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Republic of Palau


CAPITAL: Koror, Koror Island

FLAG: The flag, adopted 1 January 1981, is light blue, with a yellow disc set slightly off center toward the hoist.

ANTHEM: Belau er Kid.

MONETARY UNIT: The US dollar is the official medium of exchange.

WEIGHTS AND MEASURES: British units are used, as modified by US usage.

HOLIDAYS: New Year's Day, 1 January; Youth Day, 15 March; Senior Citizens Day, 5 May; Constitution Day, 9 July; Labor Day, 1st Monday in September; United Nations Day, 24 October; Thanksgiving Day, 4th Thursday in November; Christmas, 25 December.

TIME: 8 pm = noon GMT.


Palau (also known as Belau) is located in the western extremities of the Pacific Ocean. It consists of the Palau group of islands, in the western Caroline Islands, and four remote islands to the sw. Palau is isolated from larger land masses, with Papua New Guinea/Irian Jaya (Indonesia) 660 km (410 mi) to the s, the Philippines 885 km (550 mi) to the w, and Japan 3,042 km (1,890 mi) to the n. Yap Island in the Federated States of Micronesia lies 579 km (360 mi) to the ne. The country consists of more than 200 islands, with a total land area of 458 sq km (177 sq mi). Babelthuap is the largest island, with an area of 397 sq km (153.2 sq mi); Koror Island, containing the capital, has an area of 18 sq km (7.1 sq mi). The islands of Peleliu and Angaur are about 50 km (30 mi) s of Koror. Sonsorol and Hatohobei, the two smallest island states, lie 560640 km (350400 mi) sw of Koror. Kayangel is a coral atoll 45 km (28 mi) n of Babelthuap.


The islands include four types of topographical formation: volcanic, high limestone, low platform, and coral atoll. The Palau barrier reef encircles the Palau group, except Angaur Island and the Kayangel atoll. The reef encloses a lagoon (1,267 sq km/489 sq mi) on the western side, containing a large number of small elevated limestone islets known as the Rock Islands. Babelthuap and Koror, with peak elevations of 217 m (713 ft) and 628 m (2,061 ft), respectively, contain elevated limestone and volcanic formations. Arakabesan, Malakal, and several small northern islands are volcanic formations. Peleliu and Angaur are low-platform reef islands.


Located near the equator, Palau's climate is maritime tropical, characterized by little seasonal and diurnal variation. The annual mean temperature is 28°c (82°f) in the coolest months. There is high precipitation throughout the year and a relatively high humidity of 82%. Heavy rainfall occurs from May to November. The short torrential nature of the rainfall produces up to 380 cm (150 in) of precipitation annually. Typhoons and tropical storms occur from June through November.


Plant life, abundant throughout most of the islands, includes mangrove swamps, savanna land, and rain forest in upland areas. Food crops, such as taros, cassavas, sweet potatoes, coconuts, bananas, papayas, and citrus fruits, are mostly wild. Marine life is also abundant, with more than 1,500 species of tropical fish and 700 species of coral and anemones in the lagoons and reefs. Fauna includes the sea turtle, which is consumed as a delicacy, and the dugong, or sea cow, a marine mammal that is close to extinction.


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. Like the other Pacific island nations, a major environmental problem 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.

According to a 2006 report issued by the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN), threatened species included 3 types of mammals, 2 species of birds, 2 types of reptiles, 6 species of fish, 5 types of mollusks, and 3 species of plants. Threatened species included the hawksbill turtle, tiger sharks, grey dolphins, coconut crabs, and green turtles. The Palau flying fox has become extinct.


The population of Palau in 2005 was estimated by the United Nations (UN) at 21,000, which placed it at number 190 in population among the 193 nations of the world. In 2005, approximately 5% of the population was over 65 years of age, with another 24% of the population under 15 years of age. According to the UN, the annual population rate of change for 200510 was expected to be 0.9%. The government's family planning programs succeeded in curbing the high birth rate, and the government viewed the population growth rate as satisfactory. The projected population for the year 2025 was 23,000. The population density was 46 per sq km (118 per sq mi).

The UN estimated that 70% of the population lived in and around the capital city, Koror on Koror Island, which had a population of 14,000 in 2005. The annual population growth rate in Koror that year was estimated at 1.80%.


In 1999, persons not Palau-born accounted for nearly 30% of the total population. Most were born in the Philippines, China, and Bangladesh; there were also significant numbers from the Federated States of Micronesia, the United States, and Japan. Most were workers; in 1999, foreigners made up 46% of the total work force. The vast majority of these foreigners were located in Koror. About one-fifth of all Palauans live abroad, many on Guam. Remittance flows are poorly documented. Since 2001 the ratio of Palauans to foreign workers has remained 50:50. In 2005, the net migration rate was 2.36 migrants per 1,000 population. The government views the migration levels as too high.


Palauans are a composite of Polynesian, Malayan, and Melanesian races. At the 2000 census, Palauans accounted for about 69.9% of the total population. The largest non-Palauan ethnic groups included Filipinos (15.3%), Chinese (4.9%), other Asians (2.4%), Carolinians (1.4%), other Micronesians (1.1%), and people of European descent (1.9%).


English is the official language in all of Palau's 16 states; however, it is only spoken by about 9.4% of the population. Palauan, a Malayo-Polynesian language related to Indonesian, is the most commonly spoken language, used by 64.7% of the population. Palauan is used, in addition to English, as an official language in 13 states. Sonsorolese is official in the state of Sonsoral; Anguar and Japanese in the state of Anguar; and Tobi in the state of Tobi. About 13.5% of the population speak Filipino. 5.7% speak Chinese, 1.5% speak Carolinian, 1.5% Japanese, and 2.3% other Asian languages.


Most Palauans are Christians. The Roman Catholic Church holds the largest number of members at about 65% of the population. Other significant denominations include the Evangelical Church, the Seventh-Day Adventists, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Jehovah's Witnesses. Modekngei, which is indigenous to Palau and combines both pagan and Christian beliefs and customs, is practiced by about 800 people. There are a small number of Bangladeshi Muslims. Several foreign missionaries are active in the country.

Religious groups register as nonprofit organizations through the Office of the Attorney General. There is no state religion, but the government does offer some financial support to religious schools. Freedom of religion is provided for in the constitution.


The nation's roads at last estimate totaled 61 km (37.9 mi), of which 36 km (22 mi) were paved. Asphalt roads are found only in Koror, Airai, and Melekeok. A two-lane concrete bridge, constructed in 1976, links Koror with Airai. The Koror state government provides a public bus service. Palau's deepwater harbor at Malakal in Koror offers international port facilities. Heavy reliance is placed on small private watercraft throughout the country.

As of 2004, there were three airports, of which one (as of 2005), had a paved runway. The international airport is located in Airai, 10 km (6 mi) from Koror. Three airlines provide international service: Air Micronesia/Continental, Air Nauru, and South Pacific Island Airways. There are three domestic airlines: Palau Paradise Air, Aero Belau, and Freedom Air.


As part of the Carolinian archipelago, the islands were sighted by European navigators as early as the 16th century. In 1686, the Spanish explorer Francisco Lezcano named Yap Island (now in the Federated States of Micronesia) "La Carolina" after King Charles II of Spain. The name was later generalized to include all the islands. Spanish sovereignty was established in 1885. In 1899, after Spain's defeat in the Spanish-American War of 1898, Palau, with the rest of the Carolines, was sold to Germany. At the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the islands were taken by the Japanese. As a member of the League of Nations, Japan was given a mandate over Palau in 1920, and Koror was developed as an administrative center of Japanese possessions in the north Pacific.

In 1947, following occupation by US forces in World War II, Palau became part of the UN Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, which was administered by the United States. After the adoption of a constitution in 1980, Palau became a self-governing republic in 1981. Beginning in 1982, the republic was involved in negotiating a Compact of Free Association (CPA) with the United States. Negotiations stalled because the United States wanted to use the islands as a military site, while Palau's 1980 constitution prohibited any placement of nuclear weapons.

In June 1985, President Haruo Remeliik was assassinated; Vice President Alfonso Oiterang served as acting president until August 1985, when he was defeated in an election by Lazarus E. Salii. President Salii committed suicide in August 1988. Kuniwo Nakamura was elected president in November 1992.

On 1 October 1994 Palau became an independent nation in free association with the United States; under the 1994 CPA, the United States is responsible for Palau's defense. In addition, CPA funds were allocated to finance the building of roads and infrastructure on Babelthuap, across from the capital Koror, in order to attract people and economic activity. As of 1999, despite President Nakamura's support, Paramount Chief Ibedul Yutaka Gibbons of Koror, the most powerful traditional leader in Palau, opposed the Compact and its channeling of resources away from Koror and to Babelthuap, arguing the Compact would erode Palau's autonomy and threaten traditional values. Palau's CPA with the United States was scheduled for renegotiation in 2009.

In July 1999, Palau hosted the First Micronesian Traditional Leaders' Conference. In October 1999, Palau hosted the 30th South Pacific Forum with more than 300 foreign delegates, observers, and media members. The Forum considered issues on climate and sea level change, regional security and law enforcement, fisheries, and the United Nations Special Session on Small Island Developing States. Trade ministers of the South Pacific Forum endorsed the proposal for a Pacific Free Trade Area (FTA) that would create a regional market of six million people, allowing goods produced in the 14 island countries to be traded freely. Late in 2005, the FTA and the trade liberalization it could bring were still under discussion.

In 2003, Palau became a member of SOPAC, the South Pacific Applied Geoscience Commission, a group which has among its aims the sustainable development of mineral and other nonliving resources, and the reduction of poverty for the people of the Pacific.

In 2005, Palau supported Japan's attempts to expand commercial whaling, as well as its application for permanent membership on the United Nations Security Council.

In general elections held 2 November 2004, Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. was elected to a second term as president, and Camsek Chin to a first term as vice president.

In 2004 President Remengesau favored a constitutional amendment to change the existing bicameral congress (House of Representatives and Senate) to a unicameral form of government to reduce the cost of government. This proposed change had been discussed in the congress as early as 1993. Other amendments Remengesau championed included having presidential and vice presidential candidates run on a single ticket, and allowing Palauans dual citizenship. When the Senate failed to act on these amendments, the president signed into law a Constitutional Convention to be held from 17 May 200515 June 2005. The 25 delegates to the Convention were charged with reviewing the constitution and proposing amendments.

Discussed during the Constitutional Convention were the above-mentioned move from a bicameral to a unicameral legislature, vesting increased powers in the cabinet, and changing the title of cabinet ministers to secretaries. Any proposed amendments coming out of the convention had to be approved in the 2008 elections by a popular majority and three quarters of the states.


The government comprises three branches: the executive, the legislative, and the judicial. The executive branch is headed by the president, who is elected by popular vote for not more than two terms of four years each. The president is assisted by a cabinet of ministers, one of whom is the vice president and is also elected by popular vote. The president and vice president run on separate tickets. A council of chiefs, based on Palau's clan system, advises the president on traditional and customary matters.

The legislative branch, known as the Olbiil Era Kelulau, or National Congress, is a bicameral form of legislature, comprising 9 senators and 16 delegates. The senators, elected for four-year terms, are apportioned throughout Palau on the basis of population and traditional regional political groupings. The delegates are elected from each of the 16 states and have the same four-year term as the senators.

In November 1992 Kuniwo Nakamura and Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. were elected Palau's new president and vice president, respectively. Both Nakamura and Remengesau were reelected in 1996. In the 2000 general elections, Remengesau was elected president, and Sandra Pierantozzi became Palau's first woman vice president. In November 2004, Remengesau was reelected, taking 64% of the popular vote, while Camsek Chin took 70% of the votes to become vice president.


No political parties exist in Palau.


Each of Palau's 16 states has a government headed by a governor, who is popularly elected, in most cases, for a four-year term. The members of the state legislatures are popularly elected for a four-year term, although in a few states, the term of office is limited to two years. The states are empowered to make their own laws, which must not be in conflict with the national constitution or any existing laws.


The Supreme Court is the highest court in the land. Other courts include the National Court and the lower court system, consisting of the Court of Common Pleas and the Land Court. Court appointments are for life. In October, 1990 US Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan issued an order granting the Interior Department in Washington the power to veto laws and reverse decisions by Palau's courts. This reassertion of legal authority by the United States was partially in response to the decade of unsuccessful negotiations concerning a plan for eventual self-government.

The constitution provides for an independent judiciary and the government respects this provision in practice. Palau has an independent prosecutor and an independent public defender system.


The United States is responsible for defense. Palau has no armed forces and does not have US armed forces within its borders except for a small contingent of US Navy Seabees who undertake civil action projects.


Palau became a member of the United Nations on 15 December 1994; it participates in ESCAP, the World Bank, the FAO, ICAO, IMF, IFC, UNCTAD, UNESCO and WHO. Palau is also a member of the ACP Group, the Asian Development Bank, G-77, the Pacific Island Forum, and the Alliance of Small Island States (AOSIS). The country is part of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons. Under the Compact of Free Association, the United States is responsible for the island nation's defense. In environmental cooperation, Palau is part of the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Kyoto Protocol, the Montréal Protocol, and the UN Conventions on the Law of the Sea, Climate Change and Desertification.


The economy has a narrow production base as a result of limited natural resources and few skilled personnel. The services sector consists largely of government administration and trade. Large gaps exist between government revenues and expenditures and between imports and exports. These gaps are financed largely by grant assistance from the United States. Unemployment is a major problem. Expansion of air travel in the Pacific has fueled growth of the tourist sector. Tourist arrivals number 50,000 in 2000/01, down a from a peak of 66,441 in 1996/97. Real GDP growth slid precipitously after booming postindependence rates of 24.3% in 1994/95 and 18.1% in 1995/96. In 1996/97 growth moderated to 5.5%, but in the wake of the Asian financial crisis, the economy contracted 5.4% in 1997/98. The economy remained flat in 1998/99, and 1999/00, with growth rates of 1.1% and 1%, respectively. The Compact Trust Fund balance, at $70.8 billion at independence, reached $161.8 billion by 1999/00, but had fallen to $135 billion in 2000/01.

In 2004, the economy grew by 2.0%, following a period of economic slump in 2002, and 2003 (when the GDP actually shrunk by -4.7% and -0.1% respectively). The inflation rate has been fluctuating slightly but did not pose a major problem to the economyin 2004, it dropped to 0.2%, from 1.3% in 2003.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reports that in 2005 Palau's gross domestic product (GDP) was estimated at $174.0 million. The CIA defines GDP as the value of all final goods and services produced within a nation in a given year and computed on the basis of purchasing power parity (PPP) rather than value as measured on the basis of the rate of exchange based on current dollars. The per capita GDP was estimated at $9,000. The annual growth rate of GDP was estimated at 1%. The average inflation rate in 2000 was 3.4%.


The economically active population of Palau was 9,845 persons in 2000 (the latest year for which data was available). Recent data on the occupational breakdown of the workforce is not available. In 2000, the unemployment rate was estimated at 2.3%.

There are no specific provisions granting the right to strike or organize unions, but the issue has never come up and there were no organized trade unions.

There is no minimum age for employment, but children do not typically work, except to help out in small scale family enterprises such as fishing or agriculture. Education is compulsory until age 14, and this is enforced by the government.

Palau's first minimum wage law, passed in 1998, set a rate of $2.50 per hour. This was still in effect in 2002, and generally provides for a decent standard of living for a family. There are many foreign workers in Palau, and these workers often receive housing and food in addition to wages. There are no legally proscribed work hours, but most businesses are closed on Saturday or Sunday.


Agricultural production belongs almost entirely to the nonmonetary, or subsistence, sector. Most households outside Koror are fully or partially engaged in subsistence agriculture. Staple subsistence crops include taros, cassavas, sweet potatoes, bananas, and papayas. Commercial produce is marketed mainly in Koror, consisting mostly of copra and coconut oil, vegetables, and a wide variety of tropical fruits.


Livestock is limited to pigs, chickens, ducks, cattle, and goats. Pigs and chickens are raised by most households. Several small commercial egg-producing operations supply eggs to the Koror market. The Livestock Branch of the Division of Agriculture maintains breeding herds of pigs, cattle, and goats.


Palau's marine resources are rich and diverse. Subsistence fishing within the reef is a major activity and dominates market production. The total catch was 1,051 tons in 2003. Deep-sea fishing for pelagic species resulted in a tuna catch of 68 tons in 2003. Seasonal trochus harvesting for shell button manufacture is an important source of income for most fishermen. Other marine resources include pearls, shrimp, ornamental fish, seaweed (agar agar), and mollusks. Palau is known for having some of the best diving, snorkeling, and sport fishing areas in the world.


About 76% of Palau was forested in 2000. Forestry resources consist of coastal mangrove, coconut and pandanus palms, and rain forest species in upland areas. Palau is heavily dependent on imported forestry products, including furniture and lumber for house construction. The government's forestry station at Nekken on Babelthuap Island, of which more than half of the 1,257 hectares (3,105 acres) consists of natural forest, provides primarily mahogany seedlings to farmers. Palau imported $1.1 million in forest products during 2004.


Crystalline calcite from glistening limestone caves was first quarried as many as 1,5002,000 years ago. The doughnut-shaped finished carved products would be transported by canoe some 400 km (250 mi) to Yap (now part of the Federated States of Micronesia), and used as currency.

The Koror state government engages in commercial production of dredged coral from the Palau lagoon, with a production capacity of 800 cu m per day. Other states are also involved in coral dredging. A private company supplies aggregates for concrete from crushed basalt rock and beach sand.


The economy is almost totally dependent on imported petroleum for energy. Electricity is supplied from the Malakal power plant, located in the state of Koror, with an installed capacity of approximately 8,000 kW. There are state-owned power plants with capacities ranging from 30 kW to 120 kW in Peleliu, Angur, Ngiwal, Ngeremlengui, Airai, Ngaraard, and Ngerchelong. Per capita consumption of electricity in 1995 was 11,704 kWh. Both production and consumption of electricity were 200 million kWh in 1996; of the power produced, 85% came from fossil fuels and 15% from hydropower.


Manufacturing plays a limited role in the economy. A copra-processing plant is located in Malakal. Concrete blocks are manufactured, utilizing imported cement, and there is a small-scale sawmill industry. Other industries include the manufacturing of craft items (from shell, wood, pearls), construction, and garment making.


Palau's Micronesian Mariculture Demonstration Center, established in 1973, promotes the cultivation of commercially valuable and ecologically threatened marine species. The center attracts visiting marine scientists. Its giant clam hatchery was the first and remains the largest of its kind.


Domestic trade is centered in Koror. Private-sector activities in tourism, restaurants and hotels, small workshops, banking, wholesale and retail outlets, transportation, and freight handling are located in Koror and, to a limited extent, the adjacent state of Airai. Most of the work force is employed in services related to tourism. The country relies heavily on imports for basic goods.


Palau's economy sustains a large trade deficit. Food, beverages, and tobacco account for 19% of imports; manufactured goods, 20%; machinery and transportation equipment, 28%; mineral fuel and lubricants, 13%; and other imports, 20%. The country's low volume and limited range of exports include shellfish, tuna, copra, and garments. The United States, Japan, and Singapore are Palau's predominant trading partners.

In 2001, exports totaled $18 million (FOBFree on Board), while imports grew to $99 million. In 2003, 86.7% of exports went to Japan, but by 2004 the United States was Palau's main export partneran indicator of Palau's fragile economic base and its dependency on other countries. The United States, Guam, Japan, Singapore, and South Korea were the main import partners in 2004.


Standardized balance-of-payments accounts have not yet been prepared by the government. The chronic trade deficit is largely offset by US grant assistance.

The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) reported that in 1999 the purchasing power parity of Palau's exports was $11 million while imports totaled $126 million resulting in a trade deficit of $115 million.

Exports of goods and services totaled $75 million in 2004, up from $70 million in 2003. Imports grew from $102 million in 2003, to $124 million in 2004. The resource balance was on a negative upsurge, growing from -$33 million in 2003, to -$50 million in 2004. A similar trend was registered for the current account balance, which deteriorated from -$5 million in 2003, to -$23 million in 2004.


In 1993, there were five commercial banks. Two are branches of foreign banks, the Bank of Hawaii and the Bank of Guam; the other, a local bank which started in 1985, is the Bank of Palau.


Social security and pension fund contributions are made by the government on behalf of its employees.


The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) estimated that in FY 1998/99, the most recent year for which statistics are available, Palau's central government took in revenues of approximately $57.7 million and had expenditures of $80.8 million. Revenues minus expenditures totaled approximately -$23.1 million.


Graduated income taxes are levied on wages and salaries. Business gross revenue tax is imposed at a flat rate minus employees' remuneration. There is also a profits tax on financial institutions.


There are no import duties on raw materials if they are processed for sale outside Palau. There is also an import duty rebate offered by Palau as an investment incentive.


There is a Foreign Investment Board for processing applications from foreign investors; the Division of International Trade of the Bureau of Foreign Affairs is responsible for establishing contacts with foreign companies to promote Palau's trade interests.


When Palau became independent in 1994 in entered into a Compact of Free Association with the United States. Under the Compact, Palau is to receive grants of totaling about $600 million over a 15-year period to 2009. In the meantime, the government is to be engaged in developing ways to make the economy self-sufficient. A major part of the strategy was the building of a trust fund. The government's first five-year national development plan (198791) was the first phase of its 15-year development program. The plan focuses on the development of a private-sector production-based economy, efficient public-sector management, development of natural resources to earn foreign exchange, personnel development, regional development, and environmental preservation.

Long term prospects for the tourist sector have brightened because of the expansion of are travel in the Pacific and the rising prosperity of leading East Asian countries.


A system of old age, disability, and survivor's pensions was first introduced in 1967. This program covers all gainfully employed persons, and provides old age pensions after the age of 60. It is financed by 6% of employee earnings, matched by an equal contribution from employers. There is voluntary coverage for some self-employed persons. The government contributes only as an employer.

In the traditional social structure, rank and inheritance are matrilineal. Women are accorded considerable respect within the clan system. However, weakening extended family ties and the rise of drug and alcohol abuse are leading to an increase in domestic violence and abuse of women. In urban areas, women face minimal gender based discrimination in employment. The government adequately funds education and medical care for children.

Foreigners residing in Palau are barred from owning land or obtaining citizenship. Some foreigners complain of discrimination in access to housing, education and employment. Human rights are well respected in Palau, and nongovernmental organizations operate without government interference.


Hospital services are provided by the MacDonald Memorial Hospital in Koror, which has 60 beds. Medical services in Koror are also provided by the Belau Medical Clinic and the Seventh-Day Adventist Eye Clinic. In 2004, there were 109 physicians, 141 nurses, and 11 dentists per 100,000 people.

As of 2002, the crude birth rate and overall mortality rate were estimated at, respectively, 19.3 and 7.1 per 1,000 people. In 2005 life expectancy averaged an estimated 70.14 years and the infant mortality rate was 14.84 per 1,000 births. The fertility rate was 2.5 children per woman.

Immunization rates for children under one were as follows in 1995: diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus, 100%; polio, 100%; measles, 100%; and hepatitis B, 100%. No measles or polio cases were reported, and AIDS is not a significant concern.


There were 2,501 occupied houses in 1986, of which 72% were located in Koror and the adjacent state of Airai. Most house walls are constructed from metal sheets, wood, or concrete blocks, and roofs are of corrugated material. About 80% of all houses have water and electricity. The majority of homeowners finance their house construction under the traditional ocheraol system, whereby clan members contribute to construction costs.


Elementary education is free and compulsory for all Palauan children ages 614. The gross enrollment ratio in primary school for 2000/02 (i.e. the number of pupils enrolled divided by the number of children of primary-school age) was 113, indicating some attendance by students not in the primary age group. The gross enrollment rate for secondary students that year was about 89%. It is estimated that about 96.5% of all students complete their primary education. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 16:1 in 2000; the ratio for secondary school was about 15:1. In 2000, private schools accounted for about 18.4% of primary school enrollment and 29.1% of secondary enrollment.

The Palau High School in Koror is the only public high school. Postsecondary education is provided by the College of Micronesia's Micronesian Occupational College (MOC) in Koror. The adult literacy rate is 98%. In 2001, about 39% of the tertiary age population were enrolled in some type of higher education program; 26% for men and 54% for women. The adult literacy rate has been estimated at about 92%.

As of 2003, public expenditure on education was estimated at 11.1% of GDP, or 20% of total government expenditures.


The Palau Community College Library is the largest in the country, with a collection of about 26,000 items. The PCC library also serves as a depository library for the Secretariat of the Pacific Community, the United Nations, and the World Health Organization. There is a small public library in Koror, with a collection comprising about 17,000 books. The Palau Congress Library, established in 1981, has about 5,000 volumes and offers reading rooms open to the public.

The Belau National Museum, established in 1973, is also located in Koror as is the Etpison Museum; both museums contain collections on art and history. The Palau International Coral Reef Center on Koror houses an aquarium, a nursery of giant clams, a crocodile farm, an old Japanese shrine, WWII relics and monuments, and a traditional Bai meeting house.


The Palau National Communications Corp., established in 1982, provides domestic and international telephone connections, radio broadcasting, telex and telegram communications, and navigational and weather services. In 2002, there were 6,700 mainline telephones and 1,000 cellular phones in use.

A radio station in Koror broadcasts to listeners in the outer islands. As of 2002, there were five radio stations, 1 AM and 4 FM. Television is limited to one channel in the Koror area, provided by a local private company. As of 1997, there were 478 radios and 85 television sets in use per 1,000 population. Internet access is available.

There are no daily papers. Two popular periodicals are Palau Gazette (monthly, 1995 circulation 3,000), and Tia Belau (weekly, 5,000). The constitution provides for free speech and a free press, and the government respects these rights in practice.


The clan system forms the basic unit of social organization. Youth, women's, and community development organizations provide economic self-help, community involvement and leadership training, skills training, and sports and recreation. There are also a few sports associations affiliated with international organizations. The Lion's Club has programs in the country. There is a national chapter of the Red Cross Society.


Palau's scenic areas include the Rock Islands, a large number of small, mushroom-shaped islands that are unique in the region, and the Floating Garden Islands. The marine environment is rich in live coral formations and tropical fish, making the country a prime destination for snorkeling and scuba diving. Many tourists visit the World War II battlefields, war memorials, and shrines.

In 2005, the television show "Survivor: Palau" was aired on CBS. The US Department of State found this heightened the level international awareness of the small nation. A new luxury hotel affiliated with Japan Airlines opened on Palau that same year.

Palau's main industry, tourism, brought in about 68,300 visitors in 2003, a 16% increase from 2002. The US Department of State estimated the daily cost of staying in Palau in 2005 at us$246.


Tommy Remengesau (b.1956) was elected president in 2000 and reelected in 2004.


Palau has no territories or colonies.


Hijikata, Hisakatsu. Society and Life in Palau. Tokyo: Sasakawa Peace Foundation, 1993.

Leibo, Steven A. East and Southeast Asia, 2005. 38th ed. Harpers Ferry, W.Va.: Stryker-Post Publications, 2005.

Leibowitz, Arnold H. Embattled Island: Palau's Struggle for Independence. Westport, Conn.: Praeger, 1996.

Sloan, Bill. Brotherhood of Heroes: The Marines at Peleliu, 1944: The Bloodiest Battle of the Pacific War. New York: Simon and Schuster, 2005.

Wright, Derrick. To the Far Side of Hell: The Battle for Peleliu, 1944. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press, 2005.

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Republic of Palau




Palau is located in the north Pacific Ocean some 2,000 kilometers (1,242.8 miles) north of Australia. It estimated that there are more than 200 islands in a chain running from northeast to southwest, although only 8 are inhabited. The islands are rocky and mountainous, with the highest point being Mount Ngerchelchauus at 242 meters. The largest island is Babeldoab (also spelled Babelthuap). The total land area is 458 square kilometers (176.8 square miles). There are gold deposits (although unmined) and the possibility of further minerals in the seabed within the 200 nautical mile economic zone claimed by the islands. The capital is Koror on Koror Island. However, the constitution calls for the capital to be sited at Melekeok on the nearby island of Babeldoab, and construction is under way to fulfill that requirement. The country is ranked as the fourteenth smallest nation in the world.

Palau is located in the tropics, and the weather is generally hot and very humid. Temperatures average around 27 degrees Celsius (80 degrees Farenheit), and vary little during the year. A rainy season lasts from May to November, with annual rainfall of around 3,600 milimeters (142 inches). The islands are hit by typhoons from time-to-time, and the main typhoon season is in the second half of the calendar year.


The population was estimated at 18,766 in mid-2000, giving a population density of 41 persons per square kilometer (106 per square mile), quite a bit lower than the neighboring Marshall Islands, which have a density of 375 persons per square kilometer (971 per square mile). The population was estimated to be growing at 1.8 percent a year in 2000. The birth rate is 20 per 1,000 people, and the death rate is 7 persons per 1,000. Migration is low, with about 90 citizens leaving each year. The average fertility rate is 2.5 children per woman. With this modest rate of population growth, the population can be expected to have most of its population in the working age groups. The 0 to 14 age group contains 27 percent of the population, and the 15 to 64 group contains 68 percent. Five percent are 65 and over. More than half the population live in the current capital, Koror, and urban residents account for 80 percent of the total population.

Almost all the people on the islands originate from Polynesian, Malayan, and Melanesian ethnic groups, and mostly follow the Christian religion, although a local traditional belief, Modekngei, is practiced by more than 30 percent of the population. English is the main official language. In 13 states Palauan is also an official language; in Sonsoral, Sonsoralese is also official; in Tobi, the Tobi language is also official; and in Angaur, Anguar and Japanese are also official. Overall life expectancy is 69 years, with male life expectancy being 65 years and female life expectancy 72 years. The adult literacy rate in 1980 was 92 percent, with 93 percent of adult males and 90 percent of females achieving literacy.


Given its small population, its inaccessible location, poor infrastructure , lack of skilled labor, and the absence of any significant minerals, it is remarkable that the economy generates as much income for its citizens as it does. Gross domestic product (GDP) per capita , at $6,696 in 1998, places Palau in the upper-middle income group of countries in the world economy. This is increased by significant receipts from the United States, which add around 16 percent to the income generated domestically.

Most employment, 89 percent in 1995, was in the services sector. The agriculture sector is very small in terms of both its contribution to total output and employment, while the industry sector is also small and is mainly made up of construction. Fish is the main export, and tourism is the main foreign exchange earner. Almost all commodities, apart from some food, are imported.

Economic growth can vary yearly, affected by fashions in tourism and by the economic conditions in the countries of origin of tourists. Since 1992, the level of GDP has remained almost unchanged, with a zero growth rate over the period. However, the volatility is observed in a fall in GDP of 12.3 percent in 1993 and an expansion of 14.3 percent in 1995.


The islands of Palau were originally settled by people from neighboring Pacific islands. In the 16th century, Spain claimed the islands, although Germany was allowed trading rights. With the decline of Spanish influence, the islands came under German control. The Germans established Palau as a protectorate. At the outbreak of World War I, the Japanese took over the islands and administered them under a United Nations (UN) mandate. This was a period of considerable development, with the creation of schools, hospitals, and a change in land tenure that allowed private land rights. By the end of their administration period, the Japanese in Palau numbered 26,000, outnumbering the local inhabitants. During World War II, the United States clashed with the occupying Japanese, and the United States established control of the islands in 1944. From 1947, the United States administered Palau as Trustees for the United Nations. Talk of self-determination for Palau began in 1965. In 1979, Palau approved a constitution, and in 1981 became the Republic of Palau, although not fully independent of the United States. Efforts to have approval for a Compact of Free Association with the United States (which would allow the United States to provide defense and contribute financial support) were continually thwarted by an inability to have the proposals approved by 75 percent of the vote in a referendum. After changing the constitution to allow approval by simple majority, the compact was approved in 1993, and Palau became fully independent in 1994.

The Palau government is a democracy modeled on the United States. Although the country has a long history of traditional tribal rule, democracy has been accepted and any citizen is eligible for high office. The 1979 constitution established a parliamentary government, with 2 houses. The Senate (Oibiil Era Kelulau) has 14 seats, and members are elected for 4-year terms by popular vote. The House of Delegates has 16 members, one for each state, and members are elected by popular vote, also for 4-year terms. Parliamentary candidates contest elections on the basis of their personalities and platforms; there are no party affiliations. There is a president and vice-president. There are 3 levels of court, headed by a Supreme Court, supported by a National Court, and Courts of Common Pleas.

Palau has been successful at blending its traditional heritage with its new democratic government, and that resulting government has helped to mix Palau's traditional economy with its new, more market-oriented one. Land ownership is one example of Palau's success at blending traditional practices with its new economy. As with many Pacific island nations, Palau has a long history of sharing income and land within a clan and community. Market economies are based on private ownership of land. The Palau government has taken legislative steps to accommodate the traditional sharing of lands with the free market economy by designing laws that provide guidelines for issuing land titles on land traditionally held by a family or clan.

In the year 1997-98, that government revenue (including grants) was anticipated in the budget as 57 percent of GDP. Of this, 59 percent was raised by government tax and other non-tax income, and 41 percent was grants from the United States. Income tax raised 11 percent of government revenues (excluding grants), import duties 10 percent, gross revenue tax on business 14 percent, other taxes 8 percent, and non-tax revenue (licenses, fees, trust fund income, investment income) 56 percent.

Total spending in 1997-98 was projected at 50 percent of GDP. General administration makes up 57 percent of total government spending, education 14 percent, health 14 percent, and capital expenditures 15 percent. A budgetary surplus of 6 percent of GDP was realized. The budget has been in overall surplus from 1992 to 1998, although the annual outcome has varied between a 119 percent surplus in 1994-95 (as a result of a substantial grant from the United States on the final acceptance of the Compact agreement), and a projected deficit of 18 percent in 1997-98.

The main tax rates are: 6 percent on incomes from employment, rising to 12 percent; 4 percent on the gross revenues of businesses; 4 percent on the net incomes of financial institutions; import duties varying between 3 percent (most goods) to 150 percent (tobacco); hotel room tax (10 percent); departure tax ($20); and road tax ($50 to $150).


There are 61 kilometers (38 miles) of roads, of which 36 kilometers (22.4 miles) are paved. The road round Babeldaob, 100 kilometers (62 miles) in length, is a major improvement in the road system. The unpaved roads are coral-surfaced roads and provide practical, if bumpy, highways. There are no railways. The main port is on Koror, and this is the only port that is able to receive large ocean-going vessels. The mountainous terrain makes the construction of airports a problem, but there are 3 airports. The only one with a paved runway is the international airport located across from the capital Koror on Babeldoab island.

Palau's electricity is supplied mostly by diesel generators (85 percent in 1996), but the terrain does allow for the construction of dams, and 15 percent of electricity comes from hydroelectricity. In 1996 the Palau generated 200 million kWh. There is some domestic use of bottled gas for cooking. Water supply is adequate.

In 1988, there were an estimated 1,500 land line telephones in use and no mobile telephones. It is to be expected that provision of telephones, both land lines and mobiles, have increased substantially since then. International links are provided by an Intelsat satellite earth station.

The islands had 1 AM radio station and 1 shortwave station in 1998, and in 1997 there was 1 television station, and 11,000 television receivers. The Palau Gazette is published monthly by the government, and Tia Belau is published bi-weekly in both English and Palauan.


The services sector dominates the economy, with a large number of public sector employees. In 1998, services generated 87 percent of GDP and employed 76 percent

Country Telephones a Telephones, Mobile/Cellular a Radio Stations a Radios a TV Stations a Televisions a Internet Service Providers c Internet Users c
Palau 1,500 (1988) 0 (1988) AM 1; FM 0; shortwave 1 12,000 1 11,000 N/A N/A
United States 194 M 69.209 M (1998) AM 4,762; FM 5,542; shortwave 18 575 M 1,500 219 M 7,800 148 M
Philippines 1.9 M 1.959 M (1998) AM 366; FM 290; shortwave 3 (1999) 11.5 M 31 3.7M 33 500,000
Solomon Islands 8,000 658 AM 3; FM 0; shortwave 0 57,000 0 3,000 1 3,000
aData is for 1997 unless otherwise noted.
bData is for 1998 unless otherwise noted.
cData is for 2000 unless otherwise noted.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online].

of the labor force in 1995. The incomes in this sector are above average. The smallest sector in terms of output is agriculture (which includes fishing), which produced 5 percent of output in 1998 and engaged 9 percent of the labor force in 1995. The industry sector only employed 15 percent of the labor force in 1995, generating 8 percent of GDP in 1998.


Palau does not produce enough food to support itself, mainly because the cost of doing so is higher than the cost of importing needed items. The main crops are coconuts, bananas, root crops such as taro (similar to the potato), vegetables, and tropical fruits. Poultry, pigs, and dairy cows are the main livestock. Crops and livestock generated only about 2 percent of GDP in 1998. Since Palau cannot incorporate any economies of scale in agricultural production, the likelihood of significant increases in the sector are slim. Fisheries generated about 3 percent of GDP in 1998, but output from the fisheries sector appears to be in a steady declinein 1992, the value of fish landed was almost 4 times greater, and the fishing fleet has halved to 150 vessels in 1998.

Much of the catch from Palau's waters is taken by Chinese and Japanese vessels, and Palau receives income from licence fees of around $200,000 a year. It is felt that there is considerable illegal fishing. In addition, local boats meet with Chinese and Japanese vessels at sea and sell their catches to them, leading to under-recording of the Palau catch.


There is little mining and quarrying, being almost entirely the quarrying of coral for construction. The main manufacturing enterprise is a garment factory, employing some 300 workers. Other manufacturing includes bakeries, building material, furniture, and handicrafts, all of which serve the domestic market.

There are 2 power plants at Aimeliik and Malakai. The construction sector is the largest part of the industry sector, and it generates 8 percent of GDP and employs 14 percent of the workforce.


The services sector employs three-quarters of the workforce and generates more than four-fifths of GDP. Transport and communications generate 16 percent of GDP; distribution, restaurants and hotels, 27 percent; financial services 6 percent; and public administration, community and other services, 51 percent.

The banking sector is made up of 3 U.S. commercial banks, 5 domestically-owned commercial banks, and the National Development Bank of Palau (NDBP). Most lending by the commercial banks is made up of consumer loans for construction, travel, and education. The NDBP is responsible for most business loans. There was concern over the operation of the domestically-owned commercial banks in 1999, which were not subject to any banking regulation. A ban was imposed on certain international transactions, as it was thought that the banks were being used for money laundering . There have subsequently been U.S.-assisted initiatives to tighten control of the banks.

The publicly-owned Palau National Communication Corporation, by virtue of operating a monopoly , generally manages to cover its costs. However, the 1997-98 reduction in tourism, as a result of the Asian economic crisis, led to a fall in the number of lucrative international calls, and the corporation posted a loss.

Tourism is a major source of foreign exchange earnings. In 1997, there were 73,000 arrivals in the Islands, and the sector generated $70 million, equivalent to 53 percent of GDP. The sector is expanding rapidlyin 1993, tourism receipts were $18 million. At present there are 1,200 hotel beds, and a further 560 are planned to be in operation by the end of 2001.


Merchandise exports of $11 million in 1997-98 were made up almost entirely of fish products. There are some exports of copra (dried coconut), garments and handi-crafts. Exports of seashells for buttons, ornaments, and making lacquers are not recorded, but there is probably a small amount of informal trade. The fishing sector appears to be in a steady decline. In 1992-93, fish exports were around $17.7 million. The decline is partly because of changes in the available fish stocks, as a result of oceanographic factors. In addition, fish prices fell after 1996 as a result of the Asian economic crisis, reducing demand for fish. Exports of fish have also been hindered by a shortage of refrigerated air freight services from Palau. Exports go mostly to the United States and Japan.

Merchandise imports were $52 million in 1997-99. Food products made up 14 percent of imports by value, beverages and tobacco 8 percent, petroleum 25 percent, chemicals 3 percent, machinery and transport equipment 23 percent, and manufactured consumer goods 26 percent. The main sources of imports were the United States (40 percent), Guam (18 percent), Japan (13 percent), Singapore (13 percent), and Taiwan (5 percent).


Palau uses the U.S. dollar as its currency. This has the advantage of bypassing the expense of running a central bank. Also, the currency is completely convertible,

Exchange rates: Palau
Jan 2001 1.0000
2000 1.0000
1999 1.0000
1998 1.0000
1997 1.0000
1996 1.0000
Note: US currency is used in Palau.
SOURCE: CIA World Factbook 2001 [ONLINE].

and price stability is reasonably well ensured, as Palau does not have the ability to print currency. The rate of inflation was less than 3 percent a year from 1996-98. The only drawback for "dollarised" economies is that they do not earn the seigniorage (the profit earned from the minting of coins) they would gain if they issued their own currency. The increasing number of countries that have been attracted to using the U.S. dollar in place of a domestic currency has caused the United States to consider sharing some of the seigniorage it earns as a currency issuer.


There are no figures on the numbers below the poverty line, but given the income level and the structure of the economy, probably less than 10 percent of the population live in poverty. Most of those affected are among the 30 percent of the population living outside Koror, who rely on small-scale agriculture and fishing for their livelihoods. Infant mortality is 18 per 1,000 births in 2000 (in the United States, the rate is 6 per 1,000). The per capita GDP of Palau ($6,987 in 1998) was one-third that of Guam and about one-quarter that of Hawaii. Household and agricultural workers had the lowest wages, while bankers, insurance agents, and lawyers had the highest.

GDP per Capita (US$)
Country 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000
Palau N/A 8,800 7,100 N/A N/A
United States 28,600 30,200 8,800 33,900 36,200
Philippines 2,600 3,200 3,500 3,600 3,800
Solomon Islands 3,000 3,000 2,600 2,650 2,000
Note: Data are estimates.
SOURCE: Handbook of the Nations, 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th editions for 1996, 1997, 1998 and 1999 data; CIA World Factbook 2001 [Online] for 2000 data.

Retail workers made up the largest category of wage earners and reported an average yearly wage ($6,044) that was slightly lower than the GDP per capita .

A life expectancy in 2000 of 69 years is high, and the level of adult literacy, last surveyed in 1980, was 92 percent. Taken together with its upper-middle income status, these factors, when evaluated by the criteria used by the UN, give Palau a position near the top of the countries with a medium level of human development.


The economically active labor force was estimated at 8,300 in 1988, and 7 percent of the labor force was recorded as being unemployed. However, the unemployment rate has little meaning in an economy like that of Palauit relates to those registering as looking for jobs in the urban areas as a percentage of the formal labor force. A substantial part of the labor force is in the agriculture and fishing sectors, much of it in small-scale family enterprises outside the formal sector. There are no unemployment benefits, and those without work or support from families or charities cannot survive. It is likely that there is considerable disguised unemployment in the rural areas, with tasks being shared and the work capable of being carried out by a smaller workforce.


1000 B.C. Migration to Palau Islands from other Pacific Ocean islands begins.

1525. Spanish navigator Alonso de Salasar is first European to sight the archipelago of the Caroline Islands, of which present-day Palau is a part.

1529. Alvaaro de Saavedra lands on the Caroline Islands, and claims them for Spain.

1783. British vessel, under Captain Henry Wilson is shipwrecked near Koror, and the crew stays 3 months rebuilding the ship.

1885. Pope Leo XIII, acting as a European mediator, confirms Spanish dominion over the Caroline Islands, while also allocating Germany trading rights.

1899. Spain sells islands to Germany, who begin phosphate mining in Anguar, plant coconuts and begin to reduce the impact of influenza and dysentery which were causing widespread loss of life.

1914. With the outbreak of World War I, Japan assumes control of the islands.

1920. Japan receives a UN mandate to administer the islands, establish schools and land property rights, and develop Koror.

1922. Japan establishes administration of all of its Micronesian territories from Koror.

1944. After fierce fighting between Japanese and American forces, the United States occupies the islands.

1945. Japanese settlers are repatriated .

1947. UN assigns the Caroline Islands, as the Trust Territory of the Pacific Ocean, to the United States. The U.S. Navy undertakes day-to-day administration.

1965. Congress of Micronesia formed by delegates from Pacific islands to press for independence.

1967. Commission established to make recommendations on the future government of the islands of Micronesia.

1970. Commission confirms that the peoples of Micronesia have a right to sovereignty, self-rule, and to terminate association with the United States.

1979. Referendum in Palau District approves constitution, which forbids presence of nuclear weapons, including those on visiting vessels.

1981. Constitution comes into effect, and the islands become the Republic of Palau, although not independent of the United States. Haruo Remeliik becomes first president.

1982. The United States signs Compact of Free Association which will allow an independent Palau to rely on the United States for defense and to receive U.S. aid.

1983. Referendum in Palau fails to endorse Compact of Free Association (which allows transit and storage of nuclear materials) by requisite 75 percent of votes cast.

1984. Referendum again fails to endorse Compact.

1985. President Remeliik assassinated. Lazarus Salii elected to succeed Remeliik.

1986. Despite the United States agreeing to observe ban on nuclear material, Compact again fails to be endorsed in 2 successive referenda.

1987. Fifth referendum on Compact fails. President suspends 70 percent of public sector employees on the grounds of financial crisis. Further referendum approves change in constitution to require only simple majority for the endorsement of the Compact. In December, Compact is approved by referendum on a simple majority.

1988. Supreme Court rules against approval of Compact by a simple majority. President Salii, under investigation for corruption by U.S. General Accounting Office, commits suicide. Ngiratkel Etpison elected president.

1990. Seventh referendum again fails to approve Compact by required 75 percent.

1992. Kuniwo Nakamura wins presidential election. Second referendum to allow simple majority for endorsement of Compact is approved by 62 percent of voters. Challenge to decision in courts is unsuccessful.

1993. Eighth referendum on the Compact is endorsed by 68 percent of voters, but the decision is challenged in the courts.

1994. Court challenges fail. Palau finally becomes independent on October 1, under the terms of the Compact of Free Association.

1996. During presidential election, bridge between the islands of Koror and Babeldoab collapses, killing 2. Nakamura re-elected president.

1997. Legal settlement for collapse of bridge between Koror and Babeldoab with payment of $13.8 million to Palau. New bridge approved at cost of $3.8 million.

1999. Palau is subject to an international banking transactions ban as a result of practices thought to facilitate money laundering.

2000. Tommy Remengesau elected president. New $100 million road around the island of Babeldoab is announced which will allow capital to be moved to Melekeok.


The economy is heavily dependent on the grants received from the United States as part of the Compact agreement. In the 1998-99 budget the Compact grants were $13 million (10 percent of GDP), and other grants from the United States were $11 million (8.5 percent of GDP). The Compact grants are scheduled to be phased out, and to end in 2008-09. Palau has invested some of the large early payments under the Compact agreement, and income from these investments will serve to cushion the position when the Compact agreement is due to end. It is expected that the Compact agreement will be renewed, as the defense provisions are an important consideration for Palau, and it is possible that Compact grants will be continued. Even if they are not, it is likely that the United States will increase grants under other headings to compensate, so that the situation after 2008-09 is not likely to be as severe as at one time anticipated.

Tourism is clearly the best long-term prospect for generating income in Palau, given the scenic attractions of the mountainous islands and the strong association with Japan (Japanese is an official language in one of the states). However, international investment will be necessary for the development of tourism, but a barrier at present is the regulation that prevents foreigners from owning land.


Palau has no territories or colonies.


Bank of Hawaii. Republic of Palau Economic Report: 2000. <>. Accessed August 2001.

International Monetary Fund. Republic of Palau: Recent Economic Developments. Washington D.C.: IMF, 1999.

U.S. Central Intelligence Agency. CIA World Factbook 2000: Palau. <>. Accessed August 2001.

World Yearbook. London: Europa Publications, 2000.

Michael Hodd


Koror (a new capital is being constructed on the nearby island of Babeldoab).


United States dollar ($).


Fish, coconut products, shells, handicrafts.


Foodstuffs, beverages, tobacco, petroleum, cement, machinery, transport equipment, consumer manufactures.


US$160 million (1997 est.) [includes U.S. spending].


Exports: US$11 million (1998 est.). Imports: US$63 million (1998 est.).

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ETHNOMYMS: Palau, Pelew


Identification. Hearing the word beluu, "village Homeland", early British explorers of the western Pacific mistakenly referred to the Belau Islands as "Pelew"; the spelling "Palau" became standardized in nineteenth-century German Scientific writings. The form "Belau" more accurately reflects Contemporary pronunciation and has become a symbol of national unity.

Location. Belau, an archipelago in the western Pacific Ocean, is located between 6° and 8° N and 134° and 135° E. The islands form the westernmost group of the Caroline Islands of Micronesia. Belau includes over 200 geologically and ecologically diverse islands; the largest, Babeldaob, is a volcanic island of 362 square kilometers. Other island types include high limestone and platform limestone islands, small reef islands, and one true atoll. A coral reef encircling most of the archipelago creates lagoons rich in marine resources and permits relatively smooth intervillage sailing. The climate is tropical, with constantly high humidity, a mean temperature of 27° C, and rainfall ranging from 320 centimeters per year in the south to 425 centimeters per year on Babeldaob. A yearly wind shift from westerly monsoons in the summer to easterly trades in the winter is interrupted only by typhoons, which periodically destroy homes, harbors, and farms.

Demography. The population in 1988 was approximately 14,000, about half of whom live on the island of Koror. Estimates of precontact population range from 20,000 to 40,000. From the late eighteenth century on Belauans were subject to decimation by introduced diseases and by the intensification of warfare caused by imported firearms. The Japanese began a massive colonial resettlement program in the 1930s, resulting in a foreign population of over 24,000 in Koror by 1940. Since World War II the local population has risen dramatically, and many Belauans have moved to Guam, Hawaii, and California.

Linguistic Affiliation. Belauan, an Austronesian Language, is spoken uniformly throughout the archipelago; only minor differences in accent and idiomatic expressions indicate a speaker's home village. Most Belauans over the age of fifty are also fluent in Japanese, and those younger than fifty speak English. Belauan is referred to as a Nonnuclear Micronesian language, since it has closer genetic affinity with Languages spoken in eastern Indonesia, Taiwan, and the Philippines than with those spoken in the rest of Micronesia. The language is noted for its complex system of verbal inflections, the presence of a phonemic glottal stop, and an archaic set of lexical items found in chants and myths.

>History and Cultural Relations

The archipelago was discovered more than 2,000 years ago by Austronesian voyagers sailing from insular Southeast Asia. These early settlers occupied both low-lying islands, where fishing was the primary subsistence activity, and high volcanic and limestone islands, where extensive taro cultivation was possible. Perhaps as late as the twelfth century AD., the Islanders constructed monumental terraced earthworks and built inland villages on elaborate stone foundations. There is a strong possibility that prior to European contact Belau had interaction with the Chinese, whose ships could have been the source of the ceramic and glass beads still functioning as exchange valuables. Sir Francis Drake visited briefly in 1579; extensive relations between Belau and the West began in 1783 when the East India Company packet Antelope wrecked on the reef. The islands have been subject to successive claims by colonial powers: Spain (1885-1899), Germany (1899-1914), and Japan (1914-1944). In 1947 Belau became part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, a United Nations "strategic trusteeship" under the administration of the United States. Constitutional self-government was proclaimed in 1981 when the Republic of Belau seated its first government, while the islands continued to be subject to the trusteeship. After decades of bitter factional and legal disputes, Belau is currently negotiating a Compact of Free Association with the United States. The first president of Belau, Haruo Remeliik, was assassinated in 1985; the second President, Lazarus Salii, died of gunshot wounds in 1988.


There are two types of settlements, relatively "rural" villages located on Babeldaob, Ngcheangel, Beliliou, and Ngeeur, and the relatively "urban" town of Koror. Starting in the nineteenth century, Belauans abandoned their inland villages and built new settlements closer to coastal harbors and alluvial streams. Koror was the center for nineteenth-century colonial trading operations, was later the headquarters of the Japanese-mandated Pacific islands, and is presently the home of most government offices, schools, retail shops, restaurants, and tourist facilities. Many Belauans maintain dual Residences in Koror and in their home villages, and some even commute by motorboat on a daily basis. Formerly, villages consisted of residential and meeting houses constructed of closely joined lumber, with thatched roofs, and elevated bamboo floors; today, tin roofs and concrete block foundations are favored in new construction. In many places on Babeldaob one can still detect the typical village layout, with meeting houses located on a central paved square, canoe houses and men's clubhouses standing near the shore or river, and residential houses fanning out along elevated stone walkways.


Subsistence and Commercial Activities. Fish and taro have long been the staple foods of Belau. Fishing by spear gun, line, hand net, and trap is carried out in the coastal Lagoons; high-powered speedboats are used for trawling outside the reef. The catch is pooled by local cooperative associations for retail sale in Koror. In preparation for funerals and festivals, men work the lagoon with huge nets. Women take pride in taro cultivation on "dry" upland slopes and in "wet" irrigated swamps; the backbreaking labor required has led many younger women to substitute cassava and imported rice. Young men raise pigs for slaughter at ceremonial events. Increasingly vast amounts of imported commercial goods are replacing locally produced items. In Koror the government is the largest employer, and little locally owned industry has flourished. Belau is completely dependent upon U.S. government funds and upon payments from other countries for access to Belau's marine, strategic, and recreational resources.

Industrial Arts. Skills such as wood carving, meetinghouse construction, and tortoiseshell-ornament production are becoming rare; basket weaving, however, is widely practiced by women. Most able-bodied men are expert fishermen, and individuals win renown by developing specialized techniques and by possessing expert knowledge of tides and spawning cycles. Young people strive to obtain advanced educational and business training at stateside schools. In the Villages, wage earners include schoolteachers, nurses, magistrates, land registrars, and religious officials.

Trade. Interdistrict trade in the traditional context involved not only daily necessities such as lamp oil, pottery, wooden implements, palm syrup, and canoe sails but also specialized prestige goods such as turmeric powder, tortoiseshell ornaments, women's shirts, red-ocher dye, and dugong bracelets. In the nineteenth century, European settlers established trading centers for the commercial extraction of trepang, pearl shell, and copra. Now, a few families in each village run small retail stores. A complex system of social exchange, involving the presentation of food and service in return for cash and valuables across the affinal bond, is the principal focus of daily economic life. U.S. currency is used in financial transactions; Belauan valuables supplement cash in customary exchanges.

Division of Labor. The most important division of labor is between fishing, emblematic of male virtue, and taro cultivation, symbolic of female productiveness. This split parallels the duel system of exchange values, women using locally produced hammered turtleshell trays and men using beads and cylinders of foreign origin. Women take charge of domestic activities, such as food preparation, child care, and laundry, and they also carry heavy responsibility in selecting holders of male and female chiefly titles.

Land Tenure. Prior to changes imposed by colonial powers, land was either "public land of the village" (chutem buai er a beluu ), subject to the local chiefly council, or "land of the principal houses" (chetemel a kebliil), controlled by chiefly titleholders and senior matrilineal relatives. Residential sites and taro patches were assigned to affiliated family segments rather than being passed down to offspring. These lands reverted to chiefly control for redistribution. German officials instituted patrilineal land inheritance and encouraged Nuclear families to move their houses and to plant coconut trees on unused village land. Today, land is divided into "public land" controlled by the national government, "clan land" controlled by chiefly houses, "village land" governed by Village councils, and private property owned in fee simple. The national government is forbidden by the constitution to use eminent domain for the purpose of helping a foreign country.


Kin Groups and Descent. The basic kin unit is the "house" (blai ), which is composed of individuals linked by strong matrilateral bonds (ochell, or "offspring of women") and of individuals associated by weaker patrilateral ties (ulecheli, or "offspring of men"). Each house controls a residential site, taro patches, a chiefly title, exchange valuables, and ceremonial prerogatives. Houses form wider affiliative networks (kebliil ) both within the village and between villages, which function to channel social cooperation, exchange, and inheritance. The complexity of Belauan kinship lies in the lateral breadth of relationships rather than in the depth of remembered genealogies.

Kinship Terminology. Distinctive characteristics of the system of kin terms include: the overriding of generation (off-spring of women label offspring of men as "children"); the importance of sibling rank reflected in senior and junior terms for both males and females; a reciprocal term for cross-sex siblings signaling the solidarity of the brother-sister pair; the existence of a special term for mother's brother; and the generalization of the respectful kin terms "mother" and "father" in polite address to all elders. With respect to the generational stratification of sibling and cousin terms, the system could be labeled Hawaiian; with respect to the skewing of generations due to the importance of matrilineal ties, it could be labeled Crow. Titleholders are never addressed by their personal names.

Marriage and Family

Marriage. Marriage is fundamentally an economic institution. Traditionally, high-ranking women were prohibited from "falling," that is, marrying a man of lower rank. The prohibition was based on economic considerationsif the husband were of low rank his relatives would be unable to make a sufficient financial contribution and the couple's male child would lack the financial assets needed to maintain his chiefly authority. Today, individuals are free to select spouses, but social rank and wealth are critical considerations. Fragile marital ties are subordinate to enduring kinship ties: while the former are severed at death or divorce, the latter are a "bridge forever." High-ranking individuals tend to marry outside of the village, and there is still considerable rank endogamy. Newly married couples establish independent houses on land near the husband's father's house; men who receive a chiefly title can move back to their matrilineal home. Divorce is frequent and remarriage is the norm.

Domestic Unit. The residential family (ongalek ) often includes grandparents and other extended kin. Adoption of children within the network of kin is common.

Inheritance . Property belonging to the house is controlled by senior "offspring of women" members, who select the heirs to land and valuables. Much private property passes in the patriline. Women give turtleshell heirlooms to their daughters.

Socialization. Mothers play a greater role in child raising than fathers; children have a more relaxed, affectionate relationship with fathers than with mother's brothers. Older Siblings take on child-care responsibilities. Young men's clubs act as powerful peer reference groups.

Sociopolitical Organization

Social Organization. The principles of democratic 0egalitarianism and inherited hierarchical rank conflict in Contemporary Belau. Rank pertains to relations between siblings, Between houses in a village, between titles in a political council, and between villages within the state. According to myth, four villages were regarded as preeminent: Imeiong, Melekeok, Imeliik, and Koror. Financial wealth, elected political office, and esoteric knowledge are other sources of social power.

Political Organization. Prior to the indoctrination into democratic values and practices, Belau was governed by chiefs, whose titles were ranked according to the social hierarchy of local land parcels. Called dui, the word for "coconut palm frond," titles possess sacredness and demand respect apart from the person who carries the title. The highest titleholders from Melekeok village (the Reklai title) and Koror village (the Ibedul title) have emerged as "paramount chiefs" of the archipelago. Today, Belau is a self-governing constitutional republic, headed by an elected president and a national legislature. Traditional chiefs play an advisory role at the national level. Each state is headed by an elected governor and sends two senators to the national legislature. At the village level, a council of chiefs parallels a council of elected officials, headed by a magistrate. The central role of multivillage confederacies, once factions for intervillage warfare, has vanished.

Social Control. Traditional sanctions, including fines and banishment, applied by the local council of chiefs are supplemented by the legislated civil code, which in turn is subject to the laws of the Trust Territory.

Conflict. In the absence of interdistrict political councils in the precolonial period, intervillage hostility functioned as a primary means of political integration and as a mechanism for the financial enrichment of chiefs. Warfare took the form oí either swift head-hunting raids or massive sieges aimed at the devastation of the enemy village. Also, rivalry among chiefs and competition over title inheritance created powerful motives for political assassination.

Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Belau has been heavily missionized by Catholics, Seventh-Day Adventists, and Mormons. A nativistic movement, Modekngei, or "Let Us Go Forth Together," is a powerful religious and educational force. Except for some village gods (represented in stone monuments), the traditional pantheon has been replaced by the Christian trinity. Christianity and Modekngei provide the primary religious dogmas; the latter stresses purification rites and trances.

Religious Practitioners. Traditional male and female Religious specialists performed offerings to local gods (chelid ) and, while in trance, spoke the messages and prophecies of the gods. Male titleholders served as ritual specialists in the domestic cult, focusing on manipulating ancestral spirits (bladek ) through offerings of burnt coconut and small pieces of money. Today, Belauans can serve as Christian deacons, ministers, and priests; Modekngei utilizes ritual specialists.

Ceremonies. Important traditional ceremonies include interdistrict dancing festivals (ruk ) and competitive feasts Between local fishermen's clubs (onged). Protestants and Catholics observe the principal festivals of the Christian calendar; followers of Modekngei assemble weekly at the ritual center in Ibobang.

Arts. Skills such as canoe building and decorative wood carving are currently being revived as folk art. "Storyboard" carvings depicting events from folklore are a major tourist item. Local dance teams perform at festivals; older women sing archaic funeral chants and songs. Storytelling is a highly respected form of verbal art.

Medicine. Western medicine is available at the central hospital in Koror and in village clinics; villages place a high value on public health and sanitation. Traditional curing employs herbal medicines applied on the side of the body opposite the affected part.

Death and Afterlife. Funerals are costly, elaborate rituals. The deceased's female relatives maintain a mourning period, and male relatives collect financial contributions to be distributed to heirs at a subsequent ceremonial occasion called "death settlement talks." Burial takes place in community graveyards, although formerly burial was under the house platform. A week after burial, close relatives meet again to pave the grave and to send the spirit to its final resting place in the southern part of the archipelago.

See also Woleai


Barnett, H. G. (1949). Palauan Society: A Study of Contemporary Native Life in the Palau Islands. Eugene: University of Oregon Publications.

Force, Roland, and Maryanne Force (1972). Just One House: A Description and Analysis of Kinship in the Palau Islands. Bernice P. Bishop Museum Bulletin no. 235. Honolulu.

Krämer, Augustin (1917-1929). "Palau." In Ergebnisse der Südsee-Expedition, 1908-1910, edited by Georg Thilenius, B, Melanesien, vol. 1. Hamburg: Friederichsen.

Parmentier, Richard J. (1987). The Sacred Remains: Myth, History, and Polity in Belau. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.


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Republic of Palau

Major City:


Some areas of PALAU were settled in 1000 BC or even earlier, likely by Malays from Indonesia, Melanesians from New Guinea, and by some Polynesians. Spain, Portugal, and England all laid claim to the islands at various times. In 1783 the English vessel Antelope, under the command of Captain Henry Wilson, was shipwrecked on one of the Rock Islands between Koror and Peleliu. With the help of the Koror high chief Ibedul, Wilson and his crew stayed for three months to rebuild the ship. Afterwards, more foreign explorers sailed through Palauan waters and the islands were open to further European contact. Germany acquired the islands around the beginning of the 20th century and then handed them over to Japan. After the defeat of Japan in World War II, the US took control over what were then called the Marshall, Caroline and Marianas Islands. The islands became part of the United Nations' Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, with Palau administered as one of the three island groups' six districts. Palau became independent with the ratification of a Compact of Free Association with the United States that came into effect on October 1, 1994.



Koror, on Koror Island, is the capital of Palau and has a population of about 12,000. Most Palauans and nearly 90% of Palau's 2,800 foreign residents live in Koror. The island of Koror covers only 3.5 square miles and is the center of commerce with most of the country's hotels, shops, and eating establishments. There is an ongoing migration to the capital city. A two-lane concrete bridge links Koror with the large island of Babeldaob (Babelthuap). The Koror state government provides public bus service. Beyond Koror the main road is paved up to the airport with coral and dirt roads connecting the other states. Palau's only deepwater harbor is at Malakal in Koror, and the international airport is 6 miles from the capital. Koror's economy is driven by tourism, particularly for Palau's scuba diving and snorkeling opportunities. A new capital is under construction in eastern Babeldaob, about 12 miles northeast of Koror.

Recreation and Entertainment

Palau has some of the world's most impressive dive sites, with miles of unexplored barrier reefs. The waters provide many spectacular vertical drops, especially along the Rock Islands. Snorkeling, sea kayaking, sailing, and fishing are also popular. Blue holes, underwater caves, World War II wrecks, and diverse marine life attract tourists. Jellyfish Lake is an inland marine lake that is cut off from the rest of the ocean. The lake teems with jellyfish, and snorkelers can swim among them because they have no sting.

Tropical forests cover much of the islands, and other areas have mangrove forests and even grassland savannas. Palau has 50 species of resident birds, and the marine waters have over 1,500 species of fish and over 700 species of coral and anemones. There are also saltwater crocodiles, giant clams, and dugongs (closely related to the manatee).

Ancient village sites on the Rock Islands and the grand terraces on nearby Babeldaob date to 1000 BC. Babeldaob is Palau's biggest island, some 27 miles long and 15 miles across at its widest and it is covered in dense foliage. The terrain is varied with steep mountains, freshwater lakes, and sand dunes. There are 37 stone monoliths known as badrulchau that testify to the island's early civilization. Other remnants of Palau's early history are located at Imeungs in the southwest of the island. The ruins of stone foundations and pillars are all that remain of the ancient community.

During World War II, fighting between US and Japanese forces took place on Koror, as well as on the nearby islands of Peleiu and Angaur. Peleliu is the southernmost of the Rock Islands, and in 1985 it was designated a US National Historic Landmark. Abandoned tanks, helmets, and bomb casings are still strewn about the island.

The Palau National Museum has over 1,000 relics from the islands' past, including shell money and traditional weapons. Traditional Palauan culture is noted for its intricately carved wooden storyboards and delicate weavings. The bai or public meeting center, offers insights into traditional Palauan society through the painted carvings that tell a story on interior posts, beams, and gable ends. Palauan culture today has a blend of traditional, Japanese, and American influences. Koror has several open-air cocktail lounges, some offering live entertainment or karaoke.

Koror annually hosts several festivals and special events. The Youth Day Fair on March 15 features open-air concerts and sports competitions. The Palau Sport Fishing Association holds its annual fishing derby during the last week in April or the first week in May. Senior Citizens' Day on May 5 features dance competitions, handicrafts exhibitions, parades, and floats. The Palau Arts Festival falls on July 9, Constitution Day. There are also Independence Day celebrations on October 1. The third week in November is Tourism Awareness Week.


Geography and Climate

The Republic of Palau is a scattered group of islands in the westernmost part of Micronesia. The country's territory includes some 340 islands east of the Philippines that stretch out over an area 125 miles in length. The total land area of the islands is 170 square miles. Babeldaob, the largest island, covers 153 square miles.

Palau's islands include four topographic types: volcanic, high limestone, low platform, and coral atoll. The Palau barrier reef encloses a lagoon on the western side that contains a large number of small elevated limestone islets known as the Rock Islands. Babeldaob and Koror have the highest elevations, at 713 feet and 2,061 feet, respectively. Several northern islands, such as Arakabesan and Malakal, are volcanic formations. There are tall mountains, lush and thick jungles, caves, waterfalls, spacious beaches, and rocky shores. The waters are clear enough in some places to see depths of 300 feet.

Palau has a maritime tropical climate, with little temperature variation by season or time of day. The average temperature is 82° F during the cooler months. High humidity and heavy precipitation occur throughout the year. The heaviest rainfalls occur between May and January. Typhoons and tropical storms occur from July through November.


Palau has a population of about 19,000. The states of Koror and Airai contain about 80% of the population.

Most Palauans are Micronesian, with a mixed Polynesian, Malayan, and Melanesian background. About 10% of the population is Filipino. There are also smaller numbers of other Micronesians, Chinese, and people of European descent.

Most of the population is Christian (Catholics, Seventh-Day Adventists, Jehovah's Witnesses, the Assembly of God, the Liebenzell Mission, and Latter-Day Saints). About one-third of the population observes the Modekngei religion that is indigenous to Palau.

English is the official language in all of Palau's sixteen states. Palauan is also an official language in thirteen states. Sonsorolese is an official language in the state of Sonsoral, as is Tobi in the state of Tobi. Angaur and Japanese are also spoken in the state of Anguar.


Palauan villages were and still are ordered around 10 clans that are organized matrilineally. Once, a council of chiefs from the 10 ranking clans governed the villages, and a parallel council of their female counterparts held a significant advisory role in the division and control of land and money.

In 1978 Palau opted for a separate negotiation with the US regarding future political status, due to the expiration of the UN Trusteeship. On July 9, 1980, the Palau constitution was ratified, and its first constitutional elections were held.

Independence came on 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. will remain responsible for Palau's defense for 50 years. Otherwise, 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.

Today, Palau is a democratic republic with directly elected executive and legislative branches. Presidential elections take place every four years, with the presidential and vice-presidential candidates running on separate tickets.

The Palau National Congress (Olbiil era Kelulau) has two houses. In the Senate there are nine members elected through a nationwide vote. In the House of Delegates there are 16 members, one chosen from each of Palau's 16 states. All of the legislators serve four-year terms. Each state also elects its own governor and legislature.

In keeping with tradition, Palau has established a Council of Chiefs as an advisory body to the president. The Council is made up of the highest traditional chiefs from each of the 16 states. The Council is consulted on matters concerning traditional laws and customs.

The judicial system consists of the Supreme Court, National Court, the Court of Common Pleas, and the Land Court. The Supreme Court has trial and appellate divisions and is presided over by the Chief Justice.

Palau's flag is a yellow circle on a light blue field. The circle is slightly off center toward the hoist.

Arts, Science, Education

Elementary education is compulsory between the ages of six and fourteen and is provided by the government. The Palau High School in Koror is the country's only public high school and accounts for about two-thirds of secondary school enrollment. Postsecondary education is provided by the College of Micronesia's Micronesian Occupational College in Koror.

Commerce and Industry

Tourism is Palau's main industry, accounting for roughly half of the nations GDP. The greatest attractions to the country are scuba diving and snorkeling among the islands' rich marine environment, including the Floating Garden Islands to the west of Koror. In 1997, the number of visitors was about 67,000, almost three times the actual population of Palau. The greatest number of tourists come from Japan, Taiwan, and the U.S.

Agriculture is mainly on a subsistence level, the principal crops being coconuts, root crops, and bananas. Tuna fishing is also potential source of revenue.

Construction is the most important industrial activity, contributing over 9% of GDP. Several large infrastructure projects, including the rebuilding of the bridge connecting Koror and Babeldaob Islands after its collapse in 1996 and the construction of a highway around the rim of Babeldaob, boosted activity at the end of 1990s.

The government alone employs nearly 30% of workers. One of the government's main responsibilities is administering external assistance. Under the terms of the Compact of Free Association with the United States, Palau will receive more than $450 million in assistance over 15 years. The first grant of $142 million was made in 1994. Further annual payments in lesser

For such a small nation, the general economy does fairly well. Per capita GDP stands at over $7,000 (1998 est.), which makes it one of the wealthier states in the Pacific Islands. However, the country is heavily reliant on imported foods, fuel, and machinery. Imports in 1999 totaled about $126 million, whereas exports only brought in about $14 million.

The remaining economic challenge confronting Palau is to ensure the long-term viability of its economy by reducing its reliance on foreign assistance.


Continental Micronesia flies to Palau daily via Guam, the international air service hub for the Micronesia region. There are also three weekly flights to Manila, Philippines. The only asphalt roads are on Koror, Airai, and Melekeok. Palauans rely on small private watercraft for transportation throughout the country.

Side roads in Koror and on the Island of Babeldaop are in poor condition. Maximum speed limit is 25 miles per hour, but slower in congested areas, and passing of slow moving vehicles is prohibited.


Worldwide telephone, facsimile, telex, IDD, Internet/e-mail service, and operator-assisted dialing services are available. Phone cards are available at PNCC Office and calls can be made from most hotels in Palau.

WSZB is Koror's AM radio station, and there are also two FM stations. Island Cable TV Palau provides 12 channels, including CNN.

Tia Belau is the bi-weekly local newspaper. The government produces the Palau Gazette. The Pacific Daily News is delivered daily from Guam. Mail to and from Palau uses standard U.S. postal rates and postage.

Health and Medicine

Hospital services are provided by the 60-bed MacDonald Memorial Hospital in Koror. Koror also has the Belau Medical Clinic and the Seventh-Day Adventist Eye Clinic. Smallpox immunization is required for travelers not originating in the U. S. or its territories. Cholera and yellow fever immunizations are required for those arriving from infected areas.


Passage, Customs & Duties

A valid passport or proof of U.S. citizenship and onward/return ticket for a stay up to 30 days are required. A visa is required for stays longer than 30 days. The necessary forms for obtaining an entry permit can be obtained from airline or shipping agency servicing Palau. For more information about entry requirements of Palau, travelers may consult with the Representative Office, 1150 18th St., N.W., Suite 750, Washington, DC 20036, (202) 452-6814.

U.S. citizens living in or visiting Palau are encouraged to register at the U.S. Embassy. They may also obtain updated information on travel and security within the country at the Embassy. The U.S. Embassy is located in Koror, Palau. There is no street address. The Embassy is located in an area known as Topside, about one and one quarter miles north of the post office and downtown area of Koror on the main road towards the airport. The mailing address of the U.S. Embassy is: P.O. Box 6028, Koror, Palau 96940. The telephone number is (680) 488-2920. The fax number is (680) 488-2911. The Embassy does not issue passports; that function is performed by the Honolulu Passport Agency.

Firearms & Ammunitions

Firearms of any kind are strictly prohibited in Palau. The penalty for possession of a firearm or ammunition is up to fifteen years imprisonment.


Jan. 1 New Year's Day

Jan. 9 Martyrs' Day

Mar. 15 Youth Day

May 6 Senior Citizens' Day

May 31 President's Day

July 9 Constitution Day

Oct. 1 Independence Day

Oct.24 UN Day

Dec. 25 Christmas Day



Roff, Sue Rabbitt. Overreaching in Paradise: United States Policy in Palau Since 1945. Juneau, AK: Denali Press, 1991.

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Official name: Republic of Palau

Area: 458 square kilometers (177 square miles)

Highest point on mainland: Mount Ngerchelchauus (242 meters/794 feet)

Lowest point on land: Sea level

Hemispheres: Northern and Eastern

Time zone: 8 p.m. = noon GMT

Longest distances: Not available

Land boundaries: None

Coastline: 1,519 kilometers (944 miles)

Territorial sea limits: 6 kilometers (3 nautical miles)


Palau is the westernmost archipelago of the Caroline Island chain in the portion of the North Pacific Ocean that is often called Oceania. The country lies southeast of the Philippines and consists of six island groups totaling more than two hundred islands that are oriented roughly north to south. With a total area of about 458 square kilometers (177 square miles), the country is slightly more than twoand-one-half times the size of Washington, D.C. Palau is divided into eighteen states.


Palau has no outside territories or dependencies.


Located near the equator, Palau has a maritime tropical climate, characterized by very little seasonal or diurnal (day/night) variation. The yearly mean temperature is 28°C (82°F) in the coolest months.

Palau experiences relatively high humidity of 82 percent, with heavy rainfall from May to November. Short, torrential rainfall produces up to 381 centimeters (150 inches) of precipitation annually. Although outside of the main typhoon path, damaging storms can occur in the months from June through November.


The islands include four types of topo-graphical formations: volcanic, high limestone, low platform, and coral atoll. Palau's volcanic and limestone islands sustain distinctly different vegetation.


Seacoast and Undersea Features

The Palau islands border the North Pacific Sea on the southeast and the Philippine Sea to the northwest.

Sea Inlets and Straits

The Pkurengel Komebail Lagoon stretches across an area of 1,267 square kilometers (489 square miles) on the western side of the islands. It is enclosed by the enormous barrier reef that encircles most of the islands.

Islands and Archipelagos

Babelthuap is the largest island, with an area of 397 square kilometers (153 square miles). It is also the second-largest island in Micronesia after Guam. The second-largest island in Palau is Urukthapel. Koror Island, containing the capital and most of the country's population, has an area of 18 square kilometers (7.1 square miles). Other islands include Eil Malk; the islands of Peleliu and Angaur, which are low-platform reefs; and Sonsorol and Hatohobei, the two smallest islands. Kayangel is a coral atoll.

Palau is also home to the world-famous Rock Islands. The Rock Islands are a cluster of more than two hundred rounded knobs of forest-capped limestone that plunges steeply into the sea.

Coastal Features

The Palau barrier reef encircles the Palau islands, except for Angaur Island and the Kayangel atoll. The dramatic marine environment of extensive coral rock formations, caves, and reefs, and the abundance of sea life surrounding Palau make it a prime spot for snorkeling as well as for scientific research. The waters are warm year-round, and many of the islands have beautiful white sandy beaches that attract tourists and scuba divers from around the world.


There are around eighty saltwater lakes in Palau, all of which are generally very small. The lakes were formed by erosion of the limestone terrain of the islands. Some of the lakes have simple, but unique marine life. Jellyfish Lake is located on Eil Malk. This marine lake has been cut off from the ocean for millions of years. Because of this isolation, and the lack of natural predators, the jellyfish that live in the lake have evolved without the venomous sting that is associated with jellyfish that live in the open ocean.

Ngardok Lake, located near the town of Melekeok on Babelthuap Island, is the largest freshwater lake on Palau. It is about 720 meters (2362 feet) long, 180 meters (591 feet) wide, and 2.7 meters (9 feet) deep. Besides receiving water from several small rivers, it is also the largest rainwater catchment area in the country.


There are no major rivers in Palau, but several smaller rivers and streams run throughout the islands. Ngermeskang River and Tabecheding River are both located on Babelthuap.

Mangrove forests exist in coastal areas and the lower portions of many of the country's rivers. Swamp forests are found in low-lying areas, just inland of mangroves and above tidal areas.


There are no desert regions in Palau.


Most of the islands are covered with rock or tropical forest; grasslands cover large areas of Babelthuap, however, where forests have been cleared.


The highest point in Palau, Mount Ngerchelchauus, is 242 meters (794 feet) above sea level. The peak is located on the main island of Babelthuap, which, compared to the rest of the islands comprising Palau, is high and mountainous. Many of the other islands are low coral atolls.


There are a great number of underwater caves and caverns throughout the reefs surrounding Palau. One of the most popular for divers is Chandelier Cave. Located underneath the island of Ngarol, this four-chamber cave has an opening that is 4.6 meters (15 feet) underwater. Divers can enter this opening, then surface into the cave's air-filled chambers to view its large stalactites.


On the eastern coast of Ngarchelong stands a series of thirty-seven stone monoliths known as Badrulchau. According to local legend, the gods placed the basalt monoliths here as columns for a bai, or meeting house. Archaeologists believe Portuguese or other native ancestors erected the stones some time between 90 and 1665 a.d.


Besides the monoliths described above, there are no other significant man-made features affecting the geography of Palau.


Oceania refers to the islands in the region that covers the central and southern Pacific Ocean and its adjacent seas. The boundaries for the region are the Tropic of Cancer in the north and the southern tip of New Zealand. Micronesia is a division of Oceania that includes the islands east of the Philippines and north of the equator. These include the Caroline Islands (of which Palau is a part), the Marshall Islands, the Mariana Islands, and the Gilbert Islands.



Brower, Kenneth. 1944-With Their Islands Around Them. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1974.

Dahl, Arthur L. Review of the Protected Areas System in Oceania. Gland, Switzerland: International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources, Commission on National Parks and Protected Areas, in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme, 1986.

Faulkner, Douglas. This Living Reef. New York: Quadrangle-New York Times Book Co., 1974.

Web Sites

"Palau: Paradise of the Pacific," Living Edens. (accessed May 2, 2003).

United Nations Environmental Programme. (accessed May 2, 2003).

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Palau (pälou´), officially Republic of Palau, independent nation (2005 est. pop. 20,300), c.192 sq mi (497 sq km), W Pacific, in the W Caroline Islands. Belau, the indigenous name for Palau, is sometimes used. Until 1994, Palau was administered by the United States as the last UN trust territory. It consists of about 200 islands and islets, of which Babeldaob (or Babelthuap, the site of Melekeok, the capital), Oreor (or Koror, the former site of the capital), Arakabesan, and Malakal are the most important.

Palauans (about 70% of the population) are predominantly Micronesian with a mix of Malayan and Melanesian strains. There are minorities of Filipinos, Chinese, and other Asians. Palauan is the official language, but English and other languages are also spoken. Roman Catholicism and Protestantism are the predominant religions.

Tourism, subsistence farming, and fishing and shellfishing are the chief economic activities; commercial fishing was phased out in its waters beginning in 2014. Machinery and equipment, fuels, and foodstuffs are imported. The United States provides considerable financial assistance under the terms of the compact of free association, and is Palau's largest trading partner, followed by Singapore and Japan.

Palau is governed under the constitution of 1981. The president, who is both head of state and head of government, is elected by popular vote for a four-year term and is eligible for a second term. The bicameral Parliament consists of the nine-seat Senate and the 16-seat House of Delegates; all members are popularly elected for four-year terms. Administratively, the islands are divided into 16 states. Defense is the responsibility of the United States.


Spain held the islands for about 300 years before selling them to Germany in 1899. Japan seized them in 1914 and was given a mandate over them by the League of Nations in 1920. A major Japanese naval base in World War II, Palau was seized by U.S. forces in 1944 and made part of the U.S.-administered United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands in 1947. Palau became self-governing in 1981. Palau's constitution prohibits nuclear weapons, causing a conflict with the compact of free association proposed by the United States in 1985–86. The islands voted in favor of the compact in 1987, but the referendum failed to garner the 75% of the votes then required. In a new plebiscite held in 1993 the compact was approved, opening the door to closer official linkage with the United States. The following year Palau became an independent nation in free association with the United States. The capital was moved from Oreor to Babeldoab in 2006. In 2010 Palau and the United States signed a 15-year renewal of the financial assistance associated with the compact of free association, but the U.S. Congress has not yet ratified it. Johnson Toribiong was elected president in 2008, succeeding Tommy Remengesau, Jr., who had been elected to the maximum two terms; in 2012 Remengesau defeated Toribiong to return to the office. Parts of the country suffered significant damage from a typhoon in Nov., 2013.

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Basic Data
Official Country Name: Republic of Palau
Region: Oceania
Population: 18,766
Language(s): English, Palauan, Sonsorolese, Tobi, Angaur, Japanese
Literacy Rate: 92%

Palau consists of approximately 200 islands of volcanic and coral limestone, near Indonesia and southeast of the Philippines, with a land area of about 178 square miles; eight islands are permanently inhabitable. Spain colonized Palau and sold the islands to Germany in 1899. Japan occupied Palau during World War I and was granted political control by the League of Nations in 1920. The United States seized the islands from Japan during World War II; Palau became a United Nations trusteeship territory in 1947, administered by the United States. Palau became a republic and signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1994.

The population of Palau is about 18,766 people (2000 estimate). More than an estimated 5,000 people live outside the country, with many on Guam. The executive branch of government is ministerial, with the president choosing a cabinet; the national legislature is bicameral, with a House of Delegates and a Senate. Each state has a governor, some elected by popular vote and some appointed in accordance with tradition.

Languages spoken are part of the Malayo-Polynesian family, and there are dialectal differences among the islands. English is widely spoken, and older people often speak Japanese. About 40 percent of the population is Catholic, 25 percent Protestant, and 25 percent Palauan "traditional" religion.

Education is modeled after the U.S. system, and it is compulsory between the ages of 6 to 14; the public school system consists of 25 elementary schools and one high school with enrollments of 2,565 students and 780 students, respectively. School facilities are deteriorating and lack furniture and other basic equipment. The languages of instruction are Palauan and English. School funding comes from the U.S. Department of the Interior and from the U.S. Office of Education. Palau Community College, in the capital of Koror, enrolls about 450 students.


The Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The World Factbook 2000. Directorate of Intelligence. 1 January 2000. Available from

Douglas, Norman, and Ngaire Douglas. Pacific Island Yearbook, 16th ed. North Ryde, NSW, Australia: Angus & Robertson, 1989.

Richard E. Mezo

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Basic Data

Official Country Name: Republic of Palau
Region (Map name): Oceania
Population: 18,766
Language(s): English, Palauan,Sonsorolese, Tobi,Angaur, Japanese
Literacy rate: 92%

Palau, the westernmost archipelago of the Caroline islands chain in the North Pacific Ocean, consists of six island groups of more than 200 islands. Its first inhabitants may have been distant relatives of the Malays of Indonesia, Melanesians of New Guinea, and Polynesians. In 1885, Spain claimed the territory, but later sold it to Germany. When Germany lost World War I, Palau was transferred to Japan under the Treaty of Versailles. In 1922, it became the administrative center for all Japanese possessions in the South Pacific. When Japan lost World War II, the islands joined the United Nations Trust Territories under U.S. administration. Palau gained independence in 1994. English and Palauan are the official languages in all states but three, which recognize English along with their local dialect. The population is approximately 19,000, and the literacy rate is 92 percent. A President serves as chief of state and head of government. The economy is primarily driven by subsistence agriculture and fishing, but the government is making efforts to increase the tourism industry.

Palau media enjoys freedom of speech and press. The country's primary independent newspaper is The Palau Tribune, and it is printed in Guam. Its format borrows from Guam's Pacific Daily News, but features local news in a front section. It appears every Friday in English. The Palau Gazette is a monthly newspaper issued by the government. Tia Belau, another independent English-language publication, appears fortnightly on Friday.

There is one government-operated radio station (AM) serving 12,000 radios. One television station broadcasts to 11,000 televisions. There are no Internet service providers.


"Belau," Asia-Pacific Network (2002). Available from-

"Country Profile," (2002). Available from

"Palau," CIA World Fact Book (2001). Available from

"Palau Culture and History," Palau. (n.d.). Available from

"Republic of Palau: An Area Study, Federal Emergency Management Agency, Region IX," Pacific Disaster Center (2001). Available from

Jenny B. Davis

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Culture Name

Palauan (Belauan)

Alternate Names

Pelew (archaic English), Los Palaos Islands (Spanish)


Identification. The name Palau may be derived from the Palauan word for village, beluu (Pelew). Some trace the name to the Spanish word for mast, palao.

Palau comprises several cultures and languages. Ethnic Palauans predominate, inhabiting the main islands of the archipelago. Descendants of the Carolinean atolls, especially Ulithi, settled on Palau's southern atolls of Hatohobei, Sonsorol, Fannah, Pulo Anna, and Merir. Southwest Islanders, as these Carolineans are called, speak Nuclear Micronesian languages. Today most live on Koror and also speak Palauan and English.

Palauans recognize a series of expanding identities, from the village of one's father, one's mother, one's village, or one's island, to the Palauan nation as a whole. Overseas, Palauans retain strong links and identification to their homeland, while developing their own variations on Palauan identity. Shared schooling and work experiences have resulted in some elites considering themselves Micronesian.

Location and Geography. Located in the western Pacific, the Palauan archipelago is the westernmost portion of the Caroline Islands, which are in turn part of the Micronesian geographical subdivision of Oceania. East of Mindanao in the Philippines, Palau is 722 nautical miles (1,340 kilometers) southwest of Guam. Palau's three hundred volcanic and raised coral islands and atolls rise up from the Philippine Plate, with the highest stone outcrops reaching about 720 feet (2,220 meters) on the largest island, Babel thuap. The islands have a total land area of 191 square miles (495 square kilometers). The weather is hot and humid, with annual rainfall around 150 inches (3,800 milimeters). The flora and fauna are tropical, but Palau is best known for its 70-mile-long (113-kilometer-long) barrier reef which encloses spectacular coral reefs and a lagoon of approximately 560 square miles (1,450 square kilometers), a divers' paradise.

The capital and major population center is Koror, the small set of islands to the south of the main island of Babelthuap. In 2004 the capital will be relocated to Melekeok on Babelthuap.

Demography. As of 1995 the resident population of Palau was 17,225. It was 71 percent urban. The demography of Palau must be understood in historical perspective. Estimated at fifty thousand prior to European contact, the number dropped to about thirty-seven hundred people by 1900. The population then began a slow growth that finally accelerated from 1945 through the 1960s.

Fertility has stabilized at 2.1 children per woman, with a death rate of 7.4 per thousand. In the late twentieth century, the natural population growth has been counterbalanced by outmigration. While the number of Palauans has been relatively stable at about thirteen thousand, including the peoples of Hatohobei and Sonsorol, an estimated seven thousand Palauans today reside overseas for a total population of around twenty thousand.

The most important demographic shift of the late twentieth century was the increase in resident foreigners, from 4 percent of the population in 1973 to 25.5 percent in 1995. The largest and longeststanding community was then Filipinos (2,654 workers and their dependents), followed by other Asians (738), Americans (535), other Micronesians (467) and Pacific islanders (232). By 1999 Asian workers had increased to 5,250.

Linguistic Affiliation. Palauan is considered an Austronesian language of a Western subgroup, which along with Chamorro (Mariana Islands) is considered separate from the other Micronesian and Pacific languages grouped under the label "Oceanic." English and Palauan are official languages; elders also read and speak Japanese. The Palauan language incorporates Spanish, German, Japanese, and English loanwords.

Symbolism. Most of Palau's important cultural symbols are derived from its chiefly past, in particular the gable of the community meetinghouse, bai. This impressive thatched building was the center of political, social, and artistic life. Today the decorated bai gable is used in most national and state seals and to decorate Palauan buildings. Other important symbols include the circle subdivided in four, representing wealth, and the half shell symbol of the giant clam shell, which also represents the foundation of Palau and the creation of humanity from the sea. The image of the traditional Palauan mother at the time of her first child ceremony symbolizes the wealth and fertility of this matrilineal society. Symbols of nationhood include the national flag, a full golden moon on a blue background, and the national anthem.

History and Ethnic Relations

Emergence of the Nation. Archaeologists estimate that the islands were first settled approximately 4,0004,500 years ago. Palauans participated in the wide-ranging Micronesian trade system, with some interaction with Malay traders. In the nineteenth century Palau was loosely part of the Spanish Pacific. After the Spanish-American War in 1898, Palau was among the islands sold to Germany. In 1914 the islands were occupied by the Japanese, a control later confirmed as a League of Nations Class C Mandate. The United States took possession of the islands in 1944, during World War II. Starting in 1947, Palau was part of the United Nations Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, under the administration of the United States. Palauans chose not to affiliate with the remaining islands of the territory in the Federated States of Micronesia, instead establishing their own constitutional government in 1981.

While the majority of Palauans preferred free association with the United States, ratification of a Compact of Free Association was delayed by constitutional nuclear-free clauses, which required a 75 percent suspension vote of the people to conform with the compact. Palauans also feared U.S. military land use. Between 1983 and 1991 Palau conducted seven plebiscites and experienced escalating violence, including the assassination of the first elected president. After a three-year cooling-off period, and clarifying statements by the United States on the conditions under which the U.S. military might be present on the islands, the compact was approved, the trusteeship terminated, and the nation formally recognized by the United Nations in 1994.

National Identity. The concept of being "Palauan" grew during the century of colonial administration, drawing together those previously separated by villages, clans, and cultures. While the disruptions of the compact plebiscites pitted Palauans against one another, the plebiscites also cemented support for the national constitution.

Ethnic Relations. Palauans are inclusive in their conceptualization of being Palauan, incorporating long-term residents according to Palauan custom. The constitution confirms the citizenship of all those of Palauan heritage. Ethnic differences between Palauans and Southwest Islanders are declining in importance in the face of increasing numbers of Asian foreign workers.

Urbanism, Architecture, and the Use of Space

Palau is highly urbanized, with 71 percent of its population residing in Koror and Airai on the south of Babelthuap. Those without land rights on Koror live on land leased from the government, generally in single- or two-story houses of wood or cement with tin roofs.

The bai gable is a common architectural feature. Village communities still have bai meeting houses, a few in traditional styles. Today's government buildings are large air-conditioned cement structures. The future capital, Melekeak, is influenced by classical architecture. The national congress, named the Olbiil era Kelulau (House of Whispers), symbolizes the process of quiet consensus rather than open public debate of issues.

Food and Economy

Food in Daily Life. Palauans enjoy a strong domestic economy based on the dual importance of protein (odoim ) provided by men and starch (ongraol ) foods produced by women. Each clan has certain recognized food taboos, and there are special foods for titled individuals and for pregnant and lactating women. The extended family system was organized around a series of clan exchanges of food and related valuablesat the time of the building of a house, taking of a title, birth, and death.

Today, imported rice is a staple food that has been integrated into the exchange cycle. 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 instead provide a fast breakfast. While starch and protein foods still comprise the basic categories, the Palauan diet is strongly enriched by Japanese and American foods, and more recently by the various cuisines of China, the Philippines, and Korea. There are many restaurants, and local markets feature both Palauan and imported food. Beer is commonly consumed and a local brewery has been established.

Food Customs at Ceremonial Occasions. Special foods vary by state, village, and occasion. In the past a special drink made from a molasses derived from coconut sap was served to chiefs and elders; it was valued for its medicinal benefits and its religious meanings.

Nearly every weekend Palauan kin groups gather in the modern equivalents of clan exchanges for house parties and funerals, and to celebrate a woman's first child. Classmates and workmates also join in the festivities and exchanges. Rice and store-bought foods predominate in these exchanges, in addition to taro, fish, and pork.

Basic Economy. The production of root crops and fishing still provide a strong basis for the Palauan economy. Large taro swamps are worked by women in each of the villages, and men fish primarily from large outboard motorboats. Foreign workers are now employed in the farming and fishing industries and also work in household food production.

On this subsistence basis there is a strong wage economy. Of the Palauan population sixteen years of age and older, 58 percent are engaged in wage labor, with a male participation rate of 68 percent and female rate of 51 percent. About 40 percent work in the government sector.

Payments associated with the Compact of Free Association between the United States and Palau accounted for 55 percent of 1999 revenues. These payments began in 1994 and are front-loaded within the fifteen-year agreement. Major infrastructural development projects are funded by the compact and by international aid.

Land Tenure and Property. In the past, lands, titles, and wealth were held by the clans and controlled by senior female and male elders; in this matrilineal society, however, those related through a senior female had a stronger say in such areas than those related through a man. Each clan controlled taro fields, a named house plot, and other lands. There were certain village lands: those for the chiefly meetinghouses, men's clubs, and dock houses, as well as some public lands. Certain lands could also pass individually from a father to his children.

The majority of lands were alienated during colonial control; these lands were returned to Palau in the 1980s. Certain lands were retained by the new nation for public buildings such as the hospital and government edifices. Otherwise, land may be owned only by Palauan citizens.

Commercial Activities. The traditional Palauan economy was an integrated system of trade and exchange. One could earn Palauan money by performing certain tasks, such as house and canoe building, or through the preparation of certain foods. One also earned wealth for one's clan by participating in the food exchanges, with taro the standard for Palauan money. Commercial activities have been added to the traditional economy. Raw and cooked foods are prepared for sale in markets and stores. Carved storyboards are produced for sale mainly to visitors. A full range of contemporary commercial occupations have been added, mainly in retail sales, construction, and housing services.

Major Industries. The major industry at present is the construction of public infrastructure, funded by the Compact of Free Association and foreign aid. Tourism and fisheries are major export earners; agricultural production is primarily for local consumption.

Trade. Importation of capital goods associated with infrastructural development constitutes over half of all imports, with imports of foods and live animals at 13 percent. Imports are primarily commercial, totaling $65.9 million (U.S.) in 1998 (a decline from $79.6 million [U.S.] in 1996). Total exports, composed of predominantly fish, were $3 million (U.S.)in 1996. The annual fish catch fluctuates between 500,000 and 780,000 pounds (186,500 and 291,000 kilograms).

Tourism is the country's fastest growing industry, with foreign visitors increasing nearly threefold from 23,398 in 1990 to 54,745 in 1999. It is estimated that tourism contributed $65 million (U.S.) to the economy in 1995.

Division of Labor. Except for certain highly specialized tasks such as master builder, master fisher, or master farmer, men and women of all ages traditionally performed basic productive tasks, moving into management positions in the clan and village as they aged. The main division of labor at this time is by nationality, with Palauans and Southwest Islanders holding the primary positions in the governmental sectorin management and the professionswith increased participation by foreigners in private sector positions. Filipino and Chinese workers are primarily engaged in production and service occupations.

Social Stratification

Class and Castes. In the past, members of the highest ranking clans of the village were also the wealthiest, controlling state and village as well as clan monies and resources. Leaders were responsible for caring for their descendants and dependents.

The chiefly system is declining as new systems of stratification based on educational attainment and wealth develop in concert with increased participation in the world economy. Foreigners generally fit into the stratification system according to the level and status of their wage-paying job.

Symbols of Social Stratification. In the past there were few symbols of social stratification, other than women wearing Palauan money pieces around their necks, chiefly men wearing a dugong (sea cow) vertebrae bracelet or adze. Today fine clothing, houses, fast speedboats, and four-wheel-drive cars are signals of personal achievement.

Political Life

Government. The Palau national constitution was ratified in 1981. It is modeled on the United States constitution with a popularly elected president and vice president, two-house National Congress, and a judiciary. There are sixteen states based on historical village-states, each with a governor and state constitution.

Leadership and Political Officials. The president and vice president are the highest recognized elected officials. There are no political parties. The Ibedul of Koror and the Reklai of Melekeok continue to be recognized as paramount chiefs of Palau. The states are comprised of a number of villages, each of which has its own male and female chiefly councils. A council of chiefs from each state advises the national government. At the state level both elected governors and traditional leaders are recognized. The level of integration of the elected and traditional leadership varies by state.

Social Problems and Control. There is a national police and judiciary. Palau is experiencing many of the social problems of societies undergoing rapid transformation. High consumption of alcohol contributes to accidents and assaults especially involving young men. Marijuana is grown and sold in the islands, and imported drugs such as "ice" (cocaine) are a problem among the young. The paramount chiefs are working with government officials on youth programs and programs that aim to control alcohol and drug use.

Military Activity. Palau does not have a national military, although the young men's clubs of the village-states are still active; in the civil unrest of the 1980s these clubs were often called in to establish and maintain order. Some Palauans do volunteer for service in the various branches of the U.S. military.

Social Welfare and Change Programs

The constitution mandates a strong program of health and educational support. Education is free and mandatory through high school (grade twelve), with support services for those who do not graduate. Private religious elementary and high schools (including Catholic, Protestant, Seventh Day Adventist, and Palauan Modekngei) are supported by school fees as well as government contributions. Medical services are provided at low cost through the Belau National Hospital and clinics, and there are several private medical clinics. There is a national social security system for those who have contributed through taxes upon their wages, and there are both government and private retirement programs.

Nongovernmental Organizations and Other Associations

Semigovernmental nonprofit organizations include a community action agency, head start programs, and the Belau National Museum. Environmental concerns are strongly represented by the Palau Conservation Society, and local offices of the Nature Conservancy.

Gender Roles and Statuses

Division of Labor by Gender. In the past there was a strongly gendered division of labor in daily work tasks, with men in charge of fishing and the construction of houses and community buildings, and women in charge of farming and shellfish collection. Today both men and women are active in wage labor, and gender is of little importance except in national political offices, which are rarely held by women. There are women physicians, lawyers, and business managers, and the first Palauan woman serves on the Palau Supreme Court.

The Relative Status of Women and Men. Palauan society recognizes complementary roles for men and women. The traditional governing village council was male, with a female chiefly counterpart council. Senior women were integrally involved in leadership: they selected (and could remove) the male titleholders. Senior women still have strong voices in clan decisions on property and wealth controlled by the matrilines, because money from exchanges enters the clan through the woman. Changes in legal inheritance, however, are eroding women's power.

Marriage, Family, and Kinship

Marriage. In the past marriages were arranged, with intermarriage among members of the high clans, but at present, individuals may select their own partners. Within the clan marriage is not permitted to relatives reckoned through either the father or mother to four generations. Marriage may be formalized through the court, church, and/or traditional ceremonies involving the exchange of prescribed foods and wealth between the clans. Divorce is common, especially among younger couples with few children, and may be initiated by either husband or wife. In the past most adults would marry; today, there are increasing numbers of single or widowed individuals.

Domestic Unit. The basic unit is the telungalek people descended from one woman. In the past households were comprised of three- or four-generation extended families. Today, there are increasing numbers of nuclear family households, particularly among the young.

Inheritance. Lands, titles, and wealth traditionally passed through the matriline, with decisions made by senior female and male elders. Today, social security payments and intestate estates pass to the wife and children of the deceased, a major transformation of inheritance practices.

Kin Groups. Beyond the telungalek are recognized lineages and clans that may extend beyond the village or state. Certain clans are associated by past histories.


Infant care. At the time a woman's first child is born there are special ceremonies: her female elders gather, organize a series of hot baths, and present the young woman to the community in a public ceremony. During this time the infant is cared for primarily by female relatives, who bring the child to the mother for nursing. Care of infants is dispersed among family members, and it is common for children to be adopted by their grandparents. Men are active in caring for their young children, especially boys.

Child Rearing and Education. In the past, children learned through observation and working alongside adults. Today there is a formal education system beginning generally with head start or kindergarden classes, followed by elementary and secondary schools.

Higher Education. Secondary education is universal, with most Palauans bilingual in Palauan and English. There is a two-year Palau Community College which trains students from throughout the region and also feeds into four-year systems predominantly in Guam and the United States. Palauans enjoy high standards of education and literacy.


Respect toward elders and leaders is still pronounced. In particular the head is considered sacred and should not be touched.


Religious Beliefs. Christianity has been established in Palau for the past century, with Catholic (44 percent) and Protestant (29 percent) churches predominating. There is also a syncretic Palauan religion, Modekngei, which in 1995 accounted for 11 percent of the people.

Palauans still recognize Palauan gods and their totemic embodiments, refraining from eating clan totems. Christian beliefs and indigenous practices often coexist.

Religious Practitioners. Ordained priests, pastors, and Modekngei leaders are highly respected leaders of religious ceremonies, and there is strong lay and community involvement in the churches.

Rituals and Holy Places. Major Christian rituals and holy places are recognized, in addition to indigenous village-based shrines.

Death and the Afterlife. Funerals remain one of the most important of all Palauan rituals. As in the past this is the occasion for a major gathering of the lineages and clans, organized primarily by the female elders. Transfers of food and wealth are made to settle the affairs of the deceased and for a deceased man, the obligations to his wife and children, who return to the woman's natal house. Although general graveyards were established in the nineteenth century by colonial administrations, it is still common for an individual to be buried in the stone platform of the house or lineage.

Medicine and Health Care

Local Palauan medicines of leaves and herbs and Palauan medicinal and massage practitioners are still valued, although Palau has also fully incorporated Western medicine. The Belau National Hospital provides a high standard of services, relying in some cases on medical referrals to the Philippines and the United States. There are male and female trained physicians and surgeons, as well as nurses. There is an active dental service and village-based public health services.

Secular Celebrations

Palau celebrates a range of national holidays including Constitution Day (9 July) and Independence Day, many American holidays, as well as an extended Christmas/New Year's period.

The Arts and Humanities

Support for the Arts. The Belau National Museum, which opened in 1955, was begun privately with strong local support. The government of Palau is considering funding a new national museum as part of the capital relocation project. Palau has twice sent delegations to the Pacific Festival of Arts and will host the 2004 festival.

Literature. Poetry is the most developed of Palauan literary arts (in Palauan and in English), with several well-known poets; little is available, however, in published form.

Graphic Arts. The graphic arts are highly developed in Palau. In the past the village meetinghouse was the center of both visual and performance arts. The end gables (bai) of these houses and the interior beams were decorated with low-relief painted carvings, depicting histories of the village and its relationships with other villages. Most of the older houses (depicting sailing ships and planes as well as Palauan scenes) were destroyed during World War II or by typhoons, and the few extant and newly constructed gables today depict pre-European Palauan styles.

Carved wooden storyboards, derived from the beam carvings, are a highly developed art form, primarily for sale to foreigners. Carvers of storyboards, shell jewelry makers, and weavers may earn considerable income. Watercolors of traditional village scenes by the late Charlie Gibbons are highly prized. Palauan artists also work in oils and linocuts.

Performance Arts. Dancing is a highly developed art form. Traditional dances are performed by village groups. The women's dances are stately and performed by two lines of women, while the men's line dances often include war stances and stick dances. Oratory is highly developed, with senior elders performing historical chants and pieces from a number of musical genres. In village meetings there are also informal theatrical skits and clowning in informal dancing. Contemporary Palauan music is composed and performed in nightclubs and on public occasions, with local diskettes and CDs offered for sale.

The State of the Physical and Social Sciences

Palau has long been a site of research in marine biology, building upon the scientific skills of Palauan master fishermen. Scientists at the Micronesian Mariculture Demonstration Center were the first to successfully spawn giant clams in a laboratory environment, and to develop programs to build stocks of endangered hawksbill turtles. The Palau International Coral Reef Center for scientific research, coral reef management, and educational programs, funded by Japan, is due to open in 2001. A private Coral Reef Research Foundation studies the biochemical properties of marine invertebrates, especially sponges, in cancer research.

The Palau Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairswhich includes the Palau Historic Preservation Office, Belau National Museum, and Ministry of Educationoperates aggressive programs in cultural conservation, counteracting strong American influences in education. In conjunction with the construction of the Babelthuap road, major archaeological and oral history projects are under way.


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Ramarui, D. The Palauan Arts, 1980.

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Zobel, E. The Position of Chamorro and Palauan in the Austronesian Family Tree: Evidence from Verb Morphology and Morphsyntax. Paper presented at the Eighth International Conference on Austronesian Linguistics, Taipei, December 1997.

Karen L. Nero

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Belau (formerly Palau) Self-governing island group in the Caroline Islands of the w Pacific, consisting of about 200 islands, only eight of which are inhabited; the capital is Koror. A Spanish possession (1710–1898), Belau was then held by Germany until 1914, when Japan occupied it. At the end of World War II control passed to the USA, which administered Belau as part of the US Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. Self-government was instituted in 1981 and full independence followed in 1994. Most of the population are Micronesian, engaged in subsistence agriculture. Commercial fishing and copra processing are important economic activities. Area: 460sq km (189sq mi). Pop. (2000) 12,000.

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Palau Former name of Belau

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Palauallow, avow, Bilbao, Bissau, bough, bow, bow-wow, brow, cacao, chow, ciao, cow, dhow, Dow, endow, Foochow, Frau, Hangzhou, Hough, how, Howe, kowtow, Lao, Liao, Macao, Macau, miaow, Mindanao, mow, now, ow, Palau, plough (US plow), pow, prow, row, scow, Slough, sough, sow, Tao, thou, vow, wow, Yangshao

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