[1]   Jeschke 1905; 1906. The most devastating effects of typhoons are known from Ujelån. Gulick (1862) estimated the population in 1860 to be about 1000 people. The German South Seas Handbook for 1913, possibly drawing on the same source, states that the population of that atoll was about 1000 heads in the 1850s. A severe cyclone hit the island in 1870, and all but 20 people perished. Most of these 20 people moved at least temporarily to Jaluit, so that in 1878 the total population had shrunk to 6 (Witt 1881). [back]

[2]    Not all voyages movements were successful. Gulick (1862) estimated the population of Rø~dik to be about 120 people and that of Rø~~ap to be 80 people. In 1878 the population of Rø~dik had been decimated to 18 people, although the observer (Witt 1881) counted houses for over 100 people, and the population of Rø~~ap to ten people. [back]

[3]   Suicide seems to have been rather uncommon during the 19th century (Erdland 1914:136). [back]

[4]   If a person was murdered, the relatives of the slain would in turn attempt to kill the murderer or a close relative of the murderer (Erdland 1906:187). [back]

[5]   Capital punishment occurred for a variety of reasons. The iroj held the absolute power of life and death of their subordinates (Finsch 1893:384; Kraemer & Nevermann 1938:196). [back]

[6]   Sometimes one or more persons were killed to accompany a dead iroj into the grave (Erdland 1906:190; 1914:325). [back]

[7]   The bulk of oral traditions collected today, that is in the 1970s and 1980s, will refer to the times at the turn of the century. These traditions, some of which may have been collected by the Historical Traditions Collections programme of the Alele Museum, have been ignored in the present compilation, as the methodological approach to evaluate their biases etc. is entirely different. [back]

[8]   Brandeis 1908. She was the wife of a German district administrator for the Marshall Islands. [back]

[9]   The same note of caution, of course, extends to the present review. [back]

[10]   The Catholic mission was founded in 1896 (Anonymous 1897) and taken over by the Hiltrup mission in January 1899 (Linckens 1912:78). [back]

[11]   German Government doctors in Jaluit were (in succession?) Drs. Erwin Steinbach, Gustav Schwabe, Bartels, Born and H.Schnee. [back]

[12]   Fermented food such as bwiro and the like. [back]

[13]   Erdland (ibid.) quotes an instance of a woman from Jaluit Atoll. She had already eight children and upon asked whether she would like to "complete the dozen" answered that she intends to do so. Her argument was that her oldest was already earning money and that she would be a rich woman by the time all her children were grown up. [back]

[14]   Average onset of puberty among girls 9-11, among boys 11-12 (Erdland 1914:133). [back]

[15]   The terms "young couples" and "older women" are of course very relative. No explicit data on the average life expectancy of the pre-European and European-contact Marshallese population exist. Relatively reliable census data do not exist before 1910 and census data broken by age groups do not exist before the 1930s. Archaeo-anthropological studies in the Marshall Islands are only in their infancy (Spennemann 1989a, 1989b, 1990) and can as yet not contribute to the analysis. [back]

[6]   The only dissenting voice is Chamisso (1986:268) who speaks of Kadu, a Marshall Islander of Wotje, who accompanied Chamisso and Kotzebue on part of their voyage as "a model of considerate delicacy. He stayed away from any woman who was in the possession of another man... He spoke freely ... about the immorality he had found found prevalent in the Pelew Islands" [Palau; Belau]. This statement of Kadu's fits perfectly within the expectations of which values Chamisso would be looking for in the "savages". It is a good example of results of both leading questions and the eargerness of many Marshallese informants to please the interviewer. At another location Chamisso (1986:281 speaks of the relations of sexes as follows: "Unmarried women enjoy their freedom under the protection of the moral code. ... but the veil of modesty is drawn over all the relations that unite the sexes."

It is highly unlikely that the Marshallese society should have undergone that dramatic changes within one generation (1810s to 1840s) to transform from a restricted society to one of almost free love. It is more likely, as the last passage of Chamisso's exemplifies, that his perception is, to say the least, tinted which is understandable as his book was destined for the wider readership of the early 19th century. [back]

[17]   Where the pair were the offspring of two brothers or two sisters. Liaisons between cross-cousins (brother's daughter/son and sisters daughter/son), however, are deemed desirable (Erdland 1906:190). [back]

[18]   Although the irooj's claimed the ius primae noctis also for their own daughters (Erdland 1914:133). In another reference, Erdland (1906:188) asserts that incest among iroj families is common in order to keep the bloodlines clean. [back]

[19]   The main (first) wife of an irooj had the right to ask any (common) male for sexual favours, although the male, if found it, would run the risk of being killed by the iroj (Erdland 1906:181; Erdland 1914:133). [back]

[20]   The references seem to suggest that it only applied when women were sick. [back]

[21]   A species of scrub (Erdland 1906) or herb (Abo et al. 1976).


[22]   According to Abo et al. (1976:171), k[[dieresis]]mur is an "ointment of leaves and oil, put on heads or chests of those alledgedly attacked by ghosts to repel later attacks. [back]

[23]   Menstruating women were ostracised and had to live in special small menstruation huts, erected some distance away from the house (Erdland 1914:135; 337-338; Finsch 1893:386). [back]

[24]   But note the male bias in the data collection, as mentioned in the section on sources.


[25]   Extended lactancy may have had its roots in the expediency of mother's milk and relative unavailability of other nutritious child food. In addition to mother's milk the infants were ged coconut milk, palm sap and, later, arrowroot meal (Finsch 1893:387 FN 1). [back]

[6]   Massages were commonly used to cure any sort of swelling, especially tumors (Erdland 1906:181). Coconut oil or herbal sap was used as a massage liquid. [back]

[27]   The use of bottles does not necessarily testify to a more modern technique of massage or even to a modern introduction of the concept of abortion, as it is likely that the bottles have replaced a traditional item, such as a rounded stick or the like. [back]

[28]   For long-term control of population numbers the killing newly borns, in to whom so far only little food had been invested, appears more sensible than to kill older children. The latter also had survived the first year of childhood, that year when most of the child deaths occur and after which the average life expectancy often dramatically increases (this is valid even today though to a lesser extent; ex at 0: 61.04; ex at 1: 63.71; see OPS 1989:94 Table 9.6). It is, then, not surprising to learn that the first birthday is a special birthday for a Marshallese child and its parents and is celebrated (today) accordingly with great festivities (kemen). [back]

[29]   It is of interest to note that in the traditional Marshallese culture is apparently no room for sexual dimorphism in the decision which of the sexes should be killed. It seems that both boys and girls were treated and killed alike. In order to keep down the number of mouths to fed such a policy is sensible but expensive on lives. A policy to kill only the girls from the third one on would also keep the population numbers from growing out of hand, however, without imperiling the successful survival of a population in case voyaging canoes become blown off course and perish (refer to footnote 2).

Given the lack of reliable sex-recorded census data until 1912 we are ill informed about the biological representation of the sexes. The 1912 census (Merz 1912a; 1912b; 1912c) shows a sex ratio of men to women of 110.2:100 among adults (>15 years) and a ratio of 115.2:100 among children (<=14). [back]

[30]   Unpublished manuscript quoted in Kraemer & Nevermann 1938:190.


[31]   It is unclear whether this refers only to physically handicapped ones or whether it includes mentally handicapped children as well. Steinbach (1893) mentions that mentally handicapped people are rare. He mentions, however, a great number of children with congenital syphilis. [back]

[32]   See footnote 33. [back]

[33]   Likiep was hit by a cyclone in the 1840s, which cost the lives of the greatest part of the population. Jeschke (1906:272) mentions an eye-witness, an old lady, who still remembered the 1840s flooding. [back]

[34]   From the formulation in Erdland it remains unclear whether low-ranking prisoners of war were killed outright, still on the battlefield, or whether they were saved and enslaved. According to Chamisso (1986:280) "captured women are taken prisoner, men are not spared". In addition, captured island are spoilt of their fruit, thus creating starvation of potential survivors, although the trees were spared. [back]

[35]   Casualties in wars seem to have been rather low and can be discounted as a significant factor in population control. Chamisso (1986:278) reporting from hearsay on wars between chiefs from Aur and Majuro/Arno mentions that in one battle four and in another major battle about 40 people were killed. According to Kraemer & Nevermann (1938:203) Marshallese warfare was more stationary and a duel-like fight preceded the major battle, often deciding prematurely the winner. [back]

[6]   Exceptions seemed to occur. Chamisso (1986:267) tells the story of Kadu, a Marshallese from Wotje, who had been saved from death by the daugther of one of the enemies because she fell into love with him. (See above, footnote 19, for criticism of Chamisso's value-ridden judgements) [back]

[37]   The bodies were then taken out by canoes and disposed of in the sea (ibid.). [back]

[38]   Castaways were either killed or kept as slaves, Finsch (1893:383) reports the presence of ni-Kiribati slaves on Mile Atoll. The fate of the two Americans of the whaler Globe, Lay and Hussey, who were kept on Mile Atoll as slaves in the 1820s (see below) while others of the ship's company were killed, shows that this treatment of castaways was not exceptional. [back]

[39]   According to Steinbach 1893 the infant mortality had been high. [back]

[40]   A general German government report (Anonymous 1886), written one year after the Germans bought the Marshall Islands from Spain states that Syphilis is prevalent. The trader F.Hernsheim (1887:300) mentions that syphilis was on the spread, originally introduced by whalers.

200 people infected sought medical attention in 1893 (Steinbach 1893a), which is equivalent of 29.1% of all Marshall islanders treated by the German Health Service in the report period (January 1, 1892 to March 31, 1893) Steinbach assumes that the infection rate in the total population is about 50% and states explicitly that he does not believe he might be exaggerating (Based on the sample of all people admitted to the Jaluit district hospital for any causes). According to local informants (to Steinbach), Syphilis was unknown in the Marshall Islands in the first half of the 19th century. Voyagers from Jaluit shipwrecked in Kosrae by about 1845 and 1850 are blamed for its introduction. Most affected were Måjro, Ebon and Jålwøj Atolls, and only little Syphilis was reported for the northern atolls, which had little communication with the former. In the 1894 report Syphilis ranks first in mention: 33.2% of all cases seen by the German Health Service were syphilis cases (Steinbach 1895a). Steinbach believes that the number of syphilitic patients had become less since the last survey, but presumes that a large percentage of hereditary (chlorinate) syphilis exists. In addition, most cases were of tertiary syphyllis.

Another data set is available for Jaluit hospital for the year 1932 (Yanaihara 1940:251) where 53.4% of all males and 57.0% of all female admissions had syphilis. [back]