|Country Information & Lifestyle|
The Land of Tomorrow
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is one of the most unique places in the world to visit and is made up of twenty nine coral atolls and five single islands spread over an exclusive economic zone of nearly 1 million square miles one of the largest in the Pacific. The deep blue ocean of coral atolls and islands is one of the most unique places in the world to visit.
The capital atoll is Majuro where the government, most of the country's businesses and around 50% of the population live, leaving the greater part of the outer islands sparsely populated. This is the most developed and urban atoll and is one of only four atoll nations in the world and is also one of the youngest nations, independent since just 1986.
The islands are natural Pacific paradises - few tourists, beautiful beaches, turquoise lagoons, palms swaying in tropical breezes, friendly islanders and spectacular sunsets. The islands are an unnamed frontier for sports fishermen and divers. With the wrecks of Bikini Atoll and Kwajalein Atoll and the deep walls and coral reefs of places like Arno and Rongelap, divers have a chance to experience virgin diving and incredible underwater sights.
The language is Marshallese and English and the weather tropical with an average of about 81F with little variation during the year and the waters of the lagoon area comfortable 80F year round. The region is known for mild winters and tropical summers and the trade winds cool the atolls much of the year typhoons are not common.
The Marshall Islands, east of the Carolines, are divided into two chains: the western, or Ralik, group, including the atolls Jaluit, Kwajalein, Wotho, Bikini, and Eniwetok; and the eastern, or Ratak, group, including the atolls Mili, Majuro, Maloelap, Wotje, and Likiep. The islands are of the coral-reef type and rise only a few feet above sea level. The Marshall Islands comprise an area slightly larger than Washington, DC.
The air is tangy with sea salt on the thousand or so slender, flat coral islands that make up the Republic of the Marshall Islands (RMI). Living on these narrow strips of land between ocean and lagoon, the Marshallese are expert fishers and navigators, having long been reliant on the sea.
Local faces reflect the islands' history. In the late 1700s, after 2000 years of isolation, these Micronesian islands were variously visited, settled, colonised or occupied by British, Russians, Germans, Japanese and Americans (at first by missionaries, later by defence forces). The Spanish were the fist Europeans to sail into and explore the Pacific with Magellan landing on Guam in 1521 and at least seven Spanish ships sailed through the Marshall Islands during the 16th century. They visited a number of atolls briefly and only minimal trade and exchange took place after these initial visits the Marshalls were not to be visited again until the late 1700s.
The British came in 1788 and Captain John Marshall and Thomas Gilbert, the captains of the ships Scarborough and Charlotte took it upon themselves to name the two neighbouring island groups after themselves. They traded with the islanders and mapped some of the atolls and further British ships followed and then the Russians, Mutineers and missionaries.
Germans declared the Marshall Islands a German Protectorate in 1885, the Japanese in 1914 took over military possession from Germany and began establishing bases on Jaluit and Majuro and in 1922 Japan was formally awarded the Marshall's as a Class C mandate by the League of Nations. Japan withdrew in 1933 from the League of Nations and in anticipation of World War II began military fortifying the atolls of Kwajalein, Wotje, Maloelap, Jaluit and later Mili and Enewetake.
After heavy fighting in the Marshalls as well as other parts of the Pacific the islands were taken over by the US and the Navy immediately governed the Marshalls and in 1947 the islands were given to the US as a UN Strategic Trust. Between 1946 to 1954 the US conducted 67 nuclear tests in above and around Bikini and Enewetak Atolls. Eventually 1986 the country was transformed into a self-governing democracy in free association with the US the Republic of the Marshall Islands.
The two main atolls have quite different characters. While it's Westernized, the capital, Majuro, retains much of the languid feel of the tropics and offers the visitor a glimpse of what the country is like. While visiting you really must take the time to do a bit of exploring, take a drive to Laura Village on the far western end of the island, go for a picnic to one of the small islands across the lagoon or scuba dive to see the rich underwater world.
Oval-shaped Majuro Atoll is the nation's political, economic and transport centre, its 53 islets arcing in a slender 108 km ribbon. When Robert Louis Stevenson visited Majuro in 1889 he called it the 'pearl of the Pacific', and while some of the lustre may have worn thin, there's enough charm remaining to recall his description.
Over 1300 Marshallese labourers work on Kwajalein Island and live on 31-hectare Ebeye Island, 5km to the north, where population density is higher than in Hong Kong. This is not a big tourist spot but the people are very friendly especially the children, its different. The workers support an additional 12,000 or so relatives and friends in mostly very simple accommodation; many are one-room shacks and lean-tos of plywood, tin and plastic sheeting, jammed together in tenement conditions with little water. Residents haul drums of drinking water in from Kwaj on the ferry; piped water is only available at certain times, so fill up containers when it comes. The electricity supply is getting better but blackouts are still common.
In contrast, Kwajalein is leased to the US military for missile testing and is virtually closed to non-military visitors, its local workers shuttled to the wall-to-wall tenements of Ebeye. Kwajalein is located in the Central Pacific Ocean, about 2,500 miles west of Hawaii and 1,500 miles east of Guam and is the world's largest coral atoll, its 97 islands surrounding an immense 2175 sq km body of water. The island is home to USAKA (United States Army Kwajalein Atoll), Kwajale in Missile Range, and over 2,500 military and civilian support personnel. There are no cars, everyone uses bicycles to get around, and for recreation, there's swimming pools, reef snorkelling, low - cost boat and dive rental, golf, bowling, large playing fields, tennis, handball courts, a complete wood and ceramic shop, and library.
The RMI's charm lies in its outer islands which, except for the traumatic nuclear history of some, still retains the pristine feel of the tropical Pacific. If you have only a few days to spend here, don't run your schedule too tightly alongside that of Air Marshall Islands (AMI) - it generally serves outer atolls just once weekly, and delays of up to many days are common. You can still get a feel for the classic Robinson Crusoe lifestyle by visiting one of the small islands in Majuro Atoll, though divers often bypass Majuro and head straight to Bikini for WWII wreck-diving or Rongelap for nature-diving.
Some of the Outer Islands still use the traditional korkor canoe although boom-booms and motorboats are steadily gaining in popularity and both are used for frequent jambos trips of picnics to uninhabited islands of the atoll. In the quiet, traditional villages away from Majuro and Kwajalein the people are friendly and a few usually speak English.
Centrally located in the Pacific Majuro serves as the melting pot of international cuisine. Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, Western or local food, your taste buds will be craving and there are a good selection of restaurants that will satisfy your palate. In a country surrounded by the ocean depths you can understand why seafood is a popular choice for everyone. Fresh tuna prepared island style or served as Sashimi is one way to experience some of the delights of the sea. Some local favourites include sliced, cooked breadfruit with coconut milk sauce, pumpkin with coconut milk sauce and crushed banana mixed with grated coconut. On the quieter backstreets the Marshallese continue to live in family compounds, surrounded by flowers.
Marshallese woven craft have come to be known as the best in the Pacific. Fans, baskets, mats, ornaments, and the kili bag (made famous by Jackie Onassis)all come from the Marshalls and continue to win tremendous praise for their unique and highly intricate designs. Many creative forms of this time-honoured craft can be seen in the more modern handicrafts.
Marshallese society was and for the most part still is, stratified into three general classes: Iroij Chiefs, the Iroij have ultimate control of such things as land tenure, resource use and distribution and dispute settlements. Alap - Clan Heads, duties include maintenance of lands and supervision of daily activities, and Rijerbal Workers. They are responsible for the daily work involved in subsistence, construction, agriculture etc. In addition land is divided into twelve categories ranging from Imon bwij, land belonging to the whole lineage, to Kitdre, land given by a husband to his wife as a gift. Inheritance is matrilineal passed through the mother.
Bikini Atoll is populated by the Bikini Development Department construction workers and some U.S. Department of Energy staff. There is a large population of Bikini-ans living elsewhere in the Marshall Islands and overseas who hope to have the ability to return to their homeland someday soon. In 1996 the people of Bikini opened their atoll to the outside world and in 1998 the atoll opened for sport fishermen and has been declared one of the best saltwater fishing in the world as a dive, sport fishing and tourism destination and has since drawn praise from around the world. It has been called The Garden of Eden but the operation was suspended in June 2008 but may re-open in 2009.
The Marshall Islands are a Land of Tomorrow, one that has been almost forgotten but so beautiful that you will find it very hard to leave this "Garden of Eden".