Marshall Islands

Happy New Year, Fanatics! It’s time for The Flag Review, a series where I dive into the history of a flag and give my take on its design. Today, we travel from Europe to the other side of the globe to view the flag of the Marshall Islands.

The Republic of the Marshall Islands is a country of small atolls (ring-shaped islands) situated in the Pacific Ocean. The capital, Majuro, lies over 2300 miles west-southwest of Hawaii and about 1300 miles northeast of the Solomon Islands. Its first inhabitants, the Micronesian peoples, are believed to have arrived at the atolls almost 2000 years ago. Spanish explorers would discover the islands in the early 1500s and later claim the islands as their own in 1594.

The Islands get their namesake from British Captain John Marshall, who, in 1788, explored the atolls. By the late 1800’s, several trading companies, mostly German-based, established operations on the islands and in 1884, the German Empire purchased the Marshall Islands from Spain. It remained under German control until the outbreak of the First World War; in 1914, Japan (who was on the opposing side of Germany during the War) seized the islands and officially obtained ownership of them (and several other island chains) as part of a post-war mandate issued by the League of Nations.

During World War II, the United States would see several battles on these islands against the Japanese Empire. Eventually, the U.S. gained control of all Japanese military bases on the atolls and after the war, it continued to manage the islands per the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI). The United States would also conduct multiple nuclear tests in the Marshall Islands, including the Castle Bravo test, which took place on the Bikini Atoll, which left many residents of neighboring atolls and some military personnel with radiation burns.

The mushroom cloud from the Castle Bravo nuclear test on the Bikini Atoll, 1954

In 1979 the Marshall Islands officially separated from the TTPI and declared itself an independent and self-governing nation. Three years later, the Islands, and several other Pacific island nations, signed the Compact of Free Association with the United States, which allows the countries to operate independently of the United States, while also giving them support should they require national assistance.

The flag of the Marshall Islands – let’s take a look.

Like the flag of the United States, the Marshall Islands’ flag has 10:19 proportions. It was designed by the Islands’ first First Lady, Emlain Kabua, and adopted in 1979, the same year that the nation declared independence from the TTPI. 

The flag of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. In some interpretations, the orange and white stripes go from corner to corner.

The flag consists of a 24-pointed star on the upper hoist canton, representing the 24 municipalities of the country; four of the points are larger, representing the four major atolls, Majuro, Jaluit, Wotje, and Ebeye. The blue background of the flag symbolizes the Pacific Ocean. Two horizontal stripes, orange and white, stretch diagonally from the lower hoist to the upper fly, growing in width (to symbolize the growth of the nation). The orange stripe is for bravery and the white stripe for peace. The position of the star above the two stripes is intentional; it represents the island nation’s geographic location just above the equator – it’s a flag and a map!

The flag of the Republic of the Marshall Islands upholds the basic flag design tenets of simplicity and apparent meaning in its symbolism. It’s incorporation of the Islands’ physical location makes it easily in my top 50 favorite national flags. The increasing width of the orange and white stripes also looks amazing when the flag is waving in the wind – you can see it in action here

Thanks for reading and may you have a fantastic 2022!


Sources

About 1 — Embassy of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. (n.d.). Embassy of the Republic of the Marshall Islands. Retrieved January 8, 2022, from https://www.rmiembassyus.org/country-profile

Central Intelligence Agency. (2021, 12 14). Marshall Islands. The World Factbook 2021. https://www.cia.gov/the-world-factbook/countries/marshall-islands/#government

Republic of the Marshall Islands. (n.d.). CRW Flags. Retrieved January 8, 2022, from https://www.crwflags.com/fotw/flags/mh.html

US Department of the Interior. (n.d.). Compacts of Free Association. US Department of the Interior. Retrieved January 8, 2022, from https://www.doi.gov/oia/compacts-of-free-association

Znamierowski, A. (2020). The World Encyclopedia of Flags. Lorenz Books.

Official Flag of the Marshall Islands Act, Title 1 – General Provisions Chapter 3 – Marshall Islands Flag § 302 (1979). http://rmiparliament.org/cms/images/LEGISLATION/PRINCIPAL/1979/1979-0001/OfficialFlagoftheMarshallIslandsAct1979_1.pdf