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History of the Marshall Islands

From Academic Kids

Little is clearly understood about the prehistory of the Marshall Islands. Researchers agree on little more than that successive waves of migratory peoples from Southeast Asia spread across the Western Pacific about 3,000 years ago, and that some of them landed on and remained on these islands. The Spanish explorer de Saavedra landed there in 1529. They were named for English explorer John Marshall, who visited them in 1799. The Marshall Islands were claimed by Spain in 1874.

Germany established a protectorate in 1885 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. Their headquarters remained 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 there were 67 nuclear weapon tests on various atolls. A significant radar installation was constructed on Kwajalein atoll.

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, and in general, democracy has functioned well. 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 association with the US in 1986 and up to 1999 the islanders received US $180M for continued American use of Kwajalein atoll, US $250M in compensation for nuclear testing, and $600m in other payments under the compact.

Despite the constitution the government was largely controlled by traditional chiefs. It was not until 1999 following corruption allegations that the aristocratic government was overthrown, with Imata Kabua replaced by the 'commoner' Kessai Note.

See also: Marshall Islands

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