Palau, officially the Republic of Palau, is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, some 500 miles (800 km) east of the Philippines. Having emerged from United Nations trusteeship (administered by the United States) in 1994, it is one of the world's youngest and smallest nations. It is sometimes referred to in English under its native name Belau.
Early Palauans may have come from Australia, Polynesia and Asia. Depending on the thread of the family, Palauans may indeed represent many parts of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. However, it is traditionally considered to be Micronesian. According to geneticists, there are two distinctive strains of Melanesian bloodlines: one is associated with indigenous Australians/Papua New Guineans and the other is known to have originated in Asia. There has not been any link established between the two.
Until recently, Palau was not considered a part of Micronesia. In the European and Australian world Belau/Pelew is better known by the name of "The Black Islands". Vintage maps and village drawings can be found at the Australian library online, as well as photos of the tattooed and pierced Ibedul of Koror and Ludee.
Carbon dating and recent archeological discoveries have brought new attention to the archipelago. Cemeteries uncovered in islands have shown Palau has the oldest burial ceremony known to Oceania. Prior to this there has been much dispute as to whether Palau was established during 2500 BC or 1000 BC. New studies seem to dispute both of these findings. Moreover, Palau's ancient trading partner, Java, has also come under close scrutiny since Homo floresiensis was found.
Interestingly, Java is where traditional female Palaun money originated. Carrying on the family line, Palauan women have always been embellished with land, titles and money. For thousands of years, Palauans have had a well established matrilineal society.<ref name="matriarch"> Clan lands continue to be passed through titled women and first daughters but there is also a modern sentiment fashioned after Imperialistic Japan. It is a fact the Japanese government attempted to confiscate and redistribute tribal land for personal ownership during World War II. There has been little attempt to restore natural order and legal entanglements continue amongst the various clans.SG Travel at Yahoo on Palauan matriarchial social systems</ref>
Historians take much interest in the navigational routes of European explorers. One such mystery has created much speculation as to whether Spanish explorer Ruy López de Villalobos spotted the islands in 1543. No conclusive evidence exists but there are some who think he could have seen the tip of a southernmost island in the group.
Palau was one of the last of the South Sea islands to be discovered—not only due to a lack of navigation skill but because neighboring islands knew nothing about Melanesia. Palau had limited relations—mainly with Yap and Java.
Had it not have been for ship-wrecked islanders who accidentally took refuge in the Philippines, Europeans likely would not have found a route to Palau until much later. Palau's first Western contact took place when English Captain Henry Wilson also shipwrecked off the island of Ulong in 1783.<ref name="wilson>SG Travel at Yahoo on Henry Wilson</ref> Wilson dubbed Palau the “Pelew Islands”.
The Spanish claimed Palau as part of the Spanish East Indies, and was governed from the Philippines, until the emergence of 1875 British protests.
In 1885, after Germany occupied some of the islands, a dispute was brought to Pope Leo XIII, who made an attempt to legitimize Spanish claim to the islands (but with economic concessions for Britain and Germany). Spain in 1899, after defeat during the Spanish-American War, sold the islands to Germany.<ref name="sandafayre">Sandafayre.com on Palauan history</ref><ref name="state_1">United States Department of State article on Palau</ref>
In 1914 Japan invaded the islands, then formally took over under the Treaty of Versailles after the WWI German defeat. Over three decades the Japanese enforced cultural change. Introduction of an exclusive market economy geared towards Japanese citizens temporarily revoked tribal ownership.<ref name="lands">Hawaii.com on Palauan history</ref> Although some reparation was made, defeat did not restore complete order. US intervention only served to widen the legal semantics needed to recover from such an event spanning three different countries with three different tongues.
Peleliu was the scene of a costly battle between American and Japanese forces in 1944, resulting in an Allied victory, though the cost in human terms was high for both sides. After WWII the United Nations played a role and it was decided the US would administer Palau as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Eventually, in 1979 Palauans voted against joining the Federated States of Micronesia based on language and cultural differences. After a long period of transition, including the violent deaths of two presidents (Haruo Remeliik in 1985 and Lazarus Salii in 1988), Palau voted to freely associate with the United States in 1994 while opting to retain independence under the Compact of Free Association.
There are still roughly 100 American service members listed as Missing In Action (MIA) in Palau since WWII. Since 1993, a small group of American volunteers called The BentProp Project have searched the waters and jungles of Palau to attempt to locate information that can lead to the identification and recovery of remains of these American MIAs.
Politics of Palau takes place in a framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Palau is both head of state and head of government, and of a pluriform multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Palau National Congress. The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.
Palau gained its independence October 1, 1994 with the entry into force of the Compact of Free Association with the United States. Palau was the last Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands territories to gain its independence. Under the Compact, the U.S. remains responsible for Palau's defense for 50 years.
Palau is a sovereign nation and conducts its own foreign relations. Since independence, Palau has established diplomatic relations with a number of nations, including many of its Pacific neighbors. Palau was admitted to the United Nations on December 15, 1994, and has since joined several other international organizations. In September 2006, Palau hosted the first Taiwan-Pacific Allies Summit, and its President has gone on several official visits to other Pacific countries, including Taiwan.
Nuclear Free Constitution
In 1981, Palau voted for the world's first nuclear free constitution which was given up after heavy US pressure for a "Compact of Free Association" a 15 year aid package which swaps US military access for Trident submarines [Women for a nuclear free and independent Pacific Off Our Backs, Jan 1997 by Connelly, Frances]. One of the notable aspects of the Palaun resistance to nuclear research is the leadership of women activists such as Cita Morei and Isabella Sumang.
Palau is divided into sixteen states (until 1984 called municipalities):
The uninhabited Rock Islands of Palau have historically been part of the State of Koror.
Palau's most important islands are Angaur, Babeldaob, Koror, and Peleliu. The latter three lie together within the same barrier reef, while Angaur is an Oceanic Island several miles to the South. About two-thirds of the population lives on Koror. The coral atoll of Kayangel is situated north of these islands, while the uninhabited Rock Islands (about 200) are situated to the west of the main island group. A remote group of six islands, known as the Southwest Islands, some 375 miles (600 km) from the main islands, are also part of the country and make up the States of Hatohobei and Sonsorol.
Palau enjoys a tropical climate all year round with an annual mean temperature of 82 °F (27 °C). Rainfall can occur throughout the year, averaging a total of 150 inches (3,800 mm). The average humidity over the course of the year is 82%, and although rain falls more frequently between July and October, there is still much sunshine. Typhoons are rare, as Palau is outside the main typhoon zone.
While much of Palau's natural environment remains free of environmental degradation, there are several areas of concern, including illegal fishing with the use of dynamite, inadequate facilities for disposal of solid waste in Koror, and extensive sand and coral dredging in the Palau lagoon. Like the other Pacific island nations, a major environmental threat is global warming and the related rising of sea level. Water coverage of low-lying areas is a threat to coastal vegetation, agriculture, and the purity of the nation's water supply. Palau also has a problem with inadequate water supply and limited agricultural areas to support the size of the population. The nation is also vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanic activity, and tropical storms. Sewage treatment is a problem, along with the handling of toxic waste from fertilizers and biocides.
On 5 November 2005, President of Palau Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. took the lead on an regional environmental initiative called the Micronesia Challenge, which would conserve 30 percent of near shore coastal waters and 20 percent of forest land by 2020. In addition to Palau, the initiative was joined by the Federated States of Micronesia and Marshall Islands, and the U.S. territories of Guam and Northern Mariana Islands. Together, this combined region represents nearly 5 percent of the marine area of the Pacific Ocean and 7 percent of its coastlines.
- 1881 aquaimages.jpg
Divers descending into the main cavern of Blue Hole.
- 1882 aquaimages.jpg
A Tridacna giant clam.
- 1888 aquaimages.jpg
Divers descending next to the mast of the Japanese tanker Iro.
- 1885 aquaimages.jpg
An Anenomefish on the wreck of the Japanese tanker Iro.
- 1889 aquaimages.jpg
Diver and large Moon jellyfish, Jellyfish Lake.
- 1890 aquaimages.jpg
Diver and jellyfish, Jellyfish Lake.
- 1891 aquaimages.jpg
Jellyfish in Jellyfish Lake.
- 1892 aquaimages.jpg
Diver and Nautilus, German Channel.
- 1893 aquaimages.jpg
Nudibranch on sea fan.
- 1897 aquaimages.jpg
Soft corals growing on vertical wall.
- 1898 aquaimages.jpg
Closeup of soft coral.
- 1901 aquaimages.jpg
Starfish on soft coral.
- 1903 aquaimages.jpg
Diver and large table coral.
- 1909 aquaimages.jpg
Divers on a vertical wall, Peleliu Island.
- 1907 aquaimages.jpg
One of the many Rock Islands.
- 1908 aquaimages.jpg
Channel between the Rock Islands.
The economy consists primarily of tourism, subsistence agriculture, and fishing. Tourist activity focuses on scuba diving and snorkeling in the islands' rich marine environment, including the Floating Garden Islands to the west of Koror and the Rock Islands to the south. The government is the major employer of the work force, relying heavily on financial assistance from the US. Business and tourist arrivals numbered 50,000 in the financial year 2000/2001. The population enjoys a per capital income twice that of the Philippines and much of Micronesia. Long-term prospects for the key tourist sector have been greatly bolstered by the expansion of air travel in the Pacific, the rising prosperity of leading East Asian countries, and the willingness of foreigners to finance infrastructure development.
In July 2004, Palau Micronesia Air was launched with service from Palau to Yap, Guam, Micronesia, Saipan, Australia, and the Philippines. It was thought of giving Continental Micronesia a run for its money due to the low fares which it offered to its passengers, however it has ceased operations in December of the same year, mainly because the airline began operating at a time where fuel prices were skyrocketing and also because the cost of operation had been much more than anticipated. Palau Micronesia Air has not restarted operations since but has made a codeshare alliance with Asian Spirit, a carrier that operates flights between Palau and the Philippines (Davao,cebu and Manila) and is much more affordable than Continental Micronesia. There are two flight weekly Manila via Cebu to Palau and one flight weekly from Davao. The flight costs $230 from Davao and $280 from Manila with one week advance booking. (Stand May 4. 2007)
The population of Palau is approximately 19,000, of whom 70% are native Palauans, who are of mixed Melanesian, Micronesian, and Polynesian descent. Filipinos form the second largest ethnic group. Other Asians and Europeans account for the minority groups.
Three quarters of the population are Christians (mainly Catholics and Protestants), while Modekngei (a combination of Christianity, traditional Palauan religion and fortune telling) and the ancient Palauan religion are commonly observed. According to the 2005 census<ref>Office of Planning and Statistics, Republic of Palau: 2005 Census of Population and Housing, Table 59, retrieved on March 1, 2007</ref> 49.4% of the population are Catholics, 21.3% Protestants, 8.7% Modekngei and 5.3% Seventh-day Adventists.
The official languages of Palau are Palauan and English, except for three states (Sonsorol, Hatohobei and Anguar) where the local language, along with Palauan, is official. In Angaur, Japanese is also an official language.
Libraries and museums
There is a small public library in Koror, with a collection comprising about 17,000 books. The Belau National Museum, established in 1973, is also located in Koror.
- Dive sites of Palau
- Foreign relations of Palau
- List of Palauans
- List of radio stations in Palau
- Military of Palau
- Palau at the 2004 Summer Olympics
- Palau at the Summer Olympics
- Public holidays in Palau
- Scouting in Palau
- Searching for American WWII MIAs in Palau
- Survivor: Palau
- Micronesia challenge
- Mybelau.com - A place for palauans
- Official Site of the Republic of Palau
- Palau National Congress - Olbiil Era Kelulau, Senate
- Elizabeth Bassett's Palau website
- My Micronesia.com’s Palau section
- Olekoi Palau
- Palauan Embassy to the United States
- Palauan Pride.com
- Lonely Planet WorldGuide Profile
- WWFM 89.5 Radio Palau
- East Japanese Beads as Palau Heirlooms
- Palau photographs
- Travel Notes - Runoko Rashidi in the Republic of Palau
- Palau Postcards From the Field
- Palauan Recording Studio in Honolulu, HI
- Info on visiting Palau
- Color Coins of Palau