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Reviewed by:
  • Etto n̄an Raan Kein: A Marshall Islands History, by Julianne M Walsh et al.
  • Nancy J Pollock
Etto n̄an Raan Kein: A Marshall Islands History, by Julianne M Walsh with Hilda Heine, Carmen Milne Bigler, and Mark Stege. Honolulu: Bess Press, 2012. ISBN 978-1-57306-313-5; ix + 526 pages, maps, illustrations, appendixes, study questions, notes, glossaries, references, index. Cloth, US$74.97.

This impressive and weighty tome has been compiled by several contributors to provide a textbook for use in Marshall Islands schools and the College of the Marshall Islands. It provides a chronological coverage of major events in the history of the Marshall Islands beginning with an overview of archaeological accounts of the islands’ early history through to consideration of impacts of the Compact of Free [End Page 428] Association in the new millennium. Illustrations and excerpts from early accounts accompany interviews with eminent individuals together with their backgrounds. The text is presented in useful blocks for teaching purposes, interspersed with many photos, art, and time lines.

The main theme is the influence over time of iroij (chiefs; also spelled irooj) on trading, external relations, and internal control over lands and land users. The historical role of iroij is balanced by attention to outside influences including German, Japanese, and US, and particularly United Nations Trust Territory administration, and latterly the role of US negotiators in compiling the terms of the two Compacts of Free Association, an ongoing exercise. The compilers draw on early whaling, missionary, and trader accounts to illustrate how views differed, for instance: “In some instances, irooj showed respect for missionaries, even though their views disagreed” (149). Students will discover some of these varying views on their history when they research the pasts of their own atolls.

My personal experience of one iroij’s views of Marshallese history came from Lejolan Kabua, self-styled “King of the Marshalls,” who invited me to work on Namu, “his atoll” (Ralik chain), though I discovered three other iroij also held land there. He stressed to me the significance of many customs surrounding the place of iroij in Marshallese society; in particular I learned of the custom of “etetal in bojar,” which expressed the respect of a rijerbal (worker) for the iroij of the land. His account of Marshall Islands history came through in our discussions while he visited Namu and I visited his house on Ebeye, Kwajalein, sailing on his trading ship, the Waikiki Downtown, which he had run in the past with an all-female crew. At his house in Kwajalein he elaborated for me on a photograph of himself receiving a check from President Lyndon Johnson for $10,000—giving me a sense of his perspective of the relations between the United States and the Marshall Islands, particularly the payments to ri-Kwajalein (Kwajalein people) for US use of the atoll as a military base and for testing missile accuracy. However, as is evident in one of the more subtle dimensions of this new textbook, much of the history of the terms of agreement between states and politicians, US and local, continues to be scrutinized. The detailed terms of the agreement for US use of Kwajalein as part of all the Compacts of Free Association (past and present, including land-use agreements) will not only continue to provide interesting research topics when investigated by Marshall Islands students (387), but future students will be left with the task of making sense of all the forces that led to the establishment and institutionalization of the relationships between the United States and the Marshall Islands.

Themes notable for their mention in the text include brief discussions of navigation history and migrations, including accidental voyages as well as more recent Marshallese settlements in Arkansas, Seattle, Washington, California, and elsewhere in the United States. The use of cash, initially mainly from sales of copra, is another important theme, as it has influenced lifestyles, consumption, [End Page 429] and migration. The impact of nuclear testing from a Marshallese perspective is emerging in both poetic and prose forms as enlightened commentary on issues that have remained hidden and unexplained in Marshallese terms for so long. Relations between the Marshall...