Capital City: Melekeok
Largest City: Koror
Languages: English, Palauan
Official Currency: US dollar
GDP (nominal): $164 million (2008 est.)
Population: 2009 estimate 20,000
Land Area: 459 km2
Palau, officially the Republic of Palau, is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, some 500 miles (800 km) east of the Philippines and 2,000 miles (3,200 km) south of Tokyo. Having emerged from United Nations trusteeship (administered by the United States) in 1994, it is one of the world's youngest and smallest sovereign states. In English, the name is sometimes spelled Belau in accordance with the native pronunciation. It was formerly also spelled Pelew.
Palau's most populous islands are Angaur, Babeldaob, Koror, and Peleliu. The latter three lie together within the same barrier reef, while Angaur is an oceanic island several miles to the south. About two-thirds of the population live on Koror. The coral atoll of Kayangel is situated north of these islands, while the uninhabited Rock Islands (about 200) are situated to the west of the main island group. A remote group of six islands, known as the Southwest Islands, some 375 miles (600 km) from the main islands, are also part of the country and make up the states of Hatohobei and Sonsorol.
Palau enjoys a tropical climate all year round with an annual mean temperature of 82 °F (28 °C). Rainfall can occur throughout the year, averaging a total of 150 inches (3,800 mm). The average humidity over the course of the year is 82%, and although rain falls more frequently between July and October, there is still much sunshine. Typhoons are rare, as Palau is outside the main typhoon zone.
Palau -- History --
Early Palauans may have come from Polynesia and Asia. Depending on the origin of a family, Palauans may represent many parts of Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. However, they are not traditionally considered to be Micronesian.
The archipelago is also known as "The Black Islands". Vintage maps and village drawings can be found at the Australian library online, as well as photos of the tattooed and pierced Ibedul of Koror and Ludee.
Carbon dating and recent archaeological discoveries have brought new attention to the archipelago. Cemeteries uncovered on the islands have shown that Palau has the oldest known burial ceremony in Oceania. There had been a dispute as to whether Palau was established around 2500 BC or 1000 BC. New studies seem to disprove both of these dates. Palau's ancient trading partner, Java, has also come under close scrutiny since Homo floresiensis was found. Like Flores, remains of small-bodied humans have been found in Palau.
For thousands of years, Palauans have had a well established matrilineal society, believed to have descended from Javanese precedents. Traditionally land, money, and titles passed through the female line. Clan lands continue to be passed through titled women and first daughters but there is also a modern patrilineal sentiment introduced by imperial Japan. The Japanese government attempted to confiscate and redistribute tribal land into personal ownership during World War II, and there has been little attempt to restore the old order. Legal entanglements continue amongst the various clans.
Historians take note of the early navigational routes of European explorers in the Pacific. There is disagreement as to whether Spaniard Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, who landed in several Caroline Islands, spotted the Palau archipelago in 1543. No conclusive evidence exists, but some believe he could have seen the tip of a southernmost island in the group.
Palau had limited relations before the 18th century, mainly with Yap and Java. Had it not been for shipwrecked islanders who took refuge in the Philippines, Europeans likely would not have found Palau until much later. Englishman Henry Wilson, captain of the East India Company's packet Antelope, was shipwrecked off the island of Ulong in 1783. The King of Palau allowed Captain Wilson to take his son, Prince Lee Boo, to England, where he arrived in 1784. However, the prince died soon after of smallpox. The East India Company erected a monument over his grave in St Mary's Churchyard, Rotherhithe. It was Wilson who gave the archipelago the name "Pelew Islands".
In the late 19th century, possession of the islands was claimed by Britain, Spain, and Imperial Germany. In 1885, the matter was brought to Pope Leo XIII for a decision. The Pope recognized the Spanish claim, but granted economic concessions to Britain and Germany. Palau then became part of the Spanish East Indies, along with the Mariana Islands, the Caroline Islands and the Marshall Islands. They were all administered from the Philippines.
After being defeated in 1898 in the Spanish-American War and losing possession of the Philippine Islands, Spain sold the Palau archipelago to Imperial Germany in the 1899 German-Spanish Treaty.
Pulau was administered from German New Guinea, and a period of economic development began. German engineers began exploiting the islands' deposits of bauxite and phosphate, and a rich harvest in copra was made. The German period lasted only 15 years.
Under the terms of the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, the Empire of Japan declared war on the German Empire in 1914 and invaded German overseas territories in the Pacific Ocean. Palau was seized by ships of the Japanese navy. After the war, the League of Nations awarded Palau to Japan as a Class C League of Nations Mandate.
Japan incorporated the islands as an integral part of its empire, establishing the Nanyo-cho government with Koror Island as the capital. Civilian control was introduced from 1922, and Palau was one of six administrative districts within the Mandate. Japan mounted an aggressive economic development program and promoted large scale immigration by Japanese, Okinawans and Koreans. Native Palauans soon became a small minority in their own homeland. The Japanese continued the German mining activities, and also established bonito (skipjack tuna) canning and copra processing plants in Palau.
The Japanese presence made Palau a major target for the Allied forces in World War II. Peleliu was a scene of intense fighting between American and Japanese forces in 1944. The battle ended in an Allied victory, but at a high cost for both sides. All surviving Japanese were repatriated after the end of the war. There are still about 100 American servicemen listed as Missing In Action in Palau. Starting in 1993, a small group of American volunteers called The BentProp Project has searched the waters and jungles of Palau for information that could lead to the identification and recovery of these remains.
In 1947, the United Nations decided the United States would administer Palau as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. In 1979, Palauans voted against joining the Federated States of Micronesia because of language and cultural differences. After a long period of transition, including the violent deaths of two presidents (Haruo Remeliik in 1985 and Lazarus Salii in 1988), Palau voted in 1994 to freely associate with the United States while retaining independence under the Compact of Free Association.
Palau -- Economy --
Consists primarily of tourism, subsistence agriculture, and fishing. Tourist activity focuses on scuba diving and snorkeling in the islands' rich marine environment, including its barrier reefs walls and World War II wrecks. The government is the major employer of the work force, relying heavily on financial assistance from the US. Business and tourist arrivals numbered 50,000 in the financial year 2000/2001. The population enjoys a per capita income twice that of the Philippines and much of Micronesia. Long-term prospects for the key tourist sector have been greatly bolstered by the expansion of air travel in the Pacific, the rising prosperity of leading East Asian countries, and the willingness of foreigners to finance infrastructure development.
In July 2004, Palau Micronesia Air was launched with service from Palau to Yap, Guam, Micronesia, Saipan, Australia, and the Philippines. By offering low fares it was planned to be a competitor of Continental Micronesia, however it ceased operations in December of the same year, mainly because of rising fuel prices. Palau Micronesia Air has not restarted operations since but has made a codeshare alliance with Asian Spirit, a carrier that operates flights between Palau and the Philippines (Davao, Cebu, and Manila). There are two flights weekly from Manila via Cebu to Palau and one flight weekly from Davao. Just after few months of service, Asian Spirit ceased its Philippines to Palau route.
Taxes are moderate, the income tax has 3 brackets with medium rates (9.3%, 15% and 19.6%), corporate tax is 4% and general sales tax is 7.5%. There are no property taxes.
Palau -- Culture --
Three quarters of the population are Christians (mainly Roman Catholics and Protestants), while Modekngei (a combination of Christianity, traditional Palauan religion and fortune telling) and the ancient Palauan religion are commonly observed. According to the 2005 census 49.4% of the population are Roman Catholics, 21.3% Protestants, 8.7% Modekngei and 5.3% Seventh-day Adventists. There is a small Jewish community in Palau. In 2009 it sent 3 members to the 18th Maccabiah Games. There are also approximately 400 Bengali Muslims in Palau, and recently 6 Uyghurs detained in Guantanamo Bay were allowed to settle in the island nation.
There are several libraries in Koror, including a public library with a collection comprising about 17,000 books. The Belau National Museum, established in 1956, is also located in Koror and has an affiliated Research Library. Palau Community College also houses a library. In addition to the National Museum, the Etpison family has also opened the Etpison Museum in Koror, which contains many culturally important artifacts.
Palau -- Political system, law and government --
Palau's politics takes place in a multi-party framework of a presidential representative democratic republic, whereby the President of Palau is both head of state and head of government. Executive power is exercised by the government, while legislative power is vested in both the government and the Palau National Congress. The judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.
Palau adopted its own constitution in 1981, and the governments of the United States and Palau concluded a Compact of Free Association in 1986, similar to compacts that the United States had entered into with the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands. The compact entered into force on October 1, 1994, concluding Palau's transition from trusteeship to independence as the last portion of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands to gain its independence.
The Compact of Free Association between the United States and Palau sets forth the free and voluntary association of their Governments, and is primarily focused on the issues of government relations, economic relations, and security and defense relations. Palau' has no independent military, and relies on the United States for its defense. Under the Compact, the American military has been granted access to the islands for 50 years. The role of the US Navy is quite minimal, limited to a handful of Navy Seabees (construction engineers) but the United States Coast Guard does have a stronger presence in patrolling the waters.