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”
Albert Einstein

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This second soil collection from the Marshall Islands carries with it a lot of excitement, adventure on the high seas, and celebrity. Zac Sunderland at the time was a 16-year-old sailor from Thousand Oaks, California who set out on June 14, 2008, on his 36-foot yacht “Intrepid” in an attempt to become the world’s youngest person to sail solo around the world, which he succeeded in doing on July 16, 2009, one year later. The record was previously held by Australia’s David Dicks, who achieved his goal in 1996, age 18 years and 41 days.

Majuro, capital of Marshall Islands was Zac’s next stop after Hawaii. While there, he made many new friends including 18-year-old Carla Bigler, who helped him accomplish this collection. They chose a site close to many Marshallese hearts: the grounds of the Robert Reimers Enterprises Hotel in downtown Uliga. With a backdrop of clamshells and a thatched meeting house, Zac used an oversized spade to dig up the soil. There is more story about this hotel in the file:

“Working with wood was a passion of Robert Reimers who, during the course of his life, built many canoes for himself and others so that they could sail the glassy waters of the Marshall Islands. Robert was born on Jaluit Atoll in 1909. In about 1930 he married Lupe Adele Capelle of Likiep and began a business on that atoll. There he learned the art of boat building from his brother-in-law, Albert Capelle.

“Just before World War II he worked on Wotje for a time, building thee outrigger canoes before returning to Likiep. In 1947, the U.S. Navy on Kwajalein heard of Robert’s boat-building prowess and hired him to work at their boat pool, which he later managed. During this time, Robert managed to get a loan, which he used to build two-masted schooners that he sold to a number of island communities for the shipping of copra.

“The following decades saw Robert move to Majuro and create what was to become one of the capital’s most successful businesses. With the expansion of the store, hotel and other facilities, Robert had little spare time, but he always treasured those stolen hours when he would launch one of his traditional canoes and sail away with the wind.” Karen Earnshaw, Journalist. (A photo of one of the bungalows at the hotel.)

We so appreciate being part of Zac’s adventures and his inclusion of a soil collection R our project for our project. Just a small example of how cooperation between people results in good for all. Now, if we could just get that kind of thinking going globally! For more pictures and personal journaling and blogs about Zac’s journey, visit All the time Zac spent on water, he was always floating above earth at the same time.

Soil Collection by Zac Sunderland on August 8, 2008



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