Majuro, Marshall Islands

The Marshall Islands are made up of 29 coral atolls and 5 single islands spread out over an exclusive economic zone of nearly 1 million square miles, one of the largest in the Pacific.  They are north of the equator and some 2000 km west of Hawaii.  They are also one of only four atoll nations in the world.  Most of the islands are very narrow and less than 10 feet above sea level (photo). The first Europeans to sail through the Marshall Islands were the Spanish in the 16th century followed by the British captains John Marshall, for whom they are named, and Thomas Gilbert in 1788. There were visits by Russians and then missionaries over the years until in 1859, Germans set up a trading post and the Marshalls became a German protectorate in 1885. Japan took over military possession after WW I and were awarded a mandate over the Marshalls by the League of Nations in 1922.  During WW II after heavy fighting, the islands were taken over by the US which acquired them as a strategic trust in 1947. From 1946 to 1954, the US conducted 67 nuclear tests in, around and above Bikini and Enewetak atolls, the reconciliation of which remains an important issue between the Marshalls and the US. In 1986, the Marshalls became a self-governing democracy in free association with the US which continues to provide, defence, currency and the Post Office among other services to the islands.  We had a short visit here but were able to visit the main commercial centre, including the museum.  It contained a history of the islands including some very old photographs and descriptions of the main crafts such as fine weaving which are still done today (photo).  They also had some interesting navigational sticks by which they were able to find their way around the oceans before modern navigational aids (photo).  The islets that make up the atoll are very narrow and there is a single 55 km long road that runs through the largest of them. There are some very nice new buildings including the Court House (photo) and the Government Centre (photo), but most of the homes are small and basic (photo). Tourists are drawn here for the scuba diving and sports fishing. The main industry is copra processing but there were also many commercial fishing boats in the harbour (photo). Our next port is Chuuk.


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