Both Marshallese and English are the official languages of the Marshall I
From necessity, the sailors of the Marshalls were among the best in the Pacific: their islands were the smallest and they traveled the most. Their brilliant voyaging was based on their skills of observation. Meticulous observation of the only two things visible -- sky and water, the stars and the swells of the sea.
The voyages themselves were made in that fraction of the year when the Trades were not blowing and the weather was settled, and their craft grouped themselves together in large numbers -- which was not to say that all could not perish, as happened to over 100 canoes in 1830 and 35 vessels three decades later. Navigation was of course from island to island, or to sea-marks -- areas of ocean or reef that were recognized by the initiated. These objectives were reached by following the star paths above or the patterns of the sea around, or both. An apprentice would spend years memorizing hundreds of star courses between the atolls, as well as the marks, sea-ways, cloud shapes, winds, and the flight of birds. These, collated with his internal log and mental chronometer, added to the sailing masters retaining a wonderful and infallible sense of position through tacks, currents, gale-set without any sight of land, or sometimes even, clear sky.
The stick-charts were used to teach and record the swells of the sea itself. The science of swells is unknown outside the Pacific. The charts were hardly maps in a western sense: the cowrie shells did signify islands, but they could often be taken to be any island. Distances were quite arbitrary and charts were meaningless without the guidance of their maker. They were not taken to sea, all being set in the memory.
There are two basic kinds: the meto and the rebbelib, the first for instruction only in swell-patterns, the second showing the place of islands in the group or one of its chains. A third type, the mattang, was more local, placing a few atolls only. Some believe these last two to be of recent introduction, influenced by western chart-making. The maps were made of strips of coconut midrib or pandanus root on a frame: strips which were curved show the altered direction of swells deflected by an island, and their intersection an area of confused sea -- a valuable indicator of position. Island-currents may be shown by short straight pieces.
A typical meto is pictured to the right: being symmetrical, it has no correct alignment and is applicable to many situations. The central island refracts the swell into two areas, to the N. and S. as shown by the right-hand curved piece, while the balancing strip to the left stands for a corresponding and weaker pattern. Many other formations are implicit in the chart: all have names and are known. The effect of small islands may be noticed for more than 20 miles in the Pacific swell, and its conformation compared attentively with the pattern of the water undisturbed. Once a swell is identified, a general direction is given which is progressively refined by the shape of succeeding indicators. Many Marshallese sailors could lie in the bottom of their canoe and sail by the feel of the waves and the current on the hull.