Marshallese in Marshall Islands

Main Language
Largest Religion
Progress Gauge

Introduction / History

The Marshall Islands is a group of 29 coral atolls and 5 single islands spread out over an exclusive economic zone (land and water) of nearly 1 million square miles in the North Pacific Ocean. The Atolls and islands are located approximately 2,000 miles to the northeast of Australia and have a population of 60,000. One of only four atoll nations in the world, the nation is also one of the world's youngest having gained its independence in 1986. 1 For almost four decades, the islands were under US administration as the easternmost part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Nuclear testing was done by the US government on some of the atolls between 1947 and 1962. The Marshall Islands still hosts the US Army Kwajalein Atoll (USAKA) Reagan Missile Test Site that serves as a key installation in the US missile defense network.

The Spanish were the first Europeans to sail into and explore the Pacific (with Magellan landing on Guam in 1521) and at least seven Spanish ships sailed through the Marshalls during the 16th century. The Spanish visits were brief with only minimal trade and exchange taking place. After these initial visits, the Marshalls were not to be visited again until the late 1700s. Foreign visits resumed in 1788 when two British captains, John Marshall and Thomas Gilbert sailed into the islands aboard the ships Scarborough and Charlotte. Together, Marshall and Gilbert traded with the islanders and mapped several of the atolls. Other British ships soon followed Marshall and Gilbert.

In 1816, Russian Captain Otto von Kotzebue visited the Marshalls aboard the Rurik. During his stay in the Marshalls, Kotzebue conducted the first ever ethnographic observation and documentation of the islands visiting Wotje, Maloelap, and Aur. Also aboard the Rurik were the artist Ludwig Choris and the naturalist Adelbert von Chammisso who produced detailed hydrographical, botanical and ethnological reports (Choris' detailed lithographs of traditional Marshallese life are available for view at the Bishop Museum in Honolulu).

The next documented visit to the Marshalls was by an American ship, the Globe, aboard which a great mutiny occurred in 1828. Two survivors of the mutiny lived on Mili Atoll that year and were later rescued by the U.S. Navy. American missionaries were the next to arrive on the scene sailing in from Honolulu and landing on Ebon Atoll in 1857. By the end of that century, the American missionaries had established churches on almost every inhabited atoll.

With an established trading base in Samoa, German traders began moving north in the 1850s and Adolph Capelle arrived on Ebon Atoll in 1859 to set up a trading post. Capelle was joined by Portuguese Jose deBrum and together they built the first permanent trading post in the Marshall Islands. The Marshalls were eventually declared a German protectorate in 1885 with headquarters on Jaluit Atoll.

In 1914, after 29 years of German protectorate status, World War I broke out. Japan took over military possession from Germany in October of that year and began establishing its own commercial ventures, with bases on Jaluit and Majuro. In 1922, Japan was formally awarded the Marshalls as a Class "C" mandate by the League of Nations. But in 1933, Japan withdrew from the League of Nations and, in anticipation of World War II, it began militarily fortifying the atolls of Kwajalein, Wotje, Maloelap, Jaluit, and later Mili and Enewetak. After heavy fighting in the Marshalls (as well as other parts of the Pacific), the islands were taken over by the USA. The US Navy governed the Marshalls temporarily and the islands were given to the US in 1947 as a UN Strategic Trust.

From 1946 to 1954, the US conducted 67 nuclear tests in, above, and around Bikini and Enewetak ATolls (the reconciliation of which remains an important issue between the Marshalls and the U.S. today). In the late 1970s, while still under UN Trust status with the US, a growing desire for independence led the Marshalls to embark on an endeavor towards self-determination. This was eventually accomplished in 1986 when the country was transformed into a self-governing democracy in free association with the US called the Republic of the Marshall Islands.

Where Are they Located?

The Marshall Islands are located in the North Pacific Ocean 2000 miles to the northeast of Australia. The land area of the Marshalls covers approximately the same land area of Washington, DC. These low coral limestone atolls and sand islands have little arable land but are capable of growing a sizable amount of crops. The climate is tropical with hot and humid conditions persisting throughout the year. The rainy season runs from May to November and the islands are on the edge of the typhoon belt of the North Pacific. The average daytime temperature is 81 F with water temperatures averaging 80 F.

What Are Their Lives Like?

The island of Majuro is the capital of the Marshall Islands and is its most inhabited and most cosmopolitan location. Most westernized modern conveniences are found there. The other atolls and islands have lesser degrees of amenities with some being isolated and even uninhabited. The US dollar is the currency of the islands and many businesses on Majuro accept most major credit cards. The US Postal Service has several locations in the islands.

Marshallese and English are the languages spoken in the islands and US citizens are not required to have a visa in order to visit. Majuro has one public hospital and one private medical clinic. Many of the other islands have small medical facilities with limited services available. Majuro has all typical communications technologies available anywhere else in the world. Several other atolls and islands have mobile and satellite telephone and fax services. Many of the outer islands are reachable only via short wave radio. Casual island dress is typical in most areas but swim attire is only permitted on the beaches. Sunscreen is highly recommended due to the islands' close proximity to the equator.

Agriculture, fishing, coconut processing, and tourism-related endeavors make up the economic activities of the islands. Water sports are particularly popular with tourists. Several museums inform visitors of the islands' history particularly focusing upon the canoe-building and navigational skills of the Marshallese.

The islands' larger areas are accessible via air and water transportation. There are 15 airports on various islands and many roads service the larger areas. Food served in various cuisines is available on the larger islands. The smaller inhabited areas fish, grow, and trade for needed foods.

Marshallese society was and, for the most part, still is stratified into three general classes: The Iroij (Cheifs) have ultimate control of land tenure, resource usage and distribution, and dispute settlement. The Alap's (Clan Heads) duties include maintenance of lands and supervision of daily activities. The Rijerbal (Workers) are responsible for the daily work involved in subsistence, construction, agriculture, etc. In addition, land is divided into twelve categories, ranging from Imon bwi (land belonging to the whole lineage) to Kitdre (land given by a husband to his wife as a gift) and inheritance is matrilineal (passed through the mother).

What Are Their Beliefs?

Protestant Christianity is practiced by the largest percentage of Marshall Islands residents. Roman Catholicism, Muslim, and various other groups combined make up a very small number of island faith groups.

What Are Their Needs?

With a rich heritage of Christianity going back hundreds of years, the Marshall Islands are likely to welcome visiting practitioners of the Christian faith. As with any remote location, supplies are probably needed since it is expensive to ship products into remote island locations. Toiletries, personal items, books, videos, CDs, Bibles, Christian literature, and non-restricted medicines could be beneficial to the island people.

Additionally, every nation needs to have the proper instruction and living example of Biblical Christianity. Discipleship and Scripture-oriented teaching and preaching need to be maintained. Evangelistic efforts for the islands and neighboring nations are also an area that needs to be established and/or maintained.

Prayer Points

Pray for Biblical Christianity to be proclaimed on these islands.
Pray for local converts to be prepared for ministry unto their neighbors.
Pray for their protection and provision while they engage in spiritual warfare.
Pray for God to raise up a people who will take the gospel message to neighboring islands and into other nations.

Scripture Prayers for the Marshallese in Marshall Islands.


Information used with permission from
Information used with permission from

Profile Source:   Wallace Revels  

People Name General Marshallese
People Name in Country Marshallese
Alternate Names
Population this Country 36,000
Population all Countries 58,000
Total Countries 3
Indigenous Yes
Progress Scale 5
Unreached No
Frontier People Group No
GSEC 6  (per
Pioneer Workers Needed
People ID 13554
ROP3 Code 106356

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Primary Religion: Christianity
Major Religion Percent
0.00 %
Christianity  (Evangelical 57.22 %)
97.20 %
Ethnic Religions
0.30 %
0.00 %
0.00 %
0.50 %
Other / Small
2.00 %
0.00 %
Primary Language Marshallese
Language Code mah   Ethnologue Listing
Language Written Yes   ScriptSource Listing
Total Languages 2
Secondary Languages
Primary Language Marshallese
Language Code mah   Ethnologue Listing
Total Languages 2
Secondary Languages
People Groups Speaking Marshallese

Primary Language:  Marshallese

Bible Translation Status  (Years)
Bible-Portions Yes  (1863-1983)
Bible-New Testament Yes  (1885-1977)
Bible-Complete Yes  (1982-2009)
Bible-NT Audio Online
Possible Print Bibles
World Bibles
Forum Bible Agencies
National Bible Societies
World Bible Finder
Virtual Storehouse
Resource Type Resource Name Source
Audio Recordings Audio Bible teaching Global Recordings Network
Film / Video Jesus Film: view in Marshallese Jesus Film Project
Film / Video LUMO film of Gospels Bible Media Group/LUMO
General Faith Comes By Hearing - Bible in text, audio, video Faith Comes by Hearing
General Four Spiritual Laws Campus Crusade for Christ
General Gospel resources links Scripture Earth
Mobile App Download audio Bible app as APK file Faith Comes by Hearing
Text / Printed Matter Topical Scripture booklets and Bible studies World Missionary Press
Photo Source Anonymous 
Profile Source Wallace Revels 
Data Sources Data is compiled from various sources. Learn more.