Little is clearly understood about the prehistory of the Marshall Islands.
Researchers agree on little more than that successive waves of migratory
peoples from Southeast Asia spread across the Western Pacific about 3,000
years ago and that some of them landed on and remained on these islands.
The Spanish explorer de Saavedra landed there in 1529. They were named
for English explorer John Marshall, who visited them in 1799. The Marshall
Islands were claimed by Spain in 1874.
Germany established a protectorate in 1885 and set up trading stations
on the islands of Jaluit and Ebon to carry out the flourishing copra (dried
coconut meat) trade. Marshallese Iroij (high chiefs) continued to rule
under indirect colonial German administration.
At the beginning of World War I, Japan assumed control of the Marshall
Islands. Their headquarters remained at the German center of administration,
Jaluit. U.S. Marines and Army troops took control from the Japanese in
early 1944, following intense fighting on Kwajalein and Enewetak atolls.
In 1947, the United States, as the occupying power, entered into an agreement
with the UN Security Council to administer Micronesia, including the Marshall
Islands, as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
On May 1, 1979, in recognition of the evolving political status of the
Marshall Islands, the United States recognized the constitution of the
Marshall Islands and the establishment of the Government of the Republic
of the Marshall Islands. The constitution incorporates both American and
British constitutional concepts.
There have been a number of local and national elections since the Republic
of the Marshall Islands was founded, and in general, democracy has functioned
well. The United Democratic Party, running on a reform platform, won the
1999 parliamentary election, taking control of the presidency and cabinet.