent of the population, the 15-64 group contains 48 percent, while only 2 percent are 65 and over. Slightly more than half of the population lives on Majuro Atoll, and a further 20 percent live on Kwajalein. The urban population is about 70 percent of the total.

Almost all of the people on the Marshall Islands belong to the Micronesian ethnic group and follow the Christian religion. Most are Protestant, although there are some Catholics and small communities of Seventh-Day Adventists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Bahai. English is the official language and is spoken by everyone. Two local Malayo-Polynesian dialects are in use as local languages, and they are used in parliament and for some radio broadcasts. Overall life expectancy is 66 years, with a 64-year expectancy for males and a 67-year expectancy for females. The adult literacy rate was 93 percent in 1980, with practically all adult males and 88 percent of females being literate.


Given its small size in terms of population, its inaccessible location, and the absence of any minerals apart from phosphates (which are not currently exploited), it is surprising that the economy of the Marshall Islands generates as much income for its citizens as it does. The per capita gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $1,670 ( purchasing power parity , 1998 est.), and this rate would just squeeze the Marshall Islands into the lower-middle income group. In addition, the Marshall Islands receive very substantial receipts from the United Statespartly aid and partly rents for the use of military baseswhich add more than 50 percent to the income that is generated domestically.

Most employment is in the services sector, which, because of the receipts from the United States, is able to support health workers, teachers, and government administrators. The agriculture sector is quite small in terms of both its contribution to total output and employment. The small industry sector, primarily engaged in crop and fish processing, is about what would be expected given the general level of development of the islands.

Coconut products and fish are the main exports, and these earnings are supplemented by tourism. Almost everything, aside from some food products, is imported and, without U.S. aid there would be a drastic fall in imports.

The growth of the economy varies from year to year and is affected by the impact of climatic conditions on agriculture. In recent years, output has declined by 2 percent to 5 percent per year, although El Niño weather conditions caused severe disruption in 1996, when output fell by 13 percent.


The Marshall Islands were originally settled by people from neighboring Pacific islands. In the 16th century, Spain claimed the islands, although Germany was allowed trading rights. With decline of Spanish influence, the islands came under the control of Germany, who established a protectorate. At the outbreak of World War I (1914-18), the Japanese took over the islands and administered them under a United Nations (UN) mandate. World War II (1939-45) saw clashes between the United States and the occupying Japanese, with the United States finally establishing control of the islands in 1944. The United States administered the islands as a trustee for the United Nations and used them to begin a series of nuclear tests. The tests subjected the islanders to serious radiation and made Bikini Atoll uninhabitable. This was to have long-term implications for the Marshall Islands, leading to the United States providing considerable financial support while continuing to operate its military bases. In 1965, movements for self-determination of the islands began, culminating in full independence in 1990. The Marshall Islands has a Compact of Free Association with the United States, agreed to in 1986, by which the United States is responsible for defense of the Marshall Islands, rents military bases, and provides financial assistance. The initial agreement was valid for 15 years from 1986 and is being renegotiated.

The 1979 constitution established a parliamentary government, with a president as chief executive and head of state. The parliament is known as the Nitijela. Directly elected for 4-year terms, the parliament has 33 members, known as Senators. The president is elected by the parliament, and the president chooses his cabinet from among the members of parliament. The voting age is 18. Although elections were typically non-partisan on the Marshall Islands, opposition began to emerge in 1991, and subsequent elections have seen incumbents losing their seats. In 2000, the opposition gained 40 percent of the seats in the parliament and established a significant presence. Parliamentary candidates tend to contest elections on the basis of their personalities, rather than their party affiliations, and it is sometimes not clear which party an elected member supports. In 2001, during a no confidence vote (which decides if the ruling government has enough support to survive), 2 ostensible government members voted with the opposition and 1 opposition member voted with the government.

The legal system is based on the former Trust Territory laws, but has been modified by the legislature, municipal

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations b Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Marshall Islands 3,000 (1996) 365 (1996) AM 3; FM 4; shortwave 0 N/A 3 N/A 1 500
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
Philippines 1.9 M 1.959 M (1998) AM 366; FM 290; shortwave 3 (1999) 11.5 M 31 3.7 M 33 500,000
Solomon Islands 8,000 658 AM 3; FM 0; shortwave 0 57,000 0 3,000 1 3,000
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

bodies, customary law, and common law. There are 4 levels of judicial courts: the Supreme Court, High Court, district and community courts, and traditional courts. The traditional courts are limited mainly to jurisdiction over traditional titles and land issues.

In the fiscal year 1997-98, the budget anticipated that government revenues would be 25 percent of GDP. Income tax raised 32 percent of government revenue (excluding grants), import duties 28 percent, sales taxes 13 percent, and other income (interest, fees, licenses) 27 percent. There is a continuing program to try to improve tax performance by tightening administration, reducing tax arrears , simplifying import duties to a basic duty of 12 percent (with some exceptions), doubling the fuel tax, reducing tax exemptions, introducing a value-added tax (VAT) and taxes on commercial rentals, and the introduction of user charges.

Total spending in 1997-98 was projected at 53 percent of GDP. On the recurrent expenditure side, general administration takes up 12 percent of total government spending, education 23 percent, health 12 percent, and foreign affairs 10 percent. The gap between revenues and expenditures was more than met by receipts from the United States of 40 percent of GDP, and on this basis, a budgetary surplus of 11 percent of GDP was forecast. Budget surpluses have not always been the norm. Between 1992 and 1995, budget deficits averaged 14 percent of GDP.


Perhaps because the country's limited roadways are scattered widely across the many islands, there are no measurements of roadway length on the Marshall Islands. The main settlements on Majuro Atoll and Kwajalein have paved roads, and the roads in Majuro have recently been upgraded. Elsewhere there are coral surfaced roads and sandy tracks. There are no railways. The main port is at Majuro, and this is the only port that is able to receive large ocean-going vessels. A dry-dock facility was recently completed on Majuro Atoll for the islands' fleet of 143 ships, mostly bulk and cargo carriers, petroleum tankers, and a vehicle carrier. Sixteen of the inhabited atolls and islands have airports and 4 have paved runways.

All of the Marshall Islands' electricity is supplied by diesel generators. In 1994, the Marshall Islands generated and consumed 57 million kilowatt hours (kWh). There is some domestic use of bottled gas, and many families use kerosene stoves or wood as cooking fuel. The water supply is erratic, and there are projects to increase water storage facilities and to construct desalinization plants.

In 1994, there were an estimated 3,000 land line telephones in use and 280 mobile telephones. The 3 major settlements of Majuro Atoll and the islands of Ebeye and Kwajalein are connected by a direct dial system; the other locations are linked by shortwave radiotelephone, mainly used by the government. International links are provided by 2 Intelsat satellite earth stations. There is a U.S. government satellite link on Kwajalein Island.

The islands had 3 AM radio stations and 4 FM stations in 1998, and in 1997, there were 3 television stations, although 2 of these were provided by the U.S. military on Kwajalein Island. The local newspaper is the weekly Marshall Islands Journal.


The services sector dominates the economy, and is primarily composed of the large number of government employees, those providing services for the U.S. military installation on Kwajalein Island, and the tourism industry. In 1995, services generated 72 percent of GDP. The most recent employment figures, from 1988, indicate that the services sector employed 58 percent of the labor force . Incomes in this sector are above average. The smallest sector in terms of output is industry, which produced 13 percent of output in 1995 and engaged 23 percent of the labor force in 1988. The agriculture sector (which includes fishing) only employed 19 percent of the labor force in 1998, generating 15 percent of output in 1995.


Copra (dried coconut) is the main cash crop , though its output has been falling. There was a 16 percent fall in 1996 as a result of El Niño rains, but this was followed by an 11 percent fall in 1997. The poor transport links between the islands, atolls, and Majuro is a problem, as the crop has to come to the capital for processing and packaging before exportation. The price earned by growers has fallen (the price halved between 1994 and 1997), reducing their incentive to produce, but it was still above the world price due to a government subsidy . The long-term problem is that the coconut trees are declining in productivity as they become older and, with lower prices, the growers have little incentive to replace the tree stock. The lack of private land titles and a land market is a further problem. Without land as collateral, farmers find it difficult to raise loans to finance replanting.

Fish exports appear substantial and fast-growing, but much of the catch is in fact caught by Chinese and Japanese vessels, taken to land, and then shipped from the islands in refrigerated cargo boats. The main benefits to the islands are fishing license fees, supplying the fishing fleet, and some processing and packaging of the catch. The Marshall Islands do have some government-owned boats, but their catches were very low. They ceased operation in 1996. Trochus shells are collected from the reefs. They are exported to be made into buttons and ornaments, and they can be ground to produce an ingredient for lacquers.

Food and livestock production has grown modestly in the period from 1993 to 1997 (by about 3.5 percent annually), basically reflecting the increase in the population. However, production is not encouraged due to the low prices of imported food as compared with domestic output. A total of 60 percent of caloric intake comes from imports. Local food producers are hampered by poor transportation, which raises the cost of their products. The main food crops are bananas, breadfruit (a large fruit with edible pulp and seeds), pandanus (a fruit with edible nuts), taro (a starchy root crop similar to the potato), vegetables, and tropical fruits. Livestock is mostly poultry and pigs, with some cattle.


There is no mining on the Marshall Islands, although there are some phosphate deposits. The main manufacturing enterprise is the Tobolar Copra Processing Authority, which is government-owned but run by a private management team. It is the only purchaser of copra, which it crushes to produce coconut oil. Currently, it is unable to purchase enough copra and operates at about one-third of its capacity. A garment factory was established in 1998 in a joint venture with China. Other manufacturers are involved in the production of drinking water and beer, and the processing of breadfruit and taro.

The Marshalls Electricity Company is government-owned, and manages to cover its costs, as does the publicly-owned Majuro Water and Sewage Services. The construction sector is made up of small private enterprises that mainly construct private dwellings. An international construction company undertakes any large project, such as the new port at Majuro, and the local workforce provides only some unskilled labor.


The services sector is the largest employer, and generates almost three-quarters of GDP. Transport and communications generate 7 percent of GDP; distribution, restaurants and hotels, 18 percent; financial services 14 percent; and public administration and community services, 30 percent.

Much of the high value of this sector comes from servicing the U.S. installation on Kwajalein Island, which is used for missile tracking and weapons testing. Another source of service sector income has been the sale of Marshall Islands passports since 1996. These were initially offered at $350,000 each, and later at $100,000. The islands indicated that they were prepared to sell up to 3,000 passports, and to date the sales have realized about $10 million. The sales were suspended in 1997 but there are plans for resumption. The services sector also supplies the international fishing fleets operating in the waters that surround the islands, serves as an onshore leave destination, and generates further income from the sale of fishing licenses (about $1.5 million to $3 million, a year).

The National Telecommunications Authority is still majority-owned by the government. By virtue of being a monopoly and making relatively high charges for international calls, it manages to cover its costs. Air Marshall Islands is government-owned. It sustained large losses in 1996 and 1997, and its routes have been restructured with plans of eventual privatization .


The banking sector includes 2 U.S. commercial banks, the domestic Bank of the Marshall Islands, and the Marshall Islands Development Bank. Most lending consists of consumer loans for construction, travel, and education. The lack of private titles to land or a land market makes lending to the agriculture sector difficult.


Tourism offers some prospects for expansion. In 1997, there were 6,000 arrivals in the islands, but less than 1,000 were tourists; the rest were on business or in transit. There are presently less than 200 hotel beds, although a new government-owned hotel of 150 beds is under construction. In 1997, tourism is estimated to have earned $3 million for the Marshall Islands. Visitors are presently deterred by the lack of facilities (particularly outside Majuro), the relatively high cost of transportation to the islands, the radiation contamination of some of the atolls by nuclear testing, and the current program of weapons testing on Kwajalein. It is thought, however, that the islands have some possibilities in establishing a specialty market in tourism, based on sport fishing, diving and snorkeling, gambling (approved in 1996), and the general tropical attractions of the islands.


Merchandise exports of $28 million were made up entirely of coconut products (11 percent) and fish products (89 percent) in 1997. Frozen fish exports have increased from $1.3 million in 1993 to $21.9 million in 1997 as a result of a Chinese fishing fleet that based itself at Majuro. Exports of trochus shells for buttons, ornaments, and making lacquers are not recorded, but there is probably some small informal trade. Diesel used to be re-exported to Micronesia, but this ended in 1996. Exports go mostly to China as a result of the frozen fish expansion, with the United States, Japan, and Australia being other export destinations.

Merchandise imports were $58 million in 1997, with food and beverages making up 31 percent and fuels 23 percent. The rest consisted of consumer manufactures, machinery and transport equipment, and chemicals. The United States supplied 52 percent of imports in 1997, much of which was goods for the U.S. workers at the Kwajalein installation. The next biggest supplier was Singapore with 4 percent.


The Marshall Islands use the U.S. dollar as their currency. This has the advantages of not having the expense of running a central bank, the currency is completely convertible, and price stability is reasonably well ensured as the Marshallese do not have the ability to print currency. The rate of inflation has been in single digits in the period from 1993 to 1997, ranging from 4.8 percent to 9.6 percent. The only drawback for "dollarized" economies is that they do not earn the seigniorage (profit from the minting of coins) they would gain if they issued their own currency. The increasing number of countries that have been attracted to using the U.S. dollar in place of a domestic currency has caused the United States to consider sharing some of the seigniorage it earns as currency issuer.


The are no figures on the numbers below the dollar-a-day poverty line, but given the income level and the structure of the economy, perhaps 20 percent of Marshallese might live poverty. Most of those affected will be among the 30 percent of the population living on the atolls other than Majuro and Kwajalein, relying on small-scale agriculture and fishing for their livelihoods.

Life expectancy (at 65 years in 2000) is considered high, and the level of adult literacy, last surveyed in 1980, was 93 percent. Together with its lower-middle

Exchange rates: Marshall Islands
Jan 2001 1.0000
2000 1.0000
1999 1.0000
1998 1.0000
1997 1.0000
1996 1.0000
Note: US currency is used in the Marshall Islands.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].
GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Marshall Islands 1,680 N/A 1,450 1,670 N/A
United States 28,600 30,200 31,500 33,900 36,200
Philippines 2,600 3,200 3,500 3,600 3,800
Solomon Islands 3,000 3,000 2,600 2,650 2,000
Note: Data are estimates.
SOURCE: Handbook of the Nations, 17th,18th, 19th and 20th editions for 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 data; CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online] for 2000 data.

income status, the Marshall Islands has a medium level of human development when evaluated by the criteria used by the UN. Infant mortality is high, however, at 41 per 1,000 births in 2000 (in the United States the rate is 6 per 1,000).


The economically active labor force was estimated at 11,500 in 1988, of which 73 percent were males. Approximately 12 percent of the labor force was recorded as being unemployed. However, the unemployment rate has little meaning in an economy like that of the Marshall Islands, as it relates to those registering as looking for jobs in the urban areas as a percentage of the formal labor force. A substantial part of the labor force of the Marshall Islands is in the agriculture and fishing sectors, much of it in small-scale family enterprises outside the formal sector. With negligible social security provisions, those without work or support from families or charities cannot survive. It is likely that there is considerable disguised unemployment in the rural areas, meaning that the work could be carried by a smaller workforce than is used.

There is a Marshall Islands Social Security Administration, but it is under investigation for mismanagement, and it is not able to make much of a contribution to helping those who are out-of-work or in need.


1000 B.C. Migration to the Marshall Islands from other Pacific Ocean islands begins.

1525. Spanish navigator Alonso de Salasar is the first European to sight the islands.

1529. Alvaaro de Saavedra lands on the islands and claims them for Spain.

1788. The British sea captain, John Marshall, visits the islands.

1874. Pope Leo XIII, acting as a European mediator, confirms Spanish dominion over the islands, while also allocating trading rights to Germany.

1885. Germany establishes a protectorate over the islands.

1914. With the outbreak of World War I, Japan assumes administration of the islands.

1920. Japan receives a United Nations mandate to administer the islands.

1944. After fierce fighting between Japanese and American forces during World War II, the United States occupies the islands.

1945. Japanese settlers are repatriated .

1947. The UN assigns the islands (which are known as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Ocean) to the United States. The U.S. Navy undertakes their day-to-day administration.

1948. The United States begins a series of nuclear test explosions on the islands, which subject the islanders to high levels of radiation.

1965. The Congress of Micronesia is formed by delegates from Pacific islands to press for independence.

1970. A commission on self-government confirms that the peoples of Micronesia have a right to sovereignty, self-rule, and to terminate association with the United States.

1979. Marshall Islands District, named after the British explorer who visited the islands in 1788, drafts and approves a constitution, which is recognized by the United States. Amata Kabua, who holds the traditional position of High Chief, is elected as the first president.

1982. The United States signs a Compact of Free Association, which outlines proposals for the end of its trustee relationship with the Marshall Islands.

1983. Marshall Islanders vote to accept the Compact of Free Association. Kabua is reelected as president.

1986. The Compact of Free Association, after several mutually agreed amendments, comes into operation, and the islands become self-governing.

1987. Kabua reelected as president.

1990. The UN removes the trustee status of the islands, establishing the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

1991. The Marshall Islands joins the UN as an independent, sovereign nation. The Ralik-Ratak Democratic Party is formed to oppose the supporters of Kabua, and wins 2 seats in the parliament.

1995. Kabua is reelected as president. The Government Party (or Kabua Party, as it is often known) wins 23 seats, and the newly formed United Democratic Party (UDP) wins 10 seats.

1996. President Kabua dies and is succeeded by Imata Kabua, the paramount chief. The Kabua Party becomes Our Islands Party (OIP).

2000. Elections give the OIP 20 seats and the UDP 13 seats. Kessai Note, who had held no traditional post, is elected president.

2001. The United States Nuclear Claims Tribunal awards Marshall Islands $563 million, but the tribunal has no powers to enforce payment.


It is clearly very important that the islands extend the agreement with the United States relating to the use of Kwajalein for missile testing. About 1,500 Islanders work at the complex, making up about 13 percent of the labor force, and the jobs are particularly well-paid. The major success in recent years has been the expansion of the frozen fish export sector, and the government would be wise to make sure that the agreements with the Chinese fishing fleets are continued. Tourism has some possibilities as a specialty market, but foreign investment will be vital if significant expansion is to be achieved.

The main sector of concern is the production of coconut products. In the long-term, many of these problems can be solved by registering land-titles and extending loans to farmers to replace exhausted trees. This is particularly important from a social standpoint, as the coconut farmers are among the poorest members of the community. In the short-term, some efforts to improve transport between the islands and atolls would help both the coconut farmers and the small fishermen.


Marshall Islands has no territories or colonies.


Bank of Hawaii. Republic of Marshall Islands. <>. Accessed April 2001.

International Monetary Fund. Marshall Islands: Recent Economic Developments. Washington, DC: International Monetary Fund, 1998.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. CIA World Factbook 2000. <>. Accessed April 2001.

U.S. Department of State. Background Notes: Marshall Islands. < 0007_bgn.html>. Accessed September 2001.

Michael Hodd




United States dollar ($). One U.S. dollar equals 100 cents. There are notes of 1, 2, 5, 10, 20, 50, and 100 dollars. Coins come in denominations of 1, 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents and 1 dollar.


Fish, coconut products, and shells.


Foodstuffs, machinery and equipment, fuels, beverages, and tobacco.


US$105 million (1998 est.).


Exports: US$28 million (1997 est.). Imports: US$58 million (1997 est.).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Marshall Islands." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Marshall Islands." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. . (December 15, 2017).

"Marshall Islands." Worldmark Encyclopedia of National Economies. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from

Marshall Islands

Marshall Islands

ETHNONYMS: Bikini, Enewetak, Kwajalein, Majuro, Ralik, Ratak


Identification. The Republic of the Marshall Islands, formerly part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, gained independence as part of a Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1986. Marshall Islanders now speak mutually intelligible dialects of the same language, and each atoll group recognizes cultural affinities with at least some other atolls in its area. In precolonial times sporadic contact was maintained among all atollseven the most distantand occasionally the strongest chiefs were able to extend their reign over several atolls of the central Ratak or Rālik cultures for short periods of time. A common Marshall Islands identity, however, is a volatile notion developed in response to Western geopolitical agendas.

Location. The Marshall Islands cover an area of 1.95 Million square kilometers in the west central Pacific Ocean, with a combined land mass of just under 180 square kilometers. The group is located between 160° and 173° E and 4° and 20° N. Its twenty-nine atolls (nineteen currently inhabited) and five coral pinnacles (four with human occupants) are simultaneously linked together and separated by the sea. The vast stretches of ocean help maintain an average temperature of 27° C with very little diurnal or yearly variation. Rainfall increases as one nears the equator, with around 152 centimeters per year in the north and 460 centimeters per year in the south. The dry part of the year, December through April, is typified by brisk breezes, and the central month of the wet season, August, may have periods of total calm. For much of the year, a light trade wind, most often northeasterly, provides mellow air conditioning. Typhoons, however, are not uncommon in the winter months.

Demography. The population of the islands in 1988 was 43,335, with the vast majority of people concentrated on the capital, Majuro Atoll (19,664), and on Ebeye, Kwajalein Atoll (8,277), across from the missile testing and tracking center on the Kwajalein islet. In the 1850s and 1860s missionaries very roughly estimated individual atoll populations to be between 100 and 2,000-3,000. The port towns and Government centers supported by three waves of colonizers (Germany, Japan, and the United States) have provided the impetus and ability to alter the delicate balance between human populations and local atoll environments.

Linguistic Affiliation. Marshallese is a member of the Micronesian Family of the Oceanic Austronesian languages, and it shares the largest number of roots with the languages of Fiji, Nauru, and nearby locales like Pohnpei. Currently there are three dialects of Marshallese, though greater diversity undoubtedly existed in the nineteenth century. Translations of the Bible in the 1860s and 1870s made a missionary-inspired variant of Rālik dialect the standard for over a century. This text, read by nearly every Marshallese, was retranslated in a less awkward style in the 1970s and 1980s. Ratak dialect, spoken in the windward atolls of the Marshall Islands, is grammatically similar but lexically distinct from Rālik dialect, and Enewetak and Ujelang modes of speaking once differed so radically in both lexicon and grammar as to be considered a totally different language by local residents. The construction of a common dictionary and standard grammar has become one unifying focus since Marshallese independence.

History and Cultural Relations

Europeans first became aware of the atolls of the Marshalls' area in 1529 when Alvaro de Saavedra Ceron stopped briefly at two atolls, most likely Ujelang and another atoll in the northwest part of the region (Enewetak or Bikini), though Magellan had sailed through the Marshalls' latitudes without sighting land in the previous century. On behalf of Spain, voyagers on the San Lucas laid claim to some Rālik and Ratak atolls in 1565 and, while European visitors were infrequent for the next two centuries, explorers again sought landings in search of water and supplies in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The Marshalls, like the neighboring Gilberts, were named for British explorers traveling from New South Wales to Canton in 1788. The nineteenth-century Russian explorer Otto von Kotzebue was the first to develop a serious interest in the people of Ratak and, not long after his visit, whalers began to frequent the area. The American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), which had sent missionaries to Hawai'i in 1819, expanded their attempt to save islanders' souls to Micronesia in 1852, and by 1857 a mission station was founded on Ebon in the southern Rālik chain. Subsequent mission stations were established on even the most distant atolls like Enewetak by the mid-1920s. Likiep, which was purchased in 1877 as a copra plantation by A. DeBrum (a partner in Adolph Capelle & Co., an early trading firm), is the only atoll not heavily influenced by ABCFM descendants. For most Marshallese, the Catholic beliefs of Likiep residents were used to construct the religious "other," until a plethora of religious forms appeared on Majuro in the 1970s and 1980s. When the market for whale oil was replaced by coconut oil in the latter half of the nineteenth century, Marshall Islanders were drawn into a European- and American-dominated marketplace. Copra demanded land, laborers, and overseers, and Marshall Islands land tenure, family form, and chieftainship reshaped themselves to accommodate these demands. German copra firms sparked the expanding colonial interests, and in 1885 Germany claimed much of the west central Pacific, including the Marshalls, as its own. For thirty years mission forces and German administrators battled with one another, but as imperial Germany focused its efforts on war, Japan rapidly laid claim to Micronesia. Ironically, their own thirty-year reign would be terminated by another world war but, in the interim, the Japanese became the only committed colonizers of the Marshalls. Japan expanded copra production, opened Japanese-operated copra stations on most atolls, and convinced Marshall Islanders that, through diligence and obedient training, they could become Japanese citizens. In the late 1930s Japan's intentions shifted, and Marshallese were drafted as supporters while Japan prepared for war. Early in 1944 the Marshalls were involved in a holocaust involving battles between American and Japanese forces. Lives were lost and the physical forms of islets were transformed. They were denuded of vegetation and literally blown away by bombing and shelling.

Within two months American military forces were in firm control of the critical atolls, and the strategic value of Marshallese soil was established in their minds. While America's hands-off colonial policies slowed the developmental programs begun by the Japanese, the strategic importance of the islands eventually resulted in more radical changes in the Marshallese life-style. Monetary compensations for nuclear damages on out-of-the-way Enewetak and Bikini atolls, for concomitant radiation-related suffering on Ronglab and Uterik, and for missile-tracking experiments and facilities on Kwajalein and Enewetak have created radical disparities of wealth among atoll dwellers. These changes, along with the bureaucratic expansion accompanying the creation of the Republic of the Marshall Islands, account for the significant demographic shifts witnessed today.


With the exception of the urban settlements on Majuro and Kwajalein, most atoll dwellers live in small villages near the centers of the largest islets, on smaller atolls, or in dwellings dispersed along the lagoon side of these islets. Second dwellings may be maintained on smaller outer islets where families may go in search of fish or birds or during times of starvation. These islets are not permanently inhabited since they lack the underlying lens of brackish water that permits year-round settlement. Homes are built on pebbled grounds kept scrupulously clean and free of grass and weeds, and dedicated property owners maintain the lines of coconut palms that run from ocean side to lagoon and that delineate individual land parcels, which are kept cleared of underbrush, trash, and fallen fronds.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. In the urban centers wage labor provides one major source of income, though others live on the strategic-testing compensations mentioned above. On the outer atolls, the household is the fundamental unit of production, though larger extended Family units or sections of a village or islet commonly work Together to prepare for feasts. Collecting and fishing provide the staples and the complements. On northern atolls, fish and birds accompany arrowroot, pandanus, coconuts, and some breadfruit, whereas the southern atolls provide larger quantities of breadfruit and, in ideal circumstances, taro. In many instances, rice, flour, and sugar have replaced traditional staples and added significantly to the nutritional impoverishment of the diet. Copra production allows access to these staples and to cloth from which to fashion Western-style clothing for even the poorest of atoll dwellers. Pigs and chickens, foods often seen at feasts, provide an added source of protein to the local diet.

Industrial Arts. Sailing canoes, pandanus mats, bark-cloth and woven coconut-frond clothing, pandanus or coconut-leaf baskets, coir (coconut sennit), and post-and-beam dwellings thatched with pandanus fronds were among the most critical of traditionally manufactured items. Nowadays, tin and plywood dwellings are replacing thatch, outboard motor boats are fashioned from plywood, canoes have been reduced to handicraft size, and a plethora of other handicraft items made from coconut or pandanus fibers supply the tourist market.

Trade. Interatoll trade was mainly in spouses, magic, and quests for chiefly control, but during the copra-trading era the center and periphery pattern in use today was introduced and institutionalized. Copra moves toward the center (Jaluij at first; more recently, Majuro), and the flow of Western foods, cloth, and small trade items is disseminated out in concentric rings of increasingly insignificant supply and consequence. Central Marshall Islands chiefs increased their power and stability by becoming the brokers who controlled incoming copra and outgoing goods.

Division of Labor. The division of labor is based on Gender and age, with males controlling activities in the sea and sky (fishing, canoe building, gathering drinking coconuts or coconut fronds) and females dominating activities on the land (digging arrowroot or gathering pandanus fronds). Females also control the domestic space and are associated with activities in the village, while men work in the outlying bush and travel freely to foreign lands. Children often watch over their younger siblings, though young girls begin training in domestic life quite early while young boys are given considerable freedom to develop their careers as fishers and roaming foragers. The old busy themselves with repairs, child rearing, and activities close to home as long as they are able. Larger cooperative groupssailing groups, religious groups, or groups representing sections of an islet or atolloften cooperate for more specialized purposes.

Land tenure. Like kinship organization, land tenure varies significantly from one part of the Marshalls to another. Enewetak, Ujelang, and Bikini customs, affected differently by the copra complex and also altered by relocation, are the least like other Marshall Islands groups. Land rights are held in perpetuity by all members of a clan, living and nonliving, and are inalienable. Living people have use rights to that land as long as they maintain and improve it. In the central Marshalls' chains, chiefs have a right to the first fruits of the land, are given a share of the profits on copra produced on that land, and are allowed to dispossess those who fail to care for the land. Local overseers (alab), elders in a matriclan, manage the land in behalf of the chiefs. On Enewetak, chiefs are assisted with copra production on their own land but cannot dispossess landowners. Alab, extended family or Household heads, may advise a chief but do not manage land on his or her behalf. In the Central Marshall Islands primary land rights are vested in matrilineages, whereas on Enewetak land rights may be claimed through either one's mother or father, though care of the land is critical to maintain a claim.


Kin Groups and Descent. Each Marshall Islander is born into the clan of his or her mother and, minimally, clan Members can expect to be welcomed by fellow clanmates even on distant atolls. Each clan is divided into lineages and lineage segments in the Central Marshall Islands, whereas on Enewetak and Ujelang people are members of bilateral extended families in which each member can trace a relationship to a common ancestor, usually a woman.

Kinship Terminology. Kinship terminology varies slightly throughout the group of atolls, but overall it is of the Hawaiian type.

Marriage and Family.

Marriage. Polyandry and particularly polygyny have legendary and ethnohistoric precedent, but such practices are rare in mission times. Clan exogamy is preferred, though marriage between members of the same clan is permitted if the partners to the marriage are not closely related. Atoll endogamy is a Direct reflection of the physical and social isolation of any particular group, and atolls within close sailing distance of one another often maintained long-term marriage exchanges. The flexibility in postmarital residence provides, along with adoption, a way to balance the rapidly shifting relationships Between clan affiliation and landholding commonly encountered in atoll environments. Residence decisions also reflect the respective position of each partner vis-à-vis larger Domestic units. Divorce is allowed, though uncommon. Many early experimental marriages do not last, the children of those unions commonly being adopted by the mother's family of orientation or remaining with the mother and being adopted by her subsequent spouse.

Domestic Unit. The basic domestic unit is the household, those living under the same roof beam (barowooj ), most Commonly a small three-or four-generation extended family.

Inheritance. Inheritance is multilineal, with inheritance of land, political power, names, magical force, and other items each reflecting a person's rights in different groups.

Socialization. Infants remain close to one of their mothers ("real" or classificatory), though toddlers and young children are largely cared for by siblings slightly older than themselves. Females are trained from an early age in domestic skills, while male children roam into the bush lands and emulate the fishing, sailing, and tree-climbing skills of their male superiors. Formal schooling was introduced by the missionaries and still follows the American style. Outer-island schools go through eighth grade, with the most skilled students pursuing high school in one of the population centers.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The social order is characterized by flexible arrangements for group membership and for claiming rights to land. In the Rālik and Ratak chains, several atolls may be governed by a single chief, but throughout the Marshall Islands each atoll member maintains a critical identity as "a person of Mili, of Ujae," or of some other atoll. Atolls are further divided into islets or districts, each associated with possible affiliations of residence or land-tenure claims established by tracing through a matriclan or conical clan. Sailing groups, fishing groups, and religious groups also exist, and claims to an identity in those groups, as with islet, district, or atoll residence, must be reinforced by active participation and cooperation. The solidarity developed through such commitments of time and energy provide one measure of cohesiveness and of conceptual value. Intra-atoll marriages and intraatoll exchanges maintained for many generations promote an overlapping of identities and shared interests that results in increased solidarity. Several clans are typically represented on each atoll, and while some clans are found throughout the Marshall Islands, others are restricted in their membership to one or two atolls. Other than chiefly lineages, the power of a clan and of its constituent lineages or bilateral extended Families depends on the number of living representatives and upon their access to land.

Political Organization.

Leadership identities are claimed through sacred lines of paramount chiefs who ultimately trace descent directly from ancient deities. These identities pass matrilineally except on Enewetak and Ujelang atolls where such identities are transmitted patrilineally. Ratak and Rālik chiefly lines have intermarried with some frequency, whereas the chiefs of Enewetak, Ujelang, and Bikini were so isolated prior to German times that few Intermarriages occurred with Ratak and Rālik chiefs. Chiefs who represent an atoll or district are more localized, as are clan elders who head extended families, speak in their behalf, and, in many areas, serve as intermediaries between chiefs and commoners in matters concerning land. Traditionally, Religious and magical specialists balanced the chiefs' earthly powers with knowledge of curing, sailing, and fishing, predicting the weather, and mediating between humans and deities. Warriors and specialists in the arts of love, song, and dance also held respected positions in the ancient social order. The Republic of the Marshall Islands government, designed on the parliamentary pattern, balances elected Officials in one house with the house of chiefs, in which Membership may be gained only by virtue of hereditary claims through a recognized chiefly line.

Social Control. While a formal legal apparatus exists to deal with criminal activities in the Marshall Islands, fear of God's wrath, of ancestor spirits, and of the negative judgments of others in one's community or group provide the major sources of social control.

Conflict. Conflict is always a threat to the solidarity of the group and, unless one is inebriated (and not really one's self), occurs only with "others"with members of other clans, other island or national identities, or other competitive song fest groups.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Nearly all Marshall Islanders now anchor part of their identity in one of several forms of Christian belief, but indigenous interpretations of these beliefs differ substantially from common European and American significances. The traditional polytheistic pantheon included Numerous deities, local and regional, female and male, with specialized domains of control. Many major deities are represented by constellations that figure significantly in the cycle of renewal and regeneration that secures the future of earthly life. Other deities were local in character and were associated with local shrinescoral heads, pools of brackish water in the open sea, pandanus, or coconut trees. Ancestor spirits, now as in the past, continue to interact with living Humans and mediate between the daily actions of living humans and the sets of taboos and moral guidelines set by highranked deities.

Religious Practitioners. Traditional religious specialists have been replaced with indigenous Christian mission pastors, but seers, curers, purveyors of evil magic, and weather magicians are still common.

Ceremonies. Ku rijmoj, the local celebration of "Christmas", with many weeks of singing and dancing competitions, feasting, and accompanying exchanges and games, is the largest ritual event. Each extended family or lineage segment also sponsors large first-birthday celebrations after the birth of a child.

Arts. Traditionally, Marshall Islanders fashioned the body into an ornate object of artistic and social expression with tattoos. Outlawed by mission and government restrictions, forms of artistic expression are now largely musical, though dance (once frowned on by missionaries) is making a resurgence, and Marshallese handicraft items, mats, and finely crafted sailing canoes are respected throughout the Pacific.

Medicine. Indigenous herbal medicines ingested or rubbed on the body, massage, and incanted cures are freely mixed with the suggestions of local health aides.

Death and Afterlife. Death, the appropriation of the breath and life's force from living humans, results from the actions of other beings, either living or dead. People carry many of their personality characteristics with them after death. They continue to interact with the living, though their physical features become desiccated, and their vaporous beings are not easily controlled by the living. Recently dead community members remain nearby, often sanctioning those who misbehave. Certain people are protected by recently dead namesakes or close relatives, but other cantankerous ancestral spirits may frighten people, not to sanction them, but to maintain their ambivalent reputations amongst the living. The most dangerous spirits are believed to come to an atoll from outside, often bringing misfortune, illness, or death.

See also Bikini, Kapingamarangi


Carucci, Laurence M. (1980). "The Renewal of Life: A Ritual Encounter in the Marshall Islands." Ph.D. dissertation, department of Anthropology, University of Chicago.

Hezel, Francis X., S.J. (1983). The First Taint of Civilization. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press.

Kiste, Robert, and Michael Rynkiewich (1976). "Incest and Exogamy: A Comparative Study of Two Marshall Island Populations." The Journal of the Polynesian Society 85:209-226.

Mason, Leonard (1954). "Relocation of the Bikini Marshallese: A Study in Group Migrations." Ph.D. dissertation, department of Anthropology, Yale University.

Spoehr, Alexander (1949). Majuro, a Village in the Marshall Islands. Chicago: Field Museum of Natural History.

Tobin, Jack A. (1958). "Land Tenure in the Marshall Islands." In Land Tenure Patterns: Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Vol. 1. Guam: Office of the High Commissioner.


Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Marshall Islands." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Marshall Islands." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . (December 15, 2017).

"Marshall Islands." Encyclopedia of World Cultures. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from

Marshall Islands

Marshall Islands

Official name: Republic of the Marshall Islands

Area: 181 square kilometers (70 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Unnamed location on Likiep (10 meters/33 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 12 a.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: Not available

Land boundaries: None

Coastline: 370 kilometers (230 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 22 kilometers (12 nautical miles)


The Marshall Islands are located in the central h2cific Ocean, between Hawaii and Papua New Guinea, and near Kiribati. Their combined land area is only slightly larger than Washington, D.C. The Marshall Islands include thirty-three municipalities.


The Marshall Islands have no territories or dependencies.


Since the Marshall Islands are located near the equator, the climate is hot and humid and there is little change between seasonal temperatures. Daily temperatures generally vary between 21°C and 34°C (70°F and 93°F). The high temperatures are cooled from December through March by trade winds that blow in from the northeast.

Monthly rainfall averages between 30 and 38 centimeters (12 and 15 inches). The wettest months are October and November and the driest are December through April. Because rainfall increases from north to south, the northern atolls receive an average of 178 centimeters (70 inches) annually, while the southern atolls average 432 centimeters (170 inches).


Lying in the west-central part of the Pacific Ocean, the Marshall Islands are comprised of 1,152 islands (five of which are major islands) and 29 atolls, which form two almost parallel, chain-like formations known as the Sunrise (Ratak), or Eastern, group and the Sunset (Ralik), or Western, group. Most of the islands have an atoll formation; namely, narrow strips of low-lying land enclosing a lagoon.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

Located in the central Pacific Ocean, the Marshall Islands have 870 reef systems with about 160 coral species. The ocean floor around the Marshall Islands is also the final resting place of numerous Japanese and American battleships, sunk during World War II (1939-45).

Sea Inlets and Straits

Calalien Pass, the main channel in Majuro, is deep and wide; its configuration allows large container ships to pass between the ocean and the lagoon.

Islands and Archipelagos

Atolls, narrow strips of low land that enclose a lagoon, make up the majority of Marshall Islands. The Sunrise (Ratak) Group includes Mili, Majuro, Maloelap, Wotje, Likiep, Rongelap, Ailinginae, Bikini, Enewetok, and Ujelang Atolls. The Sunset (Ralik) Group includes Namorik, Ebon, Jaluit, Ailinglaplap, and Kwajalein Atolls. Besides atolls, the Marshall Islands also contain coral limestone and sand islands and islets.

Coastal Features

The Marshall Islands feature many white sand beaches.


The Marshall Islands are too small to support any bodies of water larger than small lagoons and ponds.


There are no notable rivers on any of the Marshall Islands.


There are no desert areas on the Marshall Islands.


Most of the flat areas have sandy soils that are not very fertile. Coconut palms, bread-fruit, pandanu, and citrus trees are the dominant tree species; in fact, about 8,900 hectares (22,000 acres) of land is planted with coconut palms.

The Marshall Islands are not particularly hilly.


There are no mountains or volcanoes in the Marshall Islands; the average elevation of the country is 2 meters (7 feet) above sea level.


There are no notable canyons or caves in the Marshall Islands.


There are no significant plateau regions on the Marshall Islands.


There are no notable man-made features on the Marshall Islands.



Dibblin, Jane. Day of Two Suns: U.S. Nuclear Testing and the Pacific Islanders. New York: New Amsterdam, 1990.

Tobin, Jack. Stories from the Marshall Islands. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2002.

Web Sites

The Marshall Islands. (accessed April 24, 2003).

Republic of the Marshall Islands. (accessed April 24, 2003).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Marshall Islands." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Marshall Islands." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. . (December 15, 2017).

"Marshall Islands." Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of Physical Geography. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from

Marshall Islands

Marshall Islands, officially Republic of the Marshall Islands, independent nation (2005 est. pop. 59,000), 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 lections 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.


See E. H. Bryan, Life in the Marshall Islands (1972).

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Marshall Islands." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Marshall Islands." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . (December 15, 2017).

"Marshall Islands." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from

Marshall Islands

Marshall Islands

Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of the Marshall Islands
Region: Oceania
Population: 68,126
Language(s): English, Marshallese, Japanese
Literacy Rate: 93%

The Marshall Islands is a "double chain" of 34 coral islands and more than 800 reefs located about halfway between Hawaii and Papua, New Guinea, with a land area of 70 square miles and a population of about 68,126 people (2000 estimate). The island of Kwajalein is used by the United States as a missile tracking station; the islands of Bikini and Enewetak are uninhabited because of nuclear contamination from atomic and hydrogen bomb testing between 1946 and 1958. Germany unsuccessfully tried to colonize the islands in 1885; they were claimed by Japan in 1914. After several battles against the Japanese in World War II, the United States seized the Marshall Islands and, in 1947, the United Nations made them a U.S. trust territory. In 1986 the islands became a self-governing republic under the Compact of Free Association with the United States, which specified that the Marshall Islands would receive military and economic aid and that the United States would have full responsibility for defense.

Marshallese, a branch of the Malayo-Polynesian family, is the official language, but English is widely spoken. A complex class structure exists in Marshallese society. Each inhabited atoll has a local government. Education is modeled after the U.S. system; most funding for education comes from the U.S. Department of the Interior and the U.S. Office of Education.

The public schools in the Marshall Islands come under the administration of the Minister of Education and Secretary of Education. Seventy-five public elementary schools, one middle school, and two secondary schools enrolled more than 10,000 students. Twenty-six elementary and 10 secondary private schools, mostly affiliated with Protestant churches, served approximately 5,000 students. Education is compulsory from ages 6 to 14 (or completion of the eighth grade), with instruction in both Marshallese and English. Secondary education is not universal, and public high schools are selective. A number of the public schools need repair and have no electricity. The College of the Marshall Islands, a two-year institution, is also located in Majuro and serves 431 students.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Fact-book 2000. Directorate of Intelligence, January 2001. Available from

Douglas, Norman, and Ngaire Douglas. Pacific Island Yearbook, 16th ed. North Ryde, NSW, Australia: Angus & Robertson, 1989.

RMI Online. "Education in the Marshall Islands," December 2000. Available from http://www.

Richard E. Mezo

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Marshall Islands." World Education Encyclopedia. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Marshall Islands." World Education Encyclopedia. . (December 15, 2017).

"Marshall Islands." World Education Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from

Marshall Islands

Marshall Islands

Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of the Marshall Islands
Region (Map name): Oceania
Population: 68,126
Language(s): English, Marshallese, Japanese
Literacy rate: 93%

The Marshall Islands is perhaps best known for its impact on American swimwearthe bikini takes its name from one of the country's more than a thousand islands. Located in the North Pacific Ocean between Hawaii and Papua New Guinea, the country became a battleground in the Pacific Theater during World War II. The United States took over the country's administration after the war, but the islands remained under siege as the United States conducted nuclear tests on several islands between 1947 and 1962. The U.S. government has since paid out more than $100 million in damages, but many areas remain contaminated. Bikini Island, for example, is uninhabitable as a result of this testing.

The Marshall Islands received its independence in 1986 under a Compact of Free Association, but still retains close ties to America. The estimated population is 68,000. The official language is Marshallese, but English also is spoken. The literacy rate is approximately 93 percent. The government and the state are headed by a president, who also presides over a 33-seat, unicameral parliament. U.S. governmental assistance is the mainstay of the Marshallese economy, but agriculture also is important, especially coconuts, tomatoes, melons and breadfruit. The tourism industry is a small but growing economic sector.

Press and speech freedoms generally are respected, but journalists sometimes avoid sensitive political issues. There is no daily newspaper. The Marshall Islands Journal is a privately owned weekly newspaper that provides national and international coverage of news, politics, and events in English and Marshallese. The Marshall Islands Gazette appears monthly. It is owned by the government and avoids political coverage.

There are seven radio stations, three AM and four FM. There are three television stations, two of which are associated with the U.S. military, and one Internet service provider.


Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). "Marshall Islands." World Fact Book, 2001. Available from

"Country Profile: Marshall Islands." BBC News, 2002. Available from

Jenny B. Davis

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Marshall Islands." World Press Encyclopedia. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Marshall Islands." World Press Encyclopedia. . (December 15, 2017).

"Marshall Islands." World Press Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from

Marshall Islands


MARSHALL ISLANDS, a group of coral atolls and reefs located 2,000 nautical miles southwest of Hawaii. Seized by Japan in 1914, the Marshall Islands were granted as a mandate to Japan after World War I by the League of Nations. After taking the neighboring Gilbert Islands in November 1943 to provide bases for bombing the Marshalls, Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, Central Pacific Area commander, focused on Kwajalein atoll, which was located in the center of the Marshalls and served as headquarters for Japanese defense of the islands. Heavy naval and air bombardment began on 29 January 1944. Two days later, landing craft carried the Fourth Marine Division under Major General Harry Schmidt toward the causeway-connected islands of Roi and Namur in the north of the atoll and the Seventh Infantry Division under Major General Charles H. Corlett toward Kwajalein in the south. The marines cleared Roi in one day and Namur in two. U.S. Army troops encountered more resistance on Kwajalein but cleared it on 4 February. A battalion of the army's 106th Infantry occupied nearby Majuro Island unopposed. The marines took the islands of Engebi and Parry in one day each, 18 and 22 February, respectively. Resistance again was stouter for army infantry on Eniwetok, requiring four days, until 21 February, to reduce.

Total American losses in the Marshalls were 671 killed, 2,157 wounded; the Japanese dead totaled 10,000. The airfields and fleet anchorages that subsequently were established facilitated advance to the Caroline and Mariana Islands and neutralization of a strong Japanese base on Truk Island. In 1947 the Marshall Islands became part of the U.S. Trust Territory of the Pacific.


Crowl, Philip A. Campaign in the Marianas. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1960.

Crowl, Philip A., and Edmund G. Love. Seizure of the Gilberts and Marshalls. Washington, D.C.: Office of the Chief of Military History, Department of the Army, 1955.

Charles B.MacDonald/a. r.

See alsoGilbert Islands ; Task Force 58 ; Trust Territory of the Pacific .

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Marshall Islands." Dictionary of American History. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Marshall Islands." Dictionary of American History. . (December 15, 2017).

"Marshall Islands." Dictionary of American History. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from

Marshall Islands

Marshall Islands Republic in the w Pacific Ocean, e of the Caroline Islands, consisting of a group of atolls and coral reefs; the capital is Dalap-Uliga-Darrit (on Majuro Atoll). Spain first explored the islands in the early 16th century. Annexed to Germany in 1885, Japan occupied the group in 1914. US forces seized the islands in World War II. In 1947, the islands became part of the US-administered Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Trusteeship ended in 1990, and in 1991 the islands became a full member state of the UN. They consist of two great chains, the Ralik (w) and the Ratak (e), which run almost parallel nw to se, covering an ocean area of 11,650sq km (4500sq mi). Products: copra, coconuts, tropical fruits, fish. Area: c.180sq km (70sq mi). Pop. (2000) 70,000.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Marshall Islands." World Encyclopedia. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Marshall Islands." World Encyclopedia. . (December 15, 2017).

"Marshall Islands." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from

Marshall Islands

Marshall Islands

Culture Name

Marshallese; Marshall Islander

Alternative Names

Rālik-Ratak, Marshalls; formally known as the Republic of the Marshall Islands


Identification. The Marshall Islands derive their identity from British Captain William Marshall, who explored the area with Captain Thomas Gilbert in 1788. The atolls were not a cohesive entity until Europeans named and mapped them, and Rālik-Ratak, the Marshallese designation for the leeward and windward chains of atolls, was considered an appellation at the time of independence.

Location and Geography. The Marshall Islands occupy a vast expanse of ocean in the west-central Pacific, from 2,000 to 3,000 miles (3,220 to 4,830 kilometers) south and west of Hawaii. With a mere 66 square miles (171 square kilometers) of land, the twenty-nine low-lying atolls and five coral pinnacles that make up the Marshalls are like fine necklaces of reef and sand spits strewn across the 780,000 square miles (1.26 million square kilometers) of ocean that unifies and separates the atolls. The major atolls are located between 160° and 173° E and 4° and 20° N. The surrounding ocean helps maintain an average temperature of 81° F (27° C) with very little diurnal or yearly variation. Rainfall increases as one nears the equator, with around 60 inches (152 centimeters) per year in the north and 180 inches (460 centimeters) per year in the south. The dry part of the year, November through April, is typified by brisk breezes, and the central month of the wet season, August, often has periods with very little wind. For much of the year northeasterly trade winds provide natural air conditioning. Typhoons are not uncommon in the winter months.

Demography. Since World War II the capital of the Marshall Islands has been located on Majuro, in the southern part of the Ratak chain. With a very high rate of population increase, the Marshall Islands has changed rapidly from 43,380 people in 1988 to a projected population of well over 60,000 in 1999. Residents are very mobile, and nearly 80 percent are now urban. Approximately one-half of the population resides on Majuro Atoll where government employment created a post-independence population explosion. The other urban enclave is Ebeye (Epjā islet), Kwajalein Atoll, one of the world's most densely-populated locations, where many residents work on the United States military base on nearby Kwajalein islet. Other Marshall Islanders choose to reside on one of two dozen inhabited outer atolls or coral pinnacles where a more traditional style of life can be maintained.

Linguistic Affiliation. All residents speak Marshallese, an Austronesian language that shares numerous affinities with other Pacific languages, particularly those of eastern Micronesia. Marshallese dialects began to disappear after missionaries from the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) arrived on Ebon, in the southern Ralik Chain, in 1857 and developed a transcription system. At least three mutually intelligible dialects remain: Ratak, Rālik, and an Enewetak/Ujelang variant. Former eras of Spanish, German, Japanese, and American administration and intermarriage between Marshall Islanders and other Pacific Islanders mean that Marshall Islanders often learn multiple languages. Many residents understand and/or speak a pidgin English, which has become a lingua franca in the west-central Pacific.

Symbolism. The independent Marshall Islands is perhaps too new to have developed core symbols, metaphors, or traditions, but the image of the rising and setting sun, emblematic of the Ratak "facing toward the windward" (sunrise) and Rālik "facing toward the leeward" (sunset) symbolism forms a central element of the flag. Stick charts which were once used to instruct novice sailors, outrigger canoes, and finely woven pandanus and coconut fiber art produced by Marshallese women, have assumed extraordinary value as images of national integration. Atoll specific celebrations that recognize the end of World War II and the elaborate celebrations of Kūrijmōj (Christmas) are popular communal events.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Beginning with the establishment of the Congress of Micronesia in 1965, local elites representing the various island groups that made up the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands established the Micronesian Political Status Commission in 1967 to explore political options for the future of the region. The range of options that were discussed with representatives of the United States included total independence, a status of free association with the United States, continuing status as a Trust Territory, and integration with the United States. Even though the original negotiations had posited a common future for the Trust Territory, the United States, based on its own differential interests in the region, soon began to negotiate separately with the Northern Mariana Islands. The United States Department of Defense also wished to maintain special rights of access and use in the Marshall Islands and Belau and, on the basis of these strategic advantages, these two districts were also granted separate opportunities to negotiate their political futures. The remaining districts of the Trust Territory, lacking in special resources or strategic value to the United States, were not granted separate negotiational status. The United States favored commonwealth status for the region in 1970, and in 1975 the Northern Mariana Islands voted to become a commonwealth of the United States. Prior to the formal establishment of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, however, the United States reconsidered its initial rejection of free association as a viable option, and the Marshall Islands, Belau, and the remaining districts of the Trust Territory, now known as the Federated States of Micronesia, began to negotiate constitutional governments that would be linked to the United States by compacts of free association. Most elements of self-government were assumed by the Republic of the Marshall Islands in 1970, with formal statehood in free association with the United States decreed by the United States president in 1986. The Republic of the Marshall Islands was welcomed as a member state of the United Nations in 1991.

National Identity. National identity remains formative due to recent independent status. People often rely on their atolls of birth and residence to ground their identities, but a cohesive identity is forming. Residence in the United States and elsewhere has fostered people's sense of being, first and foremost, Marshall Islanders. Urbanization also contributes to a homogenous identity, but policies that create an unequal distribution of wealth and a glut of new missions act as counter-cohesive forces.

Ethic Relations. While ethnic diversity on most atolls is limited, Majuro is becoming multi-ethnic in character with representatives from many Pacific and Pacific Rim locales. While no distinct ethnic groups exist in the Marshall Islands, people from atolls with substantial colonial contactnotably Ebon, Jaluij, Kwajalein, Majuro and, to some extent, Wotje and Maloelaphave been historically advantaged by these contacts.

Urbanization, Architecture, and the Use of Space

The Marshall Islands have rapidly urbanized since the 1960s, first with employment opportunities on Kwajalein and more recently with rapid population expansion on Majuro. Since independence, radical disparities in wealth have become apparent. Majuro boasts million dollar homes next to dilapidated and overcrowded plywood and rusted tin dwellings. Those who can afford cement homes and automobiles have moved from urban districts (Delap, Uliga, Djarrit) to suburbs that extend from Rairek to Majuro. Public buildings, like the capitol, are elaborate, expensive structures, while equally important buildings such as hospitals are in disrepair.

Sitting on small white paving stones around dwellings kept humans from potentially polluting soil, but imported furniture is becoming commonplace among the wealthy.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Throughout the Marshall Islands food is not only valued for sustenance, it is used to create and maintain cohesiveness. Meals always balance a drink with a food and use fish or meat to complement the staples. Local staples include breadfruit, arrowroot, pandanus, and taro, and are now supplemented with imported rice, flour, and sugar. Indigenous complements are seafoods, birds, and eggs, supplemented with pig, chicken, and an increasing variety of tinned meats. Coffee and cola have replaced coconut milk as the primary drink. While outer islanders still rely on many indigenous foods from fishing and gathering, overpopulation on Majuro and Ebeye makes residents almost entirely reliant on imports. The limited array of affordable imported foods has resulted in epidemic levels of diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and other diet-related diseases.

Basic Economy. The Marshall Islands have successfully marketed their strategic location for military purposes, northern Marshall Islanders' incomes have been supplemented through compensation for post World War II nuclear tests, and attempts have been made to revitalize copra production and energize the fishing industry.

Land Tenure and Property. Land in the Marshall Islands is held in perpetuity by members of clans and extended families, and certain lands and fishing waters are held by the entire community. Practices vary from atoll to atoll, but anthropologists have depicted land as passing through matrilines, though the offspring of male members of the matriline also have residence rights as workers of the land. Other anthropologists have noted bilateral features of land tenure that allow for flexibility in land transfer. On outlying Enewetak and Ujelang, land is a mark of identity claimed bilaterally. Copra production in the nineteenth century greatly increased the power of Marshallese iroij chiefs and alab land heads, since Europeans relied on them to oversee the growing, collection, and processing of coconut. Japanese land registration in the 1930s increased the amount of communal land to which the Japanese-controlled government had access. During the American and post-independence eras, pressures have multiplied to create alienable land that can be bought and sold. Long-term land leases have become popular in Majuro, and a lease that allows the United States Army to use large segments of Kwajalein Atoll provides income for chiefs and land-holders of Kwajalein.

Commercial Activities. Whalers from Europe and the United States were originally attracted to Marshall Islands' waters in the 1830s to 1850s but by the 1860s copra (the production of dried coconut) dominated Europeans' interest in the islands. Copra production under German rule (18851915) substantially altered Marshallese social relations. Under Japanese control (between World War I and World War II) copra production continued, supplemented by a fishing industry (dominated by Okinawans), and by exports of phosphorus, coconut husk mats, and handicrafts. Following World War II, the United States had a strategic interest in the Marshall Islands with few attempts at development. As copra prices declined on the world market, Marshall Islanders relied more on the meager income from handicrafts to supplement the subsistence economy. By the 1960s and 1970s, financial assistance programs were instituted to make up for United States neglect of the region and became the major source of income. Since independence, United States aid has been supplemented by programs from other Pacific Rim countries.

Major Industries. A small garment manufacturing industry has been started, and many government officials hold out hopes for future tourism.

Trade. Other than the islands' strategic location, which has been marketed to the United States as part of the Compact of Free Association agreement, the main exports include fish and fishing rights in Marshallese waters and products derived from dried coconut. In addition, the re-export of dyes figures prominently in the list of 1990s exports. Foods, fuel, automobiles, machinery and transportation equipment, manufactured goods, materials, and beverages and tobacco make up the bulk of imported goods.

Division of Labor. Division of labor is largely based on gender and age, with special positions held by chiefs, land heads, extended family heads, and by local pastors. In urban areas, an elite made up of chiefs, the descendants of half-caste families, and, increasingly, educated young adults, hold most government positions and public or private sector jobs.

Social Stratification

Classes and Castes. In the past highly ranked persons were at the center or windward end of discussion circles and elevated above compatriots or were seated on the ocean side of persons of lesser rank.

Since independence, an emergent class structure has become apparent in urban sectors with radical differences in wealth between the rich and poor. In part, the class structure reflects the distribution of jobs but, at its highest levels, reflects a monopoly of political power among a group of chiefs and a small set of English-speaking half-caste residents and other elite families. The distinction between chief and commoner is long standing. Until the mid-1800s chiefdoms were small, seldom including more than one or two atolls. With colonial support, the power and influence of the chief increased.

Symbols of Social Stratification. In the past intricate tatoos distinguished men and women of higher class from commoners. Renowned warriors and those respected as navigators and medical specialists also displayed their identities through distinctive tatoos. Restricted speech genres were also used to interact with those of highest rank. Speaking styles are divided into honorific and ordinary styles today. Marshall Islanders commonly wear American-style dress modified it to local norms but elite styles of costly dress and personal adornment are increasing as signs of emergent class distinctions.

Political Life

Government. The Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI) formed a constitutional government in 1979 and gained formal independence in 1986. Prior to that time, the Marshall Islands was a district within the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) administered by the United States.

The RMI is governed by a bicameral parliament with a president as the head of state; an upper house of government, the Council of Iroij (Chiefs) and a lower house, or Nitijelā (legislative body). Thirty-three senators elected from twenty-four atoll districts make up the Nitijelā. Twelve paramount chiefs on the Council of Iroij are advisors to the Cabinet and review land tenure issues and other matters of traditional concern. To date, the two RMI presidents, parallel cousins, were selected by the Nitijelā from the group of high chiefs eligible to sit on the Council of Iroij. Both were born to grandsons of Kabua the Great, renowned paramount chief during German times.

Leadership and Political Officials. Local law enforcement rests in the hands of atoll policemen. The judicial branch of the RMI consists of a supreme court, high court, traditional rights court, and district and community Courts. Questions often arise about the independence of the judiciary, since judges are appointed by the Nitijelā for only two years. On outer islands and atolls, however, most matters are settled internally, with little reliance on the state judicial apparatus.

Social Problems and Controls. While driving offenses, theft, and even murder are recent urban concerns, most outer island problems have to do with land matters and with drunken behavior, particularly among youth. Since rank within a community and extended family are largely determined by relative age, young males often resort to drunken outbursts to display sublimated disenfranchisements.

Military Activity. There is no standing military force, but many youth have joined the United States military to find careers and increase their ability to attend college.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

Since the 1960s, numerous social welfare programs have been available, supported by the United States, various religious groups and, since independence, other Pacific Rim nations. United States social welfare programs for education, health and nutrition, and the needs of youth, women, and the aged are particularly visible. Many residents rely on these programs, especially in urban areas.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Economic incentive programs are supported by Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Taiwan, as well as the United States. International nongovernmental organizations are highly visible, particularly Greenpeace and others concerned with nuclear-related issues.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. Males typically perform activities associated with the sea and sky (fishing, canoe building, gathering drinking coconuts, capturing birds) while females dominate activities on the land (digging arrowroot or gathering pandanus fronds). Females also control the domestic sphere and are associated with activities in the village, while men work in the bush lands away from the village and travel freely to foreign countries.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Females control a great deal of power in the matrilineal social structure so while men are the public performers, women's behind-the-scenes decisions often predominate.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. Marriage is permitted between members of different clans who are related as immediate or extended cross-cousins, but due to internal and trans-national mobility, marriage with non-related foreigners is also frequent. Youths select spouses from the large group of cross-cousin and unrelated potential marriage partners, but many marriages do not last. Once a couple has a stable relationship divorce is infrequent, though not prohibited. Stable couples have typically resided for a period of time on lands of one of the couple's parents, have established ancestral status with the birth of one or two children, and have become recognized members of the community. Polygamy, at one time permitted, was prohibited by missionaries and now is not condoned. Urbanization has created stress in many marriages, and domestic violence is not uncommon. Nevertheless, on the outer atolls, marriage provides an entry into the community exchange system balancing the husband's provisioning tasks with a wife's responsibility to transform raw foods into edibles, combining a woman's ability to transfer core clan identity to offspring with the man's ability to shape the child's physical features, and providing pathways that embed the couple and their offspring in extended families and community of which they are an integral, contributing part.

Domestic Unit. Elevated sleeping platforms have always separated highly ranked family members from others. Members of one to four or five households that are part of the same extended family comprise typical cookhouse groups. The extended family may be from one matri-clan but often cookhouse groups are comprised of residents related through male or male and female ties. One or more respected elder, female or male, heads the cookhouse group, though robust young males and females often do the provisioning and food preparation. Girls and boys from about age five perform household duties, and elders too old to cook or fish weave mats and handicraft or repair tools, dwellings, and watercraft. The irrelevance of this once-integrated extended family task orientation, from more nucleated residence patterns, and from a reliance on cash provisioning rather than sharing, has placed strains on urban families.

Inheritance. The core of one's identity, derived from one's mother, provides the central item of inheritance, though bio-cultural links with one's father determine external features of self. With warfare prohibition and the focus on copra, land holding transmittals were largely restricted to matri-clan pathways, but males in good standing retain worker's rights on the land for one or more generations. On Ujelang and Enewetak atolls, land may be transferred along male or female pathways though, as throughout the Marshall Islands, actively working the land to transform it from bush into living space is a critical way to establish rights to use clan or extended family lands. In ancient times, a person's possessions were burned at his or her death and, until the recent appearance of class distinctions, meager amounts of personal property remained to be distributed. While immediate family members might keep small mementos, all other property is distributed to distant community members.

Kin Groups. Beyond the bounds of cookhouse groups, Marshall Islanders are members of large extended kin groups and remain linked to those relatives through shared companionship, shared land, shared clanship (transmitted through females), or shared blood (transmitted through males). These identity groups often extend beyond the bounds of an atoll. One's position as a member of a village segment, a village, a district, and an atoll are important elements of identity, and one's position in a religious organization, a Christmastime song-fest group, a handicraft and mat manufacturing circle, or a sailing group may be of equal importance. In the outer island setting, most of these groups interact regularly, creating overlapping networks of close-knit relatives. While identity groups are fairly effective in urban settings, high mobility and the market economy do not provide time or support for shared daily activities that are the substance of such identity groups.


Infant Care. Infants are indulged, with few restrictions on their activities. They are nursed until two or three years of age, or until the birth of a younger sibling. Infants are fully integrated into daily domestic activities, and are carried on the hip by working mothers or slightly older siblings.

Child Rearing and Education. By the age of four or five, children become nursemaids. They assist with babies, run errands, and attend to small chores around the residence. Young boys are given freedom to explore beyond the village, and they frequently accompany older siblings, fathers, or mother's brothers on fishing and gathering expeditions. While children are given considerable freedom, they are also admonished with strict shouts of nana! (bad!) when important social boundaries have been crossed.

The program of socialization in local values and cultural abilities is supplemented with formal schooling. Outer atoll schools include grades one through eight with curricula focused on reading, English, and arithmetic. The most skilled students pass an examination to enter high school in Majuro. Others who can afford schooling beyond grade eight continue in one of several private Majuro high schools. Most are affiliated with religious groups, and attendance often leads to conversion of part or all of a student's family.

Higher Education. Recently, many Marshall Islanders have chosen to pursue higher education, usually in the United States where they are eligible for education loans.


The Marshall Islands is a ranked society in which elders rank above those who are younger and chiefs rank above commoners. Codes of respect and deference are important and Americans are often considered haughty, brash, and irreverent. One should not walk in front of, upwind of, or elevate one's head above the level of one's seniors and, if the relative ranking of persons is unknown, one should always defer to others. Similarly, high ranked persons speak on behalf of others. Persons of lower rank begin public speeches with disclaimers such as "My words have no significance compared to those of other high-ranked persons here . . . . "


Religious Beliefs. In 1857, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missionaries (ABCFM), the ideological offspring of missionaries who traveled to Hawaii in 1819, began to convert residents to Christianity. Catholic conversion soon followed, and these two missionary enterprises have been supplemented by a plethora of new religious groups in the past twenty-five years. Nevertheless, on outer atolls most residents shared a single mission-inspired religion until the late 1980s, when religious competition for souls extended beyond Majuro and Ebeye. In some cases, this competition has proved very disruptive to outer island communities.

Religious Practitioners. Ancient Marshall Islands belief included a pantheon of chief-deities who lived in primordial times and are now represented as constellations. Local religious and medical practitioners provided access to life-giving powers, though specialists who controlled evil magic were not unknown.

Rituals and Holy Places. Magic continues to be an important factor in the organization of daily life and in many ways characteristics of former deities have been infused in the current Christian deities. Elaborate churches, often the highest and most centrally-located buildings in a village, have replaced the sacred shrines of old, often sacred stones or particular coconut or pandanus trees. Nevertheless, attitudes toward sacred places remain largely unaltered.

Death and the Afterlife. Death does not mark a radical disjunction from life, but simply a passage into another form of existence. Having become an ancestor at the birth of one's first child and having invested one's substance into the soil through years of working certain lands, many visible evidences of a person's being remain at death. Death represents the passage to becoming a non-corporeal ancestor, a being who continues to interact with community members, but one for whom the last vestiges of one's body are "planted" to become a part of the soil which has already been reshaped by the energies of one's lifetime.

Medicine and Health Care

In addition to local medical practitioners who oversee births and treat illnesses, a system of American-style medicine is available through two underfunded urban hospitals and local health clinics on each atoll. The hospitals are reliant on doctors from abroad, but recently Marshallese doctors have begun to assist local medical officers (similar to United States physician's assistants), nurses, and health aides in staffing the hospitals and clinics.

Secular Celebrations

Throughout the years of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, United Nations day was an important holiday, but that has now been replaced by Marshall Islands independence day. Local atoll rituals that commemorate the end of suffering during World War II and Kūrijmōj (Christmas), a ritual event of up to four months in duration, celebrated by all (not only church members), are the other major celebrations.

The Arts and Humanities

Graphic Arts. The Alele Museum and local handicraft shops display artistic endeavors in the Marshall Islands.

Performance Arts. There is a strong oral tradition. Marshall Islanders are great orators and at first birthday celebrations and other public events, elaborate speeches are always given. There is a budding song recording industry, and musical and dance performances are an important part of Kūrijmōj. A resurgence of interest in local hula-style dances and in sailing canoe manufacture provide diversity in the arts available.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Considerable physical and social science research has been conducted but local islanders work largely as assistants on these projects, not as project designers. Beginning with Kotzebue (1817), exploring expeditions maintained an interest in the area, and numerous environmental research projects took place during the post-World War II nuclear testing era. Substantial social scientific study was conducted during post-World War II CIMA (Coordinated Investigation of Micronesian Anthropology) and SIM (Scientific Investigation of Micronesia) projects, and many anthropologists and applied social researchers have worked in the Marshall Islands since that time. The College of the Marshall Islands, formerly part of the College of Micronesia, offers a two-year college program.


Carucci, Laurence M. "The Source of the Force in Marshallese Cosmology," in L. Lindstrom and G. White, eds., The Pacific Theatre: Island Representations of World War II, 1989.

. "Nudging Her Harshly and Killing Him Softly: Displays of Disenfranchisement on Ujelang Atoll," in Judith Brown, Jacquelyn Campbell, and Dorothy Counts, eds., Sanctions and Sanctuary, 1992.

. Nuclear Nativity: Rituals of Renewal and Empowerment in the Marshall Islands, 1997.

Hezel, Francis X., S. J. The First Taint of Civilization: A History of the Caroline and Marshall Islands in Pre-Colonial Days, 15211885, 1983.

. Strangers in Their Own Land: A Century of Colonial Rule in the Caroline and Marshall Islands, 1995.

Kiste, Robert C. "New Political Statuses in American Micronesia," in Victoria Lockwood, Thomas Harding and Ben Wallace, eds, Contemporary Pacific Societies: Studies in Development and Change, 1993.

and Michael Rynkiewich "Incest and Exogamy: A Comparative Study of Two Marshall Island Populations," The Journal of the Polynesian Society 85: 209226, 1976.

Mason, Leonard. "Relocation of the Bikini Marshallese: A Study in Group Migrations." Ph.D. dissertation. Department of Anthropology, Yale University. 1954.

. "Marshallese Nation Emerges from the Political Fragmentation of American Micronesia," Pacific Studies 13 (1): 1989.

Spoehr, Alexander. Majuro, a Village in the Marshall Islands, 1949.

Tobin, Jack A. "Land Tenure in the Marshall Islands," in Land Tenure Patterns: Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, 1958.

Laurence Marshall Carucci

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Marshall Islands." Countries and Their Cultures. . 15 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Marshall Islands." Countries and Their Cultures. . (December 15, 2017).

"Marshall Islands." Countries and Their Cultures. . Retrieved December 15, 2017 from