Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Marshallese live in the Republic of Marshall Islands, a group of twenty-nine atolls and five coral pinnacles in the west central Pacific Ocean, covering an area of 1.95 million square kilometers. This nation became independent in 1986 as part of a Compact of Free Association with the United States. The Marshallese speak mutually intelligible dialects of the same language which belongs to the Micronesian Family of the Oceanic Austronesia languages. Traditional subsistence largely depended on fishing and collecting, together with the tree and root crops. Copra production added an important source of cash for importing other foods and other consumer goods. Urban Marshallese earn their living from wage labor and compensation from the U.S. nuclear testing program.


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Oceania --Micronesia


Marshall Islands

OWC Code


Number of Documents


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Number of Pages


Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

The Marshallese (OR11) collection consists of 15 documents, covering a wide variety of cultural and historical information, circa 1900 to 2005. The earliest descriptions of Marshallese culture and society in the collection are translations from the German originally compiled by a colonial official (Senfft 1903, no. 11), two ethnologists (Kramer and Nevermann 1938, no. 2), and a missionary (Erdland 1914, no. 3). Together, these three documents provide detailed geographic and ethnographic information as observed in 1900-1909.

Two documents in the collection are first-hand accounts of Marshallese village life and economic situation as observed in 1946-1947. One of these was a commissioned research by the U.S. government company which sought background cultural and economic information for planning future economic development for the Marshall Islands (Mason 1947, no. 20). The other was authored by Alexander Spoehr, a former U.S. Navy who returned to the Majuro in 1947 as a civilian to conduct ethnological work (1949, no. 1). In this work, Spoehr contrasts changes in Marshallese culture he observed with his own earlier observations while on active duty with the Navy during World War II.

L. M. Carucci conducted extensive fieldwork among inhabitants of Ujelang/Enewetak Atolls on various occasions in 1976-2005. Topics covered by Carrucci include domestic violence (1990, no. 9), community life and concepts of morality (1998, no. 10), dynamics of grandparent/grandchildren relations (2007, no. 26), aspects of cosmology (1989, no. 22), and rites of passages (1987, no. 26; 1985, no. 15).

The remaining documents in the collection further enrich information in the above three category of works with additional themes and in-depth analyses including land tenure and inheritance rules (Tobin 1952, no.16), gender and family life (Wedgwood 1942, no. 6), internal political dynamics and international relations (Mason 1989, no. 27), and contemporary development issues (Nero 1999, no. 28).

For more detailed information on the content of the individual works in this collection, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Alab –lineage head– Use LINEAGES ( 613) with COMMUNITY HEADS ( 622)

Barowoj –house– Use DWELLINGS ( 342) with HOUSEHOLD ( 592)

Emo –forbidden, tabu– Use AVOIDANCE AND TABOO ( 784)

Ekobel –old women’s magic– Use MAGIC ( 789)

Jekaro –coconut toddy– Use ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES ( 273)

Kekem –child’s first birthday celebration– Use CEREMONIAL DURING INFANCY AND CHILDHOOD ( 852)

Kurijmoj –renewal celebration– Use REST DAYS AND HOLIDAYS ( 527) with ORGANIZED CEREMONIAL ( 796)

Nukin –relatives, paternal and maternal– Use KIN RELATIONSHIPS ( 602)

Taun –neighborhood– Use SETTLEMENT PATTERNS ( 361) with COMMUNITY STRUCTURE ( 621)

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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