Håfa Adai and Alii!
I have stayed in the Republic of Palau or Belau with my family for a week and am so excited to share my experiences with you. My parents have been visiting Palau for 15 years. I have been to Palau once before in 2011 for the 15U Micronesia Basketball Tournament Western Division and my cousin’s wedding, which was a week later. My family (aside from my sister who is killing it in summer classes at UOG) had the opportunity to come to Palau again when my dad’s close friend decided to get married here. To me, this trip has been a beautiful celebration, a tremendous learning experience, our first family vacation in over 15 years, and a much needed getaway from the hustle and bustle of Westernized life.
Here are some facts about Palau. Palau is an archipelago of more than 500 islands, part of the Micronesia region in the western Pacific Ocean, well known for its scuba-diving and snorkeling sites. The population is just over 20,000. Palau has a constitutional government in free association with the United States. The Compact of Free Association was entered into with the United States on October 1, 1994, also marking Palau’s independence. Palau has three branches of government. The President is directly-elected and serves a four year term. The President and Vice-President run on separate tickets. The Council of Chiefs, comprised of the highest traditional chiefs from each state, acts in an advisory capacity to the President on traditional laws and customs (http://palaugov.org/about-palau/). You can easily research Palau on the internet, but there are some things that you have to experience for yourself. What I have seen, learned, and experienced in Palau, which I will share with you in this post, have me convinced that Palau is the place to be.
Firstly, the Palauan culture is very much alive and well, evident in everything from its people, food, art and architecture, and government. Although introduced to various cultures over the course of hundreds of years, Palauan traditions, values, and ideals are still a part of everyday life. For example, almost all Palauans are fluent in their native language, which they teach at school and at home, they eat mostly locally grown/caught foods including fish, taro, tapioca, bananas, pineapples, papayas, and fish to name a few, and some homes are shaped like the traditional bai. The keepers of the beautiful Palauan culture (which I don’t know very much about), the Palauan people are so nice, generous, and hospitable. If you think that Chamoru hospitality is all that, Palauan hospitality is peerless. I was so happy to meet everyone that I did, especially Rimuu, and hope to see them again some day!
Secondly, the people of Palau, whether local or not, all live in harmony with the life around them. This is an observation that I made myself, which could probably be proven through a survey or something. The first thing I noticed was how much life was in Palau. It wasn’t just the people, but there were so many birds, insects, trees, plants, animals, and aquatic animals/plants, and they were all HEALTHY! Even the stray dogs were healthy and beautiful. It was so amazing and new, and I felt as if all their energy was energizing and revitalizing me (which is probably why my appetite was relatively small). The trees in Palau are huge, however they weren’t obstructing anyone’s view or taking up yard space. It seemed like the people were coexisting with the life that was there. Rarely would anyone cut down a tree or cut into the landscape to shape it how they wanted to. They make use of all the natural materials around them for decorations, furniture, and jewelry to name a few. Palau is also very eco-friendly! I was so excited to see recycle bins, solar panels, and smaller, fuel-efficient cars. Underneath it all, I think that the Palauan people care about their homeland and its entire ecosystem, which is why they are on top of everything. It’s extremely admirable, especially from a colonized-islander’s perspective. We all should care about our sacred lands and fragile ecosystems like our brothers and sisters in Palau, which is another reason why it’s the place to be.
Thirdly, Palau is self-organized. They petitioned to be their own, sovereign country in free-association with the United States in 1994 because they didn’t want to be an unincorporated territory. What is even more impressive is that they incorporated their culture into the government by making Chiefs their own branch, counseling and guiding the executive branch based on their traditional customs and values. Their museums and aquariums were awesome too! The museum was organized, well-managed, and beautiful, and had extensive information on everything in the history of Palau, even information about Guåhan and the Marianas islands! There were beautifully preserved artifacts, vivid pictures, and even an outdoor portion (which I couldn’t see because it was raining). The aquarium was also impressive and very well-put together. There was a government agency for everything from conservation, culture preservation, resource management, tourism, and more! Even though Palau is a small country, it is organized and self-sustainable, which makes it the place to be.
Lastly, Palau is beautiful. The word beautiful doesn’t even begin to describe it. Palau is actually a renowned diving destination, and even described as “the eighth wonder of the world”. Billionaires from around the globe would sail to Palau on their yachts to dive and just see its wondrous beauty. If you ever have a chance to, you should really visit our sister Palau. Personally, it meant a lot to go to Palau because our ancestors frequently traveled there and to the other islands in Micronesia. They are our brothers and sisters because we all came from the same place.
I’ve constantly said that Palau is the place to be, and it is, however, that’s not where I want to be. Palau is our sister, but not our mother. Guåhan is my home, my mother. I’m partially writing this post to show what we can do and what we can be! Palau is amazing, and they have worked hard for what they have. They actually CARE!!! My brothers and sisters of Guåhan, i che’lu–hu, we have to start caring! We need to organize ourselves and become our own sovereign country. We need to get off all the perks of being an unincorporated territory, which are very limited and not even worth it. Those perks are just blinding us from the heinous injustice that have been done unto our guellas and guellus (great grandmothers and great grandfathers), ourselves, and eventually our future generations if we don’t act soon! It is up to us.
Put fabot, get involved, educate yourselves, and care! Our island is being taken from us more and more every day. If Palau can do it, we can do it too.
Si Yu’us Ma’åse for reading!