Palau is a nation comprised of 8 main islands and 250 smaller ones located in the Pacific Ocean 500 miles east of the Philippines and 2000 miles south of Tokyo. The first inhabitants were believed to have arrived to the islands around 1000 BC from Polynesia and Asia. Recent discoveries by archeologists have uncovered that Palau, also known as the Black Islands, has the oldest known funeral ceremony in Oceania. Culture started as a matriarchal society where land, money and titles passed through the female lineage. Occupation by Japan and subsequent Japanese influence swayed part of the culture to a patriarchal society which has led to legal ramifications to this day.
The Islanders had limited exposure to outsiders until a group shipwrecked in the Philippines. Later in 1783, Englishman Henry Wilson, Captain of the East India Company shipwrecked off the island of Ulong. When Wilson returned to England from what he called the “Pelew Islands”, he brought the Palauan king’s son with him, but the young man soon contracted smallpox and died. East India Company and Captain Wilson provided a funeral for the boy and placed a memorial on his grave in Rotherlithe.
Britain, Spain and Germany all laid claim to the islands in the 19th century and the matter was taken to Pope Leo XIII for a final decision. The Pope awarded the archipelago to Spain but allowed Britain and Germany to have economic privileges. When the Spanish were defeated in the Spanish-American War, they lost possession of the Philippines and sold Palau to Germany in 1899. This transaction became known as the German-Spanish Treaty. Palau was then governed by German New Guinea and island economy flourished. Soon German engineers abused the land depleting it of bauxite, phosphate and copra.
Japan declared war on Germany in 1914 and the islands were soon seized by the Japanese navy. Japanese occupation brought allied forces in 1941 when more intense fighting occurred. The Americans were victorious but 100 servicemen are still listed missing in action to this day. In 1979 Palauans refused to join the Federated States of Micronesia and violent transition followed with the assassinations of 2 presidents in 1985 and 1988. The Islands have a free association with the US but retain their independence under the Compact of Free Association.
They enjoy a mutipartisan government headed by a presidential representative democratic republic. The president is the head of state and the head of government which includes executive, legislative and judiciary branches. Palau is divided into 16 states with a combined population of 21,000. The tropical climate has an average year round temperature of 82 degrees F. Melekeok is the capital but Koror is the largest city. Other major cities include Airai, Kloulklabed and Muyungs.
The Chades er a Mechorei is a bridge constructed by natives, that is believed by cultural elders to have been a separation between 2 chiefs and territories and is held in awe as it was built by hand before modern technology was available. A WWII memorial is located at Peleiu in honor of the bloody battles that took place. Visitors enjoy the white sandy beaches, tropical jungles and waterfalls where scuba diving, snorkeling, fishing and surfing have become popular.
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