Rongerik Atoll was a popular destination in 2018, with quite a number of yachts visiting the uninhabited spot in the northern part of the Marshall Islands. Included in the group was the yacht Viandante, with Grant Gardner and Carley Shelton on board. They happily added a Viandante buoy as their application for membership in this exclusive club.
Rongerik’s claim to fame is that it was the temporary location from March 7, 1946 through March 14, 1948 of the people of Bikini. The following is an excerpt from Jack Niedenthal’s book For the Good of Mankind:
In May of 1947, to make the Bikinians situation on Rongerik even more serious, a huge fire damaged many of the coconut trees. By July, when a medical officer from the U.S. visited the island, the Bikinian people were found to be suffering severely from malnutrition. A team of U.S. investigators determined in the fall, after a visit to Rongerik, that the island had inadequate supplies of food and water and that the Bikini people should be moved from Rongerik without delay. The U.S. Navy was harshly criticized in the world press for neglecting the Bikini people on Rongerik. Harold Ickes, a reporter, stated in his 1947 syndicated column “Man to Man” that, “The natives are actually and literally starving to death.”
Immediate preparations began for the transfer of the Bikinians to Ujelang Atoll in the western Marshalls. In November a handful of young Bikinian men traveled to Ujelang, and with the help of Navy Seabees, they began to arrange a community area and to construct housing. At the end of the year, however, the U.S. selected Enewetak Atoll as a second nuclear weapons test site. The Navy then decided that it would be easier to move the Enewetak people to Ujelang despite the fact that the Bikinians had built all the housing and held high hopes that they would be relocated there.
In January of 1948, University of Hawaii anthropologist, Dr. Leonard Mason, traveled to Rongerik at the request of the Trust Territory High Commissioner to report on the status of the Bikinians living there. Horrified at the sight of the withering islanders, Mason immediately requested a medical officer along with food supplies to be flown in to Rongerik.
In March of 1948, after two unpleasant years on Rongerik, the Bikinians were transported to Kwajalein Atoll where they were housed in tents on a strip of grass beside the massive cement airstrip used by the U.S. military. The Bikinians fell into yet another debate among themselves about alternative locations soon after they settled on Kwajalein [photo, right].
It was in June of 1948 that the Bikinians chose Kili Island in the southern Marshalls because the island was not ruled by a paramount king, or iroij, and was uninhabited. This choice ultimately doomed their traditional diet and lifestyle, which were both based on lagoon fishing.
To read more about the book For the good of Mankind, visit the Bikini Atoll site below: