|Beluu ęr a Belau
Republic of Palau
|Anthem: Belau loba klisiich er a kelulul
|Recognized regional languages
Sonsorolese (in Sonsoral)
Tobian (in Hatohobei)
|Unitary presidential Democratic republic
|Independence from UN Trust Territory status
|Compact of Free Association
|October 1, 1994
|459 km² (196th)
177 sq mi
|$164 million (2008 est.) (not ranked)
|US dollar (
|On 7 October 2006, government officials moved their offices in the former capital of Koror to Ngerulmud in State of Melekeok, located 20 km (12 mi) northeast of Koror on Babelthaup Island and 2 km (1 mi) northwest of Melekeok village.
|GDP estimate includes US subsidy (2004 estimate).
The Republic of Palau is located in the Pacific Ocean some 300 miles (500 kilometers) 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 least populated nations. It is sometimes referred to in English under its native name "Belau." Until recently, Palau was not considered a part of Micronesia. Palau is located between several important geographical locations, which is why it was a top strategic location for nuclear weapons activities during the Cold War era. Palau is within hundreds of miles of New Guinea, Guam, Australia, the Philippines, Japan, Bali, the former Soviet Union, and Korea.
The Republic of Palau consists of eight principal islands and more than 250 smaller ones lying roughly 500 miles (500 kilometers) southeast of the Philippines. The islands of Palau constitute part of the Caroline Islands chain.
Palau's most important islands are Angaur, Babeldaob, Koror, and Peleliu, which lie together near the same barrier reef. About two-thirds of the population lives on Koror. North of these islands is the coral atoll of Kayange. The uninhabited Rock Islands are located to the west of the main island group. A remote group of six islands, known as the Southwest Islands, some 370 miles (600 km) from the main islands, is also part of the country. Palau is divided into sixteen states.
The capital city is Melekeok. The total land area is 177 square miles (458 km²) or slightly more than 2.5 times the size of Washington, DC. The terrain varies geologically from the high, mountainous main island of Babeldaob, to low, coral islands usually fringed by large barrier reefs. The highest point is Mount Ngerchelchauus on Babeldaob, at 794 feet (242 meters). Natural resources include forests, minerals (especially gold), marine products, and deep-seabed minerals.
Palau enjoys a tropical climate with an annual mean temperature of 82°F (27 °C). Rainfall can occur throughout the year; the annual average rainfall is 150 inches (3800 mm). The average humidity is 82 percent, and although rain falls more frequently between July and October, there is still a lot of sunshine. Typhoons are rare as Palau lies outside the typhoon zone.
While much of Palau's fragile 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. Palau also has an inadequate water supply and limited agricultural areas to support the size of its population. The nation is vulnerable to earthquakes, volcanic activity, and tropical storms. Sewage treatment is a problem, along with the handling of toxic waste from fertilizers and biocides.
Like the other Pacific island nations, a big concern 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.
Recent studies show Palauans may have come from China or Indonesia, settling the islands as early as 2500 B.C.E. Otherwise, the Palauan people remain an enigma to most of the world. Cemeteries uncovered on the islands have shown Palau has the oldest burial ceremonies known to Oceania. In 2003, the first confirmed hominid remains of Homo florensis were discovered in Java, renewing archaeological interest in the area. Java is likely where the tradition of Palaun female wealth originated. Carrying on the family line, Palauan women have always been endowed with land, titles, and money. For thousands of years, Palauans have had a well-established matrilineal society.
The Spanish explorer Ruy López de Villalobos may have passed by one of the islands in 1543, but not enough information exists to prove Palau was ever in his sights. European attempts to settle on or trade with the islands were not successful until the eighteenth century, when English captain Henry Wilson was shipwrecked off the island of Ulong in 1783.
In 1885, after Germany occupied some of the islands, a dispute was brought to Pope Leo XIII, who made an attempt to legitimize a Spanish claim to the islands (but with economic concessions for Britain and Germany). In 1899, after its defeat during the Spanish-American War, Spain sold the islands to Germany.
Japan took over the islands at the start of World War I. Over three decades, the Japanese enforced cultural change. The introduction of an exclusive market economy geared towards Japanese citizens temporarily revoked tribal ownership.
The Palauans voted in 1979 not to join the Federated States of Micronesia because of language and cultural differences, choosing independence instead. After a long period of transition, including the violent deaths of two presidents (Haruo Remeliik in 1985 by assassination and Lazarus Salii in 1988 by suicide), Palau voted in 1994 to become freely associated with the United States while retaining independence. This compact of free association was a hotly debated issue that Palauans voted down more than ten times. Provisions in the compact allow the United States to control 51 percent of the island in times of national emergency and the ability to use the islands as a launching pad for nuclear warheads—contrary to Palau's non-nuclear policy. The nuclear issue surfaced in 2005 when water on Guam, a close neighbor, tested positive for radiation fallout from two secret thermonuclear bomb tests in 1952.
The control of the Marianas Trench has been an area of dispute in Palau. The United States wants control of the trench for submarine testing, arguing that it is the deepest in the world. The U.S. already has a submarine base on Guam, the southern-most island of the Mariana Islands.
World War II
Peleliu was the scene of a hard-fought battle between American and Japanese forces in 1944 that resulted in an Allied victory, though the cost in human terms was high for both sides. At the end of the Second World War, the islands came under control of the United States as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
There are still roughly 100 American service members listed as Missing in Action (MIA) in Palau. Since 1993, a small group of American volunteers called The BentProp Project have searched the waters and jungles of Palau for information that could lead to the identification and recovery of remains of these missing Americans.
The president of Palau, who is both head of state and head of government, is elected every four years. The government also has a bicameral parliament, known as the "Olbiil Era Kelulau," elected by popular vote—the Senate consists of nine members and the House of Delegates consists of 16. President Tommy Remengesau (originally elected in 2000) was re-elected in 2004. Remengesau had previously served as vice president.
The judiciary comprises a Supreme Court, a National Court, and a Court of Common Pleas. The legal system is based on trust territory laws, Acts of the Legislature, municipal, common, and customary laws.
Palau gained its independence October 1, 1994, when the compact of free association with the United States came into force. Palau was the last Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands to gain its independence. Under the compact, the U.S. remains responsible for Palau's defense for 50 years.
Tourism is Palau's main industry, accounting for roughly half of Palau's GDP. Activities focus on scuba diving and snorkeling among the islands' rich marine environment, including the Floating Garden Islands west of Koror. The number of visitors—85 percent of whom come from Japan, Taiwan, and the U.S.—reached nearly 63,000 in 2003, more than quadruple the level of 20 years earlier. Arrivals from Asian countries dropped in 1998 and 1999 due to the regional economic downturn and the depreciation of many Asian currencies against the dollar, which made Palau's dollar-denominated prices more expensive. Tourism will likely expand though, as air travel in the Pacific has become more widespread, East Asian countries have had recent successes, and foreign finance of infrastructure has increased.
The service sector contributes more than 80 percent of GDP and employs about three-quarters of the work force. The government alone employs nearly 30 percent of workers. One of the government's main responsibilities is administering external assistance. Under the terms of its compact with the United States, Palau will receive more than US$450 million in assistance over 15 years and is eligible to participate in more than 40 federal programs. The first grant of US$142 million was made in 1994. Further annual payments in lesser amounts will be made through 2009. U.S. grants in 1999 totaled US$24 million.
Palau's per capita GDP of US$7,600 in 2005 makes it one of the wealthier Pacific island states. Nominal GDP increased by an annual average of nearly 14 percent from 1983 to 1990, and by an annual rate of over 10 percent from 1991 to 1997. Growth turned sharply negative in 1998 and 1999 as a result of the Asian financial crisis.
Exports totaled US$5.882 million in 2004. Export commodities were shellfish, tuna, copra (a coconut product), and garments. Export partners were the U.S., Japan, and Singapore. Imports totaled US$107.3 million in 2004. Import commodities were machinery and equipment, fuels, metals, and foodstuffs. Import partners were the U.S., Japan, South Korea, and Singapore.
Palauans are Micronesian mixed with Melanesians and Malayans, and make up 70 percent of the population of 19,000 people. Indo-Europeans, Asians, and Europeans account for the minority groups. Life expectancy is 68.59 years.
Two-thirds of the population are said to be Christian (mainly Catholic and Seventh-day Adventist), but Modekngei (a combination of Christianity, traditional Palauan religion, and fortunetelling) and the ancient Palauan religion are still the most commonly observed household religions.
The official languages are Palauan and English, except for three states (Sonsorol, Hatohobei, and Anguar) where the local language is official. In Angaur, Japanese is official. The older generation, raised during the Japanese occupation, speaks fluent Japanese. The younger generation, raised under American influence, speaks English. Palauan (also spelled “Belauan”) is a member of the Austronesian family of languages, and is considered to be one of two languages in Micronesia (the other being Chamorro) belonging to the Western Malayo-Polynesian group. All other languages are considered to be members of either the Micronesian or Polynesian subgroups of Eastern Malayo-Polynesia. Palauan is primarily a spoken language, so there is confusion about the correct spelling of names. Without a set standard, almost every map spells island names differently.
Palauans have had a well-established matrilineal society. Clan lands continue to be passed through titled women and first daughters. Palauan women have always been endowed with land, titles, and money. Palauan villages are organized around 10 clans that are determined matrilineally. A council of chiefs from the ranking 10 clans governs the villages, and a parallel council of female counterparts plays a significant advisory role in the control and division of land and money.
Members of the highest-ranking clans were also the wealthiest, controlling state and village as well as clan money and resources. Leaders were responsible for caring for their descendants and dependents. But the chiefly system is being replaced by social stratification based on educational attainment and wealth.
The community meeting house, or bai, is an impressive thatched building that is still the center of political, social, and artistic life in many villages. The decorated bai gable is used in most national and state seals and to decorate Palauan buildings. The ceremonial image of a mother at the time of her first child symbolizes the wealth and fertility of their matrilineal society.
The provision of food has followed a traditional division of labor between men and women. Men provide the protein, mainly in the form of fish from the sea, while women produce starch foods. Each clan has certain food taboos. There are special foods for titled individuals and for pregnant and lactating women. Food and related valuables are exchanged when building a house, receiving a title, and to mark births and deaths. Imported rice has become a staple food. A basic meal comprises a starch food, preferably soft or hard taro, tapioca, or rice, and a protein food, normally fish. Coffee and breads or cereal may provide a fast breakfast. Japanese and American foods, and the various cuisines of China, the Philippines, and Korea, add variety to the diet. There are many restaurants in Palau. Beer is commonly consumed and a local brewery has been established.
Ninety-two percent of Palauans over the age of 15 can read and write. Families who can afford to, send their children to the United States or to Hawaii for high school and college. Many children who attend schools abroad do not return to Palau. As a result, there is a shortage of young professional Palauans.
There is a small public library in Koror, with a collection of about 17,000 books. The Belau National Museum, established in 1973, is also located in Koror.
Until the 1800s, Palauans were tattooed, with the most ornate designs on women of the high clan. Men wore their hair in tight buns. Important chiefs wore bracelets made from vertebrae of dugongs.
Palau’s musical heritage is Micronesian, but has been influenced by music from the United States and western Europe, as well as Japan. Modern Palauan pop music emerged in the mid-1980s. Palauan pop music includes elements of Japanese music, a legacy of the period of Japanese domination. The American influence can be heard in a distinctly Palauan form of country music. Popular performers include IN-X-ES, whose "Mousobes" was a major commercial success in 1999. Since 1980, the national anthem of Palau has been a song written by Ymesei O. Ezekiel.
- Central Intelligence Agency, Palau World Factbook.
ReferencesISBN links support NWE through referral fees
- Barnett, H. G. “Palauan Society: A Study of Contemporary Native Life in the Palau Islands.” Pacific Science Board, National Research Council, 1949. ASIN B0007F5C4C
- Hezel, Francis X. The New Shape of Old Island Cultures: A Half Century of Social Change in Micronesia. University of Hawaii Press, 2001. ISBN 0824823931
- Leibowitz, Arnold H. Embattled Island: Palau’s Struggle for Independence. Praeger/Greenwood, 1996. ISBN 0275953904
- Poyer, Lin, Laurence Marshall Carucci, and Suzanne Falgout. The Typhoon of War. University of Hawaii Press, 2001. ISBN 0824821688
All links retrieved November 18, 2022.
|Countries and territories of Oceania
|Australia : Australia · Norfolk Island
|Melanesia : East Timor · Fiji · Maluku Islands & Western New Guinea (part of Indonesia) · New Caledonia · Papua New Guinea · Solomon Islands · Vanuatu
|Micronesia : Guam · Kiribati · Marshall Islands · Northern Mariana Islands · Federated States of Micronesia · Nauru · Palau · Wake Island
|Polynesia : American Samoa · Cook Islands · French Polynesia · Hawaii · New Zealand · Niue · Pitcairn Islands · Samoa · Tokelau · Tonga · Tuvalu · Wallis and Futuna
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