History of Palau
Palau was initially settled over 3,000 years ago, and perhaps 4,500 years ago, probably by migrants from the Philippines. British traders became prominent visitors in the 18th century, followed by expanding Spanish influence in the 19th century. Following its defeat in the Spanish-American War, Spain sold Palau and most of the rest of the Caroline Islands to Germany in 1899. Control passed to Japan in 1914 and during World War II the islands were taken by the United States in 1944, with the costly Battle of Peleliu between September 15 and November 25 with more than 2,000 Americans and 10,000 Japanese killed. The islands passed formally to the United States under United Nations auspices in 1947 as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
Four of the Trust Territory districts formed a single federated Micronesian state in 1979, but the districts of Palau and the Marshall Islands declined to participate. Palau, the westernmost cluster of the Caroline Islands, instead opted for independent status in 1978, approved a new constitution and became the Republic of Palau in 1981, and signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1982. After eight referendums and an amendment to the Palauan constitution, the Compact was ratified in 1993 and went into effect on October 1, 1994, marking Palau independent de jure (after Palau was independent de facto since May 25, 1994, when the trusteeship cancelled).
Legislation making Palau an "offshore" financial center was passed by the Senate in 1998. In 2001, Palau passed its first bank regulation and anti-money laundering laws.
Carbon dating of cave burials show a pygmy population, presumably the result of insular dwarfism, from at least 3,000, and perhaps as long as 4,500 years ago until about 900 years ago (1000–2500 BCE until ca. 1100 CE).
The Palauan language is an outlier among the Austronesian languages, and so does not shed much light on the origins of the modern population. However, there are some indications that it may derive from the Sunda Islands (modern Indonesia).
For thousands of years, Palauans have had a well established matrilineal society, believed to have descended from Javanese precedents. Traditionally land, money, and titles passed through the female line. Clan lands continue to be passed through titled women and first daughters but there is also a modern patrilineal sentiment introduced by imperial Japan. The Japanese government attempted to confiscate and redistribute tribal land into personal ownership during World War II, and there has been little attempt to restore the old order. Legal entanglements continue amongst the various clans.
Historians take note of the early navigational routes of European explorers in the Pacific. There is disagreement as to whether Spaniard Ruy López de Villalobos, who landed in several Caroline Islands, spotted the Palau archipelago in 1543. No conclusive evidence exists, but some believe he could have seen the tip of a southernmost island in the group.
Palau had limited relations before the 18th century, mainly with Yap and Java. Had it not been for shipwrecked islanders who took refuge in the Philippines, Europeans likely would not have found Palau until much later. Englishman Henry Wilson, captain of the East India Company's packet Antelope, was shipwrecked off the island of Ulong in 1783. The King of Palau allowed Captain Wilson to take his son, Prince Lee Boo, to England, where he arrived in 1784. However, the prince died soon after of smallpox. The East India Company erected a monument over his grave in St Mary's Churchyard, Rotherhithe. It was Wilson who gave the archipelago the name "Pelew Islands".
In the late 19th century, possession of the islands was claimed by Britain, Spain, and Imperial Germany. In 1885, the matter was brought to Pope Leo XIII for a decision. The Pope recognized the Spanish claim, but granted economic concessions to Britain and Germany. Palau then became part of the Spanish East Indies, along with the Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands. and the rest of the Caroline Islands. They were all administered from the Philippines.
Under the Spanish administration, Palau underwent its first forms of extreme foreign influence. Catholicism is the most highlighted amongst all these forms, having been introduced to the native population and accepted rather easily, despite the fact that Palauans were ardent followers of their traditional faith. Elements from the Spanish language were also integrated into the Palauan lexicon; the Palauan word for hammer, "martiliong", is derived from the Spanish "martillo". Even with these forms of influence, Palau has predominantly very little influence from the Spanish occupation compared to other islands within the region, such as Guam. This is partly due to the reason that, aside from Spanish Jesuit missionaries, Spain had very little economic and colonization activity on the islands.
Palau was administered from German New Guinea, and a period of economic development began. German engineers began exploiting the islands' deposits of bauxite and phosphate, and a rich harvest in copra was made.
Although the German occupation had lasted a mere 15 years, major changes in Palauan society had occurred. Many traditional practices among the natives had been outlawed by German administrators, specifically the acts of tattooing and mengol. Tattooing had been a practice reserved for members of higher castes, and the Spanish had tried on numerous occasions to banish the practice. Unlike the Spanish, the Germans had a major foothold on the local traditional government, given the economic benefits many clan heads were gaining. The art of tattooing was banished completely by the late 19th century, and the last tattooed native died in the early 1960s.
The practice of mengol is one very unique to the islands, and one that was greatly discouraged by all foreign administrations. In mengol young unmarried women from one village are sent to male clubhouses in another or other villages, whether enemy or ally, as a sign of peace or friendship. The actions of these mengol ranged from simple companionship of the men of the clubhouse, much like the Japanese geisha, to sexual favors. However, the mengol were not prostitutes, as even the unmarried daughters of clan heads could be sent off as mengol.
Under the terms of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, the Empire of Japan declared war on the German Empire in 1914 and invaded German overseas territories in the Pacific Ocean. Palau was seized by ships of the Japanese navy. After the war, the League of Nations awarded Palau to Japan as a Class C League of Nations Mandate.
Japan incorporated the islands as an integral part of its empire, establishing the Nanyo-cho government with Koror Island as the capital. From 1914 to 1922, the Japanese Imperial Navy had been in control. Civilian control was introduced from 1922, and Palau was one of six administrative districts within the Mandate. Japan mounted an aggressive economic development program and promoted large scale immigration by Japanese, Okinawans and Koreans. Native Palauans soon became a small minority in their own homeland. The Japanese continued the German mining activities, and also established bonito (skipjack tuna) canning and copra processing plants in Palau. Japanese economic activity was so extreme during their occupation, that the industrial capital, Koror, was once termed by Japanese officials and tourists as "chiisai Tokyo", meaning "little Tokyo."
The Japanese had perhaps the most profound impact on Palauan society. Under the Japanese government, Palau underwent extreme social, economic, and political changes. Unlike other parts of the Japanese Empire, the local Japanese administration recognized the benefits of utilizing the traditional government to their advantage, given the extreme adherence the natives followed towards their clans and traditions. Under the Japanese government, heads of the Palauan traditional government were replaced by more "Japanese" natives, as a way of securing the obedience of the Palauan people. This proved rather successful, as more and more Palauans so the benefits the Japanese government was providing. Under the Japanese administration, all Palauan children were required to attend school, and by the 1930s, nearly all Palauan children were literate in Japanese, with the exception of children in outlier islands, specifically the Southwest Islands.
World War II
The Japanese presence made Palau a major target for the Allied forces in World War II. Peleliu was a scene of intense fighting between American and Japanese forces in 1944. The battle ended in an Allied victory, but at a high cost for both sides. All surviving Japanese were repatriated after the end of the war. There are still about 100 American servicemen listed as Missing In Action in Palau. Starting in 1993, a small group of American volunteers called The BentProp Project has searched the waters and jungles of Palau for information that could lead to the identification and recovery of these remains.
In 1947, the United Nations decided the United States would administer Palau as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In 1979, Palauans voted against joining the Federated States of Micronesia, the Marshall Islands and the Marianas (except Guam) because of language and cultural differences. A long period of transition occurred between 1979 and 1994, specifically in the capital, Koror, on the topic of relations with the United States. During this period, Palau underwent its first form of civil unrest since the last inter-village war in 1879. This civil unrest had escalated into extreme violence, resulting in numerous bombings of homes of powerful politicians, intellectuals, influential locals, and the death of two presidents. At one point, the civil struggle had resulted to the point of anarchy, and the King of the Southern Federation of Palau, the Ibedul, assumed responsibility over governing the Palauan islands which thereby established a temporary state of absolute monarchy. After a long period of transition, including the violent deaths of two presidents (Haruo Remeliik in 1985 and Lazarus Salii in 1988), Palau voted in 1994 to freely associate with the United States while retaining independence under the Compact of Free Association.
- Lee R. Berger, Steven E. Churchill, Bonita De Klerk1, Rhonda L. Quinn (March 2008). "Small-Bodied Humans from Palau, Micronesia". PLoS ONE 3 (3): e1780. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0001780. PMC 2268239. PMID 18347737.
- Palau National Communications Corporation
- Sandafayre.com on Palauan history
- United States Department of State article on Palau
- Peatty, Nan'Yo: The Rise and Fall of the Japanese in Micronesia
- Beasley, Japanese Imperialism