Fence given to the people of the Marshall Islands by the U.S. Navy Seabees

'This fence given to the people of the Marshall Islands by the U.S. Navy Seabees'. Photo © Christine Germano.

The Marshall Islands experienced five centuries of colonisation under Spain, Germany, Japan, and the USA. During the Second World War, the Japanese and then the US military forcibly evacuated Marshallese people from Kwajalein Island to make way for military installations. During the Cold War, many more Marshallese people were forced to leave northern atolls, such as Bikini and Enewetak, to make way for US nuclear testing. They settled on southern islands such as Majuro and Ebeye, where they were joined by islanders who were forced to relocate when the US established a ballistic missile testing base on Kwajelein Island.

The Marshall Islands are circled on the interactive map below. Zoom in for a closer look.

The map is currently being updated to show places linked to the MAP project and the sites of nuclear tests.

A 15-megatonne hydrogen bomb, code-named Bravo, was detonated at Bikini Atoll on 1 March 1954. Two more bombs, code-named Able and Baker, were detonated in July 1946 as part of Operation Crossroads. There were 23 detonations in total.

The Bikinians were told that their displacement would be temporary, but contamination from nuclear radiation has rendered their ancestral homeland uninhabitable for an estimated 30,000 years. The US declared Bikini Atoll safe for resettlement in the early 1970s, but residents were re-evacuated in 1978 after suffering from high levels of radiation.

Thousands of Marshallese people exposed to radioactive fallout suffered from a range of serious health problems, including cancers and skin defects, which continue to affect descendants born generations later. Kathy Jetnil-Kijiner's poem 'History Project', Munro Te Whata's graphic adaptation of 'History Project' into a comic, and Solomon Enos's forthcoming graphic novel explore some of the impact of the nuclear fallout.

Today the atoll remains uninhabited, and all food consumed on Bikini is imported.  A 200-foot deep crater remains where there were once islands and reefs. On the bottom of the lagoon rests a fleet of contaminated ships, abandoned by the US military after they sank.

Read about the crater on Runit Island, a consequence of the 'Cactus' nuclear test of 1958.

These personalised maps of the Marshall Islands show the locations important to Marshallese students, who added family trees, stories, and highlighted islands they have connections to. Photos © Christine Germano.


The Marshall Islands became a self-governing republic in 1979. The Republic of the Marshall Islands signed the Compact of Free Association (COFA) with the US in 1986. COFA granted Marshallese Islanders the right to work and settle in the US, and included a one-off settlement for nuclear compensation claims.

But the settlement fund is far too limited to address the immense damage to the environment of the Marshall Islands and to the health of the islanders.  and when Marshallese people migrated to neighbouring US states, such as Hawaii, in search of better standards of living, they found that entitlements such as national healthcare and the right to vote apply only to US-born Marshallese. The limitations of COFA have exacerbated existing conditions of poverty.

Meanwhile, RMI migrants have become stigmatised in US media and public discourse as a drain on public resources.

This text was written and adapted in part from Michelle Keown's article, 'Children of Israel: US Military Imperialism and Marshallese Migration in the Poetry of Kathy Jetñil-Kijiner'. The article was published in 2017 in the International Journal of Postcolonial Studies, and is available to read online: