Essays on the Marshallese Past

Oral Traditions and History

Oral Traditions

In the pre-European times the body of knowledge the Marshallese society possessed was handed down orally, that is by word of mouth. Such oral traditions contain a wealth of information, information on the social system, custom practices, as well as belief structures, habits and general ways of life. Oral traditions are handed down from generation to generation, gradually modified in the process, according to the social and political demands of the times. Still, these traditions offer us a window into the past, as accurate, and as subjective as written accounts.These traditions have been preserved as chants, songs, stories, proverbs and the like. The following story about Lijebake has a bearing on how Marshallese perceived their origin and why there are turtles found among the northern atolls.

Oral History

While oral traditions cover all stories handed on by word of mouth, oral history covers the experiences of the person re-telling the tale, the person being and eye-witness to the event. Only rarely, such as in the event retold below, is the oral history retold by someone else, having obtained the story from persons being eye-witnesses themselves. In the example, the story shows well the bewilderment the Marshallese felt when Europeans took one of the own along on a voyage. The text is an almost literal transcription of the Marshallese.

[Next Page]      [Back to Table of Contents]

Bibliographic citation for this document

Spennemann, Dirk H.R. (1998). Essays on the Marshallese Past Second edition. Albury:

Dirk H.R. Spennemann, Institute of Land, Water and Society, Charles Sturt University, P.O.Box 789, Albury NSW 2640, Australia.

select from the following...
World War II

Digital Micronesia-An Electronic Library & Archive is provided free of charge as an advertising-free information service for the world community. It is being maintained by Dirk HR Spennemann, Associate Professor in Cultural Heritage Management, Institute of Land, Water and Society and School of Environmental & Information Sciences, Charles Sturt University, Albury, Australia. The server space and technical support are provided by Charles Sturt University as part of its commitment to regional engagement. Environmental SciencesInformation Sciences

© Dirk Spennemann 1999– 2005
Marshall Islands Kosrae CNMI Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands Guam Wake Pohnpei FSM Federated States of Micronesia Yap Chuuk Marshall Islands politics public health environment culture WWII history literature XXX Cultural Heritage Management Micronesian Journal of the Humanities and Social Sciences CNMI German Colonial Sources Mariana Islands Historic Preservation Spennemann Dirk Spennemann Dirk HR Spennemann Murray Time Louis Becke Jane Downing Downing