Capital: Delap on Majuro
Bikini! To some of the younger crowd, that word brings only visions of skin in the sun but my generation still remembers the towering mushrooms that loomed over us all through the Cold War. Bikini atoll is 750 km northwest of the capital Majuro and Enewetok is another 300 km further west.
Carbon dating of archaeological digs and etymological analysis indicate that the Marshalls were first settled around the beginning of our era by Micronesian navigators related to the ancient Lapita people. Indigenous societies were matrilineal, land ownership was communal and there was no priestly class.
The Marshalls were first sighted by Spanish navigators in 1529 but they generated little interest and were mapped only at the beginning of the 19th century by Russian explorers. Shortly after they were visited by whalers, traders and Protestant US missionaries.
Germany established a coaling station on Jaluit Atoll and declared a protectorate over the Marshalls in 1886. Japan seized the islands in 1914 and administered them under a League of Nations mandate until the end of WW II when they became part of the US Trust Territory.
Sixty seven powerful nuclear bombs were tested on Bikini and Ewenetok Atolls from 1946 to 1958. In 1979, the Marshalls became an independent republic closely tied to the US by a "Compact of Free Association" yielding the military base of Kwajalein and responsibility for defense in exchange for financial assistance. Access to Kwajalein Atoll is now limited to US military personnel.
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The capital of the Marshall Islands is spread over the Delap, Uliga and Darrit islets (DUD), at the eastern end of Majuro Atoll. This photo shows Delap island where the Capitol Building is located.
The quiet residential Laura island, at the western end of the atoll, is tied to the capital by an extremely narrow strip of coral almost 50 km long.
The airport is halfway in between the capital DUD and Laura.
Here is a lagoon side view of the Outrigger Resort Hotel were singles start at 150 $US.
I stayed at the more modest "Backpacker" for 25 $ US. The people were friendly and I slept there just as well. It was conveniently close to the shopping center and Capitol Building in the center of Delap.
Not a bad building to house the government of a country of only 60 000 people! The Marshall Islands have been admitted as a full-fledged member of the United Nations in 1990. Its 5 high islands and 29 low atolls have a land area of only 180 km². Most Marshallese enjoy a fairly good standard of living on Majuro and Kwajalein atolls. The remainder live of subsistence farming on the outer islands.
The almost vertical angle of these satellite communication antennas is indicative of how close Majuro Atoll is to the equator (6.5°N). Kwajalein, only a little further north at about 8.7°N, is still close enough to be ideal for satellite tracking and control.
The girls at the visitors information center were not busy because there were no tourists so they took time to tell me all about life on Majuro and plied me with questions about all the places I have visited.
The museum was just up the street from the tourist office but here we were now in Uliga It was small but interesting. I was particularly fascinated by the explanations of how the ancient navigators could find their way with the stick charts they used to record the predominant wave action of the sea and other clues that have now been lost.
Next to the Museum is this modern Court House.
Further up the street, I was surprised to see the Bikini Atoll Town Hall!
Bikini is quite isolated 750 km to the north west and there are only a few people still living there so it is logical that the interests of the displaced Bikini islanders be administered from here in the capital
This is the bank of the Marshall islands at the north end of Uliga A little further up is Darrit island. There wasn't much to see there so I took the minivan to Laura in front of the RRE Hotel where I'm standing.
Here is a view of the turquoise colored lagoon from the narrow strip of coral reef that leads to Laura.
Laura island is a wooded residential area with some nice houses.
Land ownership in Micronesia is in principle communal but the disposition and use of land is decided by the clan leadership. This fine property belonged to a lady who was the head of her clan.
The young man with the sunglasses was the son of the clan chief mentioned above which I met briefly. He and his friends tried to describe to me the complex rules of matrilineal power and property transmission but the more they explained, the more confused I became. I did however gather that all aspects of the ownership and control of land were extremely important in the Micronesian culture and that the complexity of the traditional rules about land was often the cause of bitter conflicts.
I could easily imagine this lovely park at the tip of Laura Island full of happy picnickers on a festive occasion but today, it was silent and empty so I sat down to take stock of my impressions about Waikiki and Majuro.
Waikiki was easy. It is definitely completely American and as far as I could see, the Hawaiian flavour has been washed out of there even more thoroughly than the French colouring out of Louisiana. All that is left is a bit of folklore for the tourists.
Here is the beach next to the park.
What about the Pacific Islands? It was too early for me to tell at this point in my trip but I was beginning to wonder what the result of total dependence on outside economic assistance would be for these people.
To put it bluntly, everyone here seemed prosperous and happy but the Marshalls don't produce enough for the islander's own subsistence. What will happen when the US are through with Kwajalein?
Kwajalein's 97 islands enclose a huge 2800 km² lagoon. It is the largest atoll in the world. I could have made a stopover here but I would have had to stay in an overpriced hotel on the nearby Ebeye island where the Marshallese workers are billeted.
Needless to say, I passed. They didn't even let those of us that were going through off the plane so these two shots are all I can show you of this super secret US space base in the nominally independent Republic of the Marshall Islands.