Prior to the arrival of the Europeans in the
16th century, the Marshallese lived in small chiefdom,
often in feud with one another. During the following
centuries, the islands remained under Spanish, German
and Japanese domination until the United States
conquered the territory in 1944.
The first inhabitants of the Marshall Islands were
probably Micronesian peoples who began to settle on the
islands about 4,000 years ago, but the data vary. They
named the atolls for "Aelon Kein Ad" (Our Islands). The
indigenous people were skilled navigators and made long
journeys at sea in their rigged canoes. The islands were
ruled by local chiefs with absolute power over the small
Comprehensive guide to and popular abbreviations of Marshall Islands, covering history, economy, and social conditions.
Portuguese world sailor Ferdinand Magellan crossed
the islands in 1521, but they were a bit off the beaten
track and did not receive much attention during the
following centuries. However, Spain formally claimed the
islands from 1592. The Marshall Islands got its name in
connection with the passing of the British seaman
William Marshall in the late 18th century. American
electorate used the islands as bases during the 19th
century and in the middle of the same century German
trading companies began activities in the area. In 1886
the Vatican gave Spain sovereignty over the islands, but
through a purchase agreement they became a German
protectorate in 1899.
At the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, Japan
occupied the Marshall Islands and built several large
military bases there. Six years later, the Japanese were
formally mandated by the United Nations' forerunner of
the League of Nations to administer the area.