History of the Marshall Islands
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Evidence suggests that around 3,000 years ago successive waves of human migrants from Southeast Asia spread across the Western Pacific populating its many small islands. The Marshall Islands were settled by Micronesians in the 2nd millennium BC. Little is known of the islands' early history. Early settlers traveled between the islands by canoe using traditional stick charts.
The Spanish explorer Alonso de Salazar landed there in 1529. They were named by Krusenstern, after English explorer John Marshall, who visited them together with Thomas Gilbert in 1788, en route from Botany Bay to Canton (two ships of the First Fleet). The Marshall Islands were claimed by Spain in 1874.
Following papal mediation and German compensation of $4.5 million, Spain recognized Germany's claim in 1885, which established a protectorate and set up trading stations on the islands of Jaluit and Ebon to carry out the flourishing copra (dried coconut meat) trade. Marshallese Iroij (high chiefs) continued to rule under indirect colonial German administration.
At the beginning of World War I, Japan assumed control of the Marshall Islands. The Japanese headquarters was established at the German center of administration, Jaluit. On January 31, 1944 American forces landed on Kwajalein atoll and U.S. Marines and Army troops later took control of the islands from the Japanese on February 3, following intense fighting on Kwajalein and Enewetak atolls. In 1947, the United States, as the occupying power, entered into an agreement with the UN Security Council to administer much of Micronesia, including the Marshall Islands, as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
From 1946 to 1958, it served as the Pacific Proving Grounds for the United States, and was the site of 67 nuclear tests on various atolls. The world's first hydrogen bomb, codenamed "Mike", was tested at the Enewetak atoll in the Marshall Islands on November 1 (local date) in 1952, by the United States.
On May 1, 1979, in recognition of the evolving political status of the Marshall Islands, the United States recognized the constitution of the Marshall Islands and the establishment of the Government of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The constitution incorporates both American and British constitutional concepts.
There have been a number of local and national elections since the Republic of the Marshall Islands was founded. The United Democratic Party, running on a reform platform, won the 1999 parliamentary election, taking control of the presidency and cabinet.
The islands signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1986. Trusteeship was ended under United Nations Security Council Resolution 683 of December 22, 1990. Until 1999 the islanders received US$180M for continued American use of Kwajalein atoll, US$250M in compensation for nuclear testing, and US$600M in other payments under the compact.
Despite the constitution, the government was largely controlled by Iroij. It was not until 1999, following political corruption allegations, that the aristocratic government was overthrown, with Imata Kabua replaced by the 'commoner' Kessai Note.
- History of Oceania
- Politics of the Marshall Islands
- Elections in the Marshall Islands
- Government of the Marshall Islands
- The History of Mankind by Professor Friedrich Ratzel, Book II, Section A, The Races of Oceania page 165, picture of a stick chart from the Marshall Islands. MacMillan and Co., published 1896.