Palau

 

LANGUAGE   THE PALAU STORYBOARD AND OTHER LEGENDS

LEGENDS

 







 

Republic of Palau Message Forum A spectacular 400 mile long strand of pearls laid across blue sea best describes this jewel of the Pacific. Made of limestone coral reefs lifted above sea level and undercut by ocean currents which over time have notched the basis so that from the air they look like giant mushrooms, the Republic of Palau, in Micronesia, is truly nature at its most majestic. The tightly clustered Palau archipelago consists of the high islands of Babeldaob, Koror, Peleliu and Angaur in the south, the low coral atolls of Kayangel to the north east and Ngeruangel and the limestone rock islands of which there are more than 200. Apart from Kayangel, Ngeruangel and Angaur all the islands are inside a single barrier reef. Only eight islands are inhabited, for the entire population is 17,235 with the majority of them living in the provisional capital of Koror. There are an additional 2,500 foreigners mostly Filipino labourers.

The Spaniards named the group Los Palos (the native name is Belau) and laid claim to them in 1898, selling them to Germany a year later. In 1946, Palau became one of the trust territories of the Pacific islands under the governance of the U.S.A. In 1994, it gained its independence and was admitted to the United Nations as its 185th member.

The island group is divided into 16 states each maintaining the traditional clan system with English and Palauan the official languages. The people are warm, hospitable and generous and, though they look more American than other Micronesians, they continue to follow their old matrilineal culture.

Aerial view of Palau islands Koror, the capital, has breathtaking views of the islands, Japanese stone lanterns and the only Shinto Shrine outside Japan, a reminder of Japanese occupation during the war. There is a national museum founded in 1955 which displays a bounty of island treasure and on special occasions you can see young Palauan women dressed in grass skirts covered in coconut oil and turmeric perform ancient native dances on the museum's grass.

Palauan lady dancers performing traditional dance There are international standard hotels, the largest being the 165 room Outrigger Palasia Hotel and the Palau Pacific Resort with 160 rooms, as well as motels and guest houses. Restaurants cater for all tastes, the best being American, Japanese, Chinese, Korean and local eateries.

Palau storyboard From Koror you can take a tour boat to one of the many islands for an all day picnic, take up the new sport of kayaking round the Rock Islands snorkelling on the way or go swimming,

scuba diving and shelling out at the reef. If you prefer fishing, cast a line from the beach or a dinghy and catch a swag of tropical fish.

Snorkelling on Palau outer islands A village tour of Babeldaob is where you can see some of the impressive historic and cultural sites such as stone walkways and hedges of immense sizes. There is a Palauan story equivalent of the biblical Lot story - an ancient statue of a mother and child who were turned to stone when the mother peeked inside a village men's house found in Koror.

Overnight accommodation here is not available so visitors can ask to stay with a family. If you do this, return the hospitality by bringing with you gifts such as bread, coffee, canned meat and cigarettes. It is a custom to remove your shoes before entering a house.


Palau Cultural Centre Three ocean currents converge on Palau and bring with them marine life that is four times as rich as that in the Caribbean. There are over 1,000 species of fish and more than 700 species of coral. Divers can scale the 60 foot vertical drop-offs including the Ngemelis Wall descending some 1,000 feet to a dazzling array of multicoloured sponges and fish, black coral

whips and soft corals. Giant clams sit on the reefs and moray eels hover nearby as do sharks who appear to be too well fed to be interested in you.

For the more adventurous, there are the underwater catacombs filled with massive ancient stalactites and stalagmites, the best being the Blue Corner and Blue Hole. In the Mecherchar Island Group, visit Jelly Fish Lake, a magical stretch of water trapped inside a Rock Island that is fed by rainwater. It is home to thousands of jellyfish that have mutated from a salt to fresh water habitat and who have lost their sting. Snorkelling with them - and there are thousands upon thousands of them crammed together as they have no natural predators - is a fascinating, surreal experience.

Snorkelling, Palau lagoon A good road system on Peleliu permits extensive exploration by land to many fine sandy beaches and you can sit in a half submerged Japanese zero fighter plane or visit the quarryscarred island from which Yap seamen carved their legendary stone money. Ten miles southwest of Koror is Ulong Island with its ancient rock paintings and further south in Angaur, a quiet retreat with spouting blowhole and monkeys, descendants of two animals let loose during German times. Kayangel, the northernmost island, is the only true coral atoll in the group and Melekeok, the future capital, has a deep water port and five "stone face" monoliths, while on the northern tip of the island a further 37 monoliths stand in two rows on prehistoric terraces. For hikers, local guides will lead the way to Palau's largest waterfall and highest peak 713 foot high Mount Ngerchelechuus where you can see 70 species of orchids and wild life. Paradise Air operates regular and charter services between several islands. There are also twice weekly boats. Taxis are not metered so ask your driver to show you the rate card before starting the journey. You can rent cars if you wish to be independent. DIVE Palau is rated as one of the Seven Under Water Wonders of the World by CEDAM International. This is not surprising when you can stand atop a reef edge in knee deep water and see it drop away to 320 metres vertically. It is believed that there are more than 50 WW2 wrecks sunk in the lagoon.

For a truly unique experience, how about diving in a land locked lagoon with 100,000 nonstinging jelly fish! Dive sites offer stalactite-filled caves, giant undersea tunnels and gorgonian fans that stand up to 3 metres tall.

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Hello, Look out!

Alii. (a-LEE)

Stop, that's enough!

Merkong! (Murr-GONG)

Don't forget.

Lak mobes! (Lokko-mo-BESS)

Let's go.

Dorael. (do-RILE)

Go away!

Bom cheroid! (Bom-a-ROYD)

Have something to eat!

Bo momengur. (Bo-mo-mung-OOR)

Come in.

Bemtuu. (Bem-TOO)

Come!

Mei. (MAY)

Like that.

Ng uai sei. (WIGH-SAY)

No.

Ng diak. (In-dee-AHK)

Yes.

Choi, O' Oi. (OH-OY)

Thanks.

Sulang. (Soo-LAHNG)

Thank you.

Ke kmal mesaul. (Kuk-MAHL-ma-SAHL)

What happened to you?

Ke K'lsakl? (Ke-K'LSAKL)

What are you doing?

Ke mekerang? )Ke-mugga-RAHNG)

What's the latest?

Ngera chised? (N-RAH-ee-SEDD)

How many?

Ngtelag. (ngtel-AHNG)

What is the price?

Ngtelang a cheral? (ngtela-ah-RAHL)

My name is _____.

A ngklek a ____. (Ahng-KLEEK-a ____)

What is your name?

Ngtecha ngklem? (ngte-AHNG-KLEMM)

I'm fine.

Ak Mesisiich. (Ahk-mess-ee-SEE-uh)

How are you?

Ke ua ngerang? (ka-wanna-RAHNG)

Come again (goodbye).

Mechikung. (may-ee-KOONG)

I am leaving (goodbye).

Ak morolung. (Ahk-more-oh-long)

Where are you going?

Ke mo er ker? (ke-MORE-GARE)

Good evening.

Ungil kebesengei. (ong-EEL-kebba-sung-AY)

Good afternoon.

Ungil chodechosong. (oong-EEL-OTH-o-O-Song)

Good Morning.

Ungil tutau. (oong-EEL-too-TOW)

 

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 Legends of Palau

Author Nancy Barbour has spent the last 12 years traveling and writing about Palau. Part of that time was spent researching not only Palau's unique coral reefs and marine life, but also the culture and history of the Palauan people. Intrigued by the nation's rich cultural traditions, Barbour focused her attentions on the Palauans' ancient art of storytelling which reveals the complexities of their society and strong sense of familial ties. Oral traditions, passed down through the form of chants, stories, dances, and legends, have kept Palau's history alive. The following excerpts and legends are taken from Barbour's book, Palau. It is her ultimate hope that her book will contribute to an appreciation of Palau and its people, and that, as a result, it will help ensure that Palau remains the unspoiled natural wonder it is today.

Though the origin of the Palauan people is shrouded in folklore and legend, the most accepted theory, based on linguistic similarities, holds that the islands were settled thousands of years ago by people migrating from Southeast Asia and Indonesia -- people who thought nothing of sailing hundreds of miles across uncharted seas in open outrigger canoes.

The early Palauans were perhaps once gifted navigators, but when they got to Palau they stayed. With an abundance of food from the fertile land and surrounding reef, there was no need to explore beyond the their shores. Long distance navigation skills diminished. Instead, the men became great fishermen and new more about the seasonal rhythms and life cycles of fish than is known by Western scientists today. While the sea was essentially the men's domain, farming the land was where the women excelled, primarily growing taro, a staple food with tuberous roots that are cooked in a variety of ways. The labor of the women guaranteed an adequate supply of food year round and thus gave them high social and political importance in the community.

The men, freed from the time-consuming and physically demanding task of farming, devoted their energies to other village affairs, primarily the construction of public buildings, canoe houses and elaborate stone causeways, docks and tree-lined stone paths. Politics was foremost on the minds as was inter-village warfare. Competition was, and still is, a highly motivating force between individuals, clans, villages, and states. Historically there was a great power struggle between the north and the south, a rivalry that continues to this day.

The arts flourished. Women were fine weavers and wove intricate baskets, blankets, and sails for canoes. The men worked with wood and carved elaborate bowls, plates and large, intricate food containers that were inlaid with shell. Master craftsmen built great war canoes nearly sixty feet long and sleek sailing canoes as long as thirty-three feet with a beam of a mere fourteen inches. Though these canoes were considered some of the finest in all of Micronesia, the most outstanding example of Palauan craftsmanship was the bai, a gathering place for the men of the village. The bai was a masterpiece of Micronesian architecture. Built with large, heavy planks from trees that were felled and carved without the benefit of metal tools, the high-peaked structure was held together by nothing more than the precise of fit of the wooden beams, then lashed together with coconut sennit rope. The most elaborately constructed bai functioned as a meeting place or council house for the governing chiefs of the village. Other bai served as clubhouses - gathering places for the men of the village where the traditional skills of fishing, hunting, building and warfare were learned. The interior beams and outside gables of each bai were decorated with carved and painted stories depicting historic events of the village, humorous tales and legends of importance to the community.

The early Palauans developed a complex and highly organized social system that today mystifies all but the most dedicated anthropologist. In the Palauan matrilineal system, which still exists, nuclear families and extended families, called clans, were related through the mother's side of the family. The mother's brother had a role nearly equal to that of the natural father in providing for the children. And many children were adopted, always within the extended family and often as a means to manipulate land, wealth and human resources. Men ruled as chiefs, but it was the women who chose those chiefs and had the power to rescind chiefly status. Women also held the money of the clan.

Money made from beads of colored glass or high-fired clay, substances not known to exist in Palau, was used in a complex system of exchange. Each piece was named, its previous clan owners known and its specific shape, as individual as a fingerprint, committed to memory in the minds of certain elders. Even today, much of a clan's history can be told through its money. This money continues to be used in certain traditional marriage, funeral and first-child ceremonies though, as it was in the past, it is the responsibility of the recipient to verify its authenticity.

As a result of more than a century of foreign influence, and more recently in an effort to meet the needs of a developing nation, may aspects of the traditional culture have changed. The outboard motor has replaced the outrigger canoe, much of the ancient fishing knowledge is on the verge of being lost and men now gather in restaurants instead of the bai to discuss the politics of their world. As nearly half of the work force is employed by the government, the dollar now reigns over a once-subsistence economy. Today, few young women are willing to work in the taro patches - the gardens are now tended by mostly female elders of the village. And though hereditary chiefs continue to influence political decisions, their traditional authority is often in conflict with the elected officials of the current Western-style democratic government.

Yet even though the people of Palau are very cosmopolitan, well educated and Western in appearance, many traditions remain. Most, however, involve a complex system of social obligations not seen by the casual observer. One aspect of the culture that is quite apparent is the friendly and gregarious nature of the people, many of whom continue the time-honored custom of chewing betel nut, a green palm nut sprinkled with powdered lime and wrapped in a leaf from a pepper tree. When chewed, this concoction turns the saliva red, and over time the smiles of the elderly become bright red.

In addition many of the older customs and art forms that had been slowly dying are seeing a rebirth. New bai, built in the traditional style, have recently been constructed in several villages, and traditional sailing canoes are again being built by the elders in Koror. The ancient carvings that appeared on the bai have evolved into storyboards, carved pieces of wood depicting colorful Palauan legends, which have become the most well-known art form in the country today. In the northern villages of Kayangel and Ngerchelong, the chiefs have reinstated an age-old conservation law known as bul, which prohibits fishing on certain reefs during critical spawning periods. And Palauan dance experts throughout the islands still tech their children the traditional song and dances, and on special occasions one can see young people adorned with flowers and shell jewelry perform in the traditional dress of their cultural ancestors.

 


 


    THE PALAU STORYBOARD AND OTHER LEGENDS

 


Storyboards were introduced into Palau by a Japanese artist during the
Japanese occupation of Palau and adapted by the islanders to record their own traditions.

The stories that are told on the Palau storyboards are usually old Palauan legends
or alternatively legends from different islands especially Yap, Federated States of Micronesia.

An artist carves a Palauan legend on a storyboard
The people of Palau have long been both good story tellers and skilful in woodcarving. As a result, the practice of telling stories through woodcarvings or storyboards is a natural extension. The storyboards themselves can be made from several good hard woods that are grown on Palau. The first of these is ironwood, or dort as it is known in the Palauan language. This is the preferred kind of wood as it is both strong and long lasting. If ironwood cannot be obtained either because it is not available or too expensive, imported woods are occasionally used for storyboards.

The construction of a storyboard may take some weeks to complete depending upon its size. In some cases, carvers had been known to produce poor quality work in order to meet the increasing demand from tourists and visitors to Palau.
When the construction of the storyboard is complete, it will be finished by painting it with different colours or alternatively it will be treated so that the wood retains its natural colours. Tourists tend to prefer the painted board however the storyboards that retain the natural shades of the wood appear most attractive. With these, the wood is finished using black and brown shoe polish which causes it to shine and retain the true shades of the wood.

A good quality storyboard with a natural finish

Palauan storyboard of the legend Itabori
The stories that are told on the storyboards are usually old Palauan legends or alternatively legends from different islands especially Yap, Federated States of Micronesia. Some of the legends that may be featured on the storyboards are as follows:
Ngirngemelas tells the story about a brave Palauan warrior and his deeds.
Uwab is a story about a legendary giant.
Surech ma Tulei is the story about two lovers.
Melechotech-a-chau is a legend about a giant with an unbelievably large penis.
Palauan storyboards can be quite expensive by local standards and are usually purchased by tourists or high government officials and businessmen who are able to afford them. Normally, about 90 per cent of Palauan storyboards are sold to visitors who normally receive an attached paper explaining the story associated with the board. These papers can, over a period of time be lost or misplaced resulting in the story associated with the storyboards becoming obscure.


THE LEGEND OF WHY A GIRL BECAME A DUGONG IN PALAU

Once there lived an old man and his wife. One day the wife went to her taro patch while her husband remained at home. While she was away, the husband was turned into a nut tree by an evil spirit and when she returned he was nowhere to be seen. She called out for him but could get no answer and she knew something strange must have happened. She then called out the names of all the plants nearby hoping for a response. She called the lemon tree, the banana tree, the pineapple plants, the breadfruit tree and the many others but she got no response.

For a while she sat down to rest and then remembered that she had not called out to the nut tree. So she gathered all her strength and shouted loudly to the nut tree. She shouted so loudly that she caused a branch of the tree to bend and the blood dripped down from it. The wife then cried because she knew that her husband had been turned into that nut tree.

She then remained alone until one day she felt a stirring in her wound and she knew that she was pregnant. Soon she delivered a beautiful baby girl and as the girl grew up she asked about her father only to be told that he had died a long time ago and not to think about him.
The girl was very obedient and her mother treated her kindly. She was well looked after and fed but was told she must never eat the nuts from the nearby nut tree. The girl obeyed her mother's wishes.

The girl eventually became very curious about the nut tree and one day while her mother was working in the taro patch, the girl picked some nuts from the tree and cracked them. When she was about to eat the nuts, her mother suddenly appeared and the girl felt very ashamed for disobeying her mother. What she did was to put the nuts in her mouth so her mother could not see them and ran towards the sea. Her mother saw what happened however and followed the daughter begging her not to swallow the nuts. The daughter continued running into the sea and was turned into a dugong and then disappeared.

The girl had the nuts in her mouth but had not swallowed them when she was turned into the dugong. Today, one can see a bulging in the jaws of the dugong where the nuts were in the girl's mouth.

PALAU FUNERAL CUSTOMS

When a death occurs on Palau, immediate relatives of the deceased have specific responsibilities. The head of the clan of the deceased notifies all relatives who, with the help of others in the community will build a coffin and the deceased's sister will prepare the body for burial. The body is then placed in the centre of the abai or community house.

The sister-in-law of the deceased is responsible for bringing food which should be served to the visitors. In this she will be helped by the female relatives from both sides of the family. In return, the female visitors contribute such gifts as cloth, soap, fine woven mats and Palauan money to the sister-in-law.

The burial ceremony takes place after one or two days, but when a chief dies it might wait up to four days. While the body is at the community house, there are specific places where the sister of the deceased sits while the other relatives sit opposite to each other. When a married man dies, the four grandparents, if they are living, sit opposite each other in pairs at the coffin. The wife's place is at the foot on one side while the mother takes the foot at the other side of the coffin. This is because at this time the wife will be too grief-stricken to be close to the head of her husband. The sister sits at the head and are expected to place their faces close to the face of the dead brother and wail loudly in a manner that is forbidden to the wife. The wife is expected to weep, but must keep her composure.

Food is served to visitors at this time in accordance with the particular designated order. The chief is served first, then the women around the coffin, and then those who are outside, and lastly, those who are cooking food. Either a man or a woman from a higher clan will serve. The reason for this is that the server must be familiar with high clan customs to ensure that the chief is properly served. Should this not be done, the parents of the dead person may be fined in Palauan money.

The burial site is selected by the chief, the father of the deceased and the closest relatives. Palauans have different cemeteries such as community cemeteries, high clan, low clan and family graveyards. The time of burial will then be determined by the elders after the grave has been dug. It is customary to bury the dead between 3 and 5 p.m. Before the burial, all the sons, daughters and sisters will make a final visit to the body before the coffin is closed.

The coffin is carried from the community centre, head first, cradled in a rope sling between bamboo poles. The first to leave will then be the sisters who carry with them two woven mats. The others follow in procession to the cemetery and upon arrival one mat is placed in the grave. The coffin is placed on this mat and the other mat will cover the top of the coffin. After the coffin is lowered into the grave, the mourners walk by, each dropping a handful of soil into it.

After the burial, everybody returns to the community house where the body had been kept and food is served. After this, they are free to return to their homes. On the seventh day after the burial, the relatives visit the grave and enclose it in cement. This is the final day of official mourning.

 

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