MARSHALL ISLANDS I
Extrusions of the Same Planet
By Jheri St. James
“In a sense, each of us is an island. In another sense, however, we are all one. For though islands appear separate, and may even be situated at great distances from one another, they are only extrusions of the same planet, Earth.” – J. Donald Walters
The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a Micronesian nation of atolls and islands in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, just west of the International Date Line and north of the Equator. The country consists of 29 atolls and five isolated islands. The most important atolls and islands form two groups: the Ratak Chain and the Ralik Chain (meaning “sunrise” and “sunset” chains). A majority of the islands’ land mass is at sea level. This nation of roughly 62,000 persons is located north of Nauru and Kiribati, east of the Federated States of Micronesia and south of the U.S. territory of Wake Island, to which it lays claim.
Although settled by Micronesians in the 2nd millennium BC, little is known of the nation’s early history. People traveled by canoe between islands, using traditional stick charts. The Spaniard Alonso de Salazar was the first European to see the islands in 1526, but they remained virtually unvisited by Europeans until the arrival of British Captain John Charles Marshall in 1788. Although named after him in the British maps, they were later claimed as part of the Spanish Oceania and recognized as such in 1874, then sold by Spain to Germany in 1884.
In 1914, Japan captured and occupied the islands and moved more than 1,000 Japanese to them, resulting in efforts to change the social organization in the islands from matrilineality to the Japanese patriarchal system, with no success. Japanese successes did include administration of the islands, indigenous people being educated in Japanese schools, language, and culture, however. In World War II, the Marshall Islands were an important defensive ring for Japan, but the U.S. invaded and occupied the islands in 1944, destroying Japanese garrisons. The archipelago was added to the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. From 1946 to 1958, the US tested 66 nuclear weapons in the Marshall Islands, including the largest nuclear test the US ever conducted, Castle Bravo. Nuclear claims between the US and the Marshall Islands are ongoing and health effects from these tests linger. In 1979, the government of the Marshall Islands was officially established and the country became self-governing, although U.S. government assistance is the mainstay of the economy.
“How I wish that somewhere there existed an island for those who are wise and of good will”
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The first collection from the Marshall Islands was done by the 8th grade students at the Private Co-Op elementary school in Majuro, Marshall Islands, where Kathy Stratt is principal, with the facilitations of Darlene Korok. Soil was taken from an airstrip built by the U.S. Navy in World War II. It is now the site of that school. Majuro is the capital city in the Marshall Islands. In 1944, Americans captured Kwajalein Atoll, Majuro and Enewetak in just one month, and in the next two months the rest of the Marshall Islands except Wotje, Mili, Maloelap and Jaluit.
Thanks to the children, Kathy Stratt and Darlene Korok for the soil from this historically important and beautiful site. In the spirit of the first paragraph quotation by J. Donald Walters, even though each of us is an island, underneath it all we are all one, even the airstrip becoming a school, and that is the founding and continuing principle of the Common Ground 191 project.