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Palau /pəˈlaʊ/ ( listen), officially the Republic of Palau (Palauan: Beluu ęr a Belau), is an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, 500 miles (800 km) east of the Philippines and 2,000 miles (3,200 km) south of Tokyo. In 1978, after three decades as being part of the United Nations trusteeship, Palau chose independence instead of becoming part of the Federated States of Micronesia, a Compact of Free Association was approved in 1986 but not ratified until 1993. It was put into force the following year, making it 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.
The archipelago is also known as "The Black Islands." Vintage maps and village drawings, as well as photos of the tattooed and pierced Ibedul of Koror and Lundee, can be found at the Australian Library Online listed in the external links section of this article.
Palau was initially settled over 3,000 years ago, and perhaps 4,500 years ago, probably by migrants from the Philippines. A pygmy population is attested until about 900 years ago. The modern population, judging by its language, may have come from the Sunda Islands. British traders became prominent visitors in the 18th century, followed by expanding Spanish influence in the 19th century. Following its defeat in the Spanish-American War, Spain sold Palau and most of the rest of the Caroline Islands to Germany in 1899. Control passed to Japan in 1914 and during World War II the islands were taken by the United States in 1944, with the costly Battle of Peleliu between September 15 and November 25 when more than 2,000 Americans and 10,000 Japanese were killed. The islands passed formally to the United States under United Nations auspices in 1947 as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.
Four of the Trust Territory districts formed a single federated Micronesian state in 1979, but the districts of Palau and the Marshall Islands declined to participate. Palau, the westernmost cluster of the Caroline Islands, instead opted for independent status in 1978, approved a new constitution and became the Republic of Palau in 1981, and signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1982. After eight referendums and an amendment to the Palauan constitution, the Compact was ratified in 1993 and went into effect on October 1, 1994, marking Palau independent de jure (after Palau was independent de facto since May 25, 1994, when the trusteeship was cancelled).
Legislation making Palau an "offshore" financial center was passed by the Senate in 1998. In 2001, Palau passed its first bank regulation and anti-money laundering laws.
Palauan society, much like the island's language, has always been one unique to the island and its people. A very noticeable aspect of Palauan society is that it follows a very strict matrilineal system. Matrilineal practices are seen in nearly every aspect of Palauan traditions, especially in funeral, marriage, inheritance, and the passing of traditional titles.
To this day, the Palauan people still hold true to their traditions very seriously. This is very clear in the fact that the traditional government still holds extreme influence over the nation's affairs. In fact, the traditional government has held so much influence, that the federal government has had, on numerous occasions, attempts at limiting its power. Many of these attempts occurred and continue to occur, from 1990 to the present. These attempts, many of which in the form of amendments in the constitution, were put into place because of the corporate sector of the nation, they having felt that the traditional government was encroaching on what they deemed should be free economic zones. One such example occurred in early 2010, where the Idid clan, the ruling clan of the Southern Federation, under the leadership of Bilung, the clan's and Palau's Southern Federation's queen, raised a civil suit against the KSPLA (Koror State Public Lands Authority). In the civil suit, the Idid clan laid claim over Malakal Island, a major economic zone and Palau's most important port, citing claims that went back as far as the German Era. The civil suit, however, ended with the verdict that Idid clan could not use such citations and claims, and resulted in the conclusion that Malakal Island was land that belonged to the KSPLA.
The present day traditional government of Palau is a direct continuation of the ancient traditional government, composed of practices that span thousands of years. In the traditional government, Palau is divided geographically into different categories. At the smallest level of geographic division is the village or hamlet, then the chiefdom (which is now politically referred to as a state), and finally the federation, or alliance of chiefdoms. In ancient times, there were numerous federations, or alliances, but upon the introduction of firearms by the British in the 17th century, a major of imbalance of power occurred. Palau was divided into just two major federations, the northern and southern federations. The Northern Federation is headed by the high chief and chiefess of the ruling clan Uudes of Melekeok state, the Reklai and Ebilreklai. As a result of their position, they are commonly referred to as the king and queen of the Northern Federation. This northern federation comprises the following states: Kayangel, Ngerchelong, Ngardmau, Ngiwal, Ngaraard, Ngatpang, Ngeremlengui, Melekok, Aimeliik, Ngchesar, and Airai. The Southern Federation is likewise represented by the high chief and chiefess of the ruling Idid of Koror state, which also results in their titles as king and queen of the Southern Federation. The Southern Federation comprises the following states: Koror, Peleliu, and Angaur. Despite the presence of these terms however, lesser and lesser Palauans have knowledge of the concept of federations, and the term is slowly dying out. Federations had been established as a way of safeguarding states and hamlets who shared economic, social, and political interests, but now with the advent of modernism and a federal government, there is no need for such safeguarding. It is interesting to note however, that in international relations, the king of Palau is often synonymous with the Ibedul of Koror. This is a result of the fact that Koror is the industrial capital of the nation, and because of such, his position and reputation among the corporate sector of the country has a much greater impact than that of the Reklai of Melekeok.
There is also a misconception that the king and queen of Palau, or any chief and his female counterpart for that matter, are married. This is not the case in Palauan society. Traditional leaders and their female counterparts, have always been related and unmaried (marrying relatives in Palauan society has always been a traditional taboo). Usually, a chief and his female counterpart are either brother and sister, or are close cousins, and have their own spouses.
Baseball is a popular sport in Palau and was introduced to the islands by the Japanese in the 1920s. The Palau national baseball team won the gold medal at the 1990, 1998 and 2010 Micronesian Games, as well as at the 2007 Pacific Games.
Palau also hosts the Palau national football team which competes in the Oceania Football Confederation.
Some fields of study are available at Palau Community College. For professional and graduate programs, students must travel to a larger institution.
Libraries and museums
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'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 (604 km) from the main islands, are also part of the country and make up the states of Hatohobei and Sonsorol.
Palau has a tropical climate all year round with an annual mean temperature of 82 °F (28 °C). Rainfall is heavy 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.
While much of Palau's 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 potential major environmental threat is rising sea levels. 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.
On November 5, 2005, President of Palau, Tommy E. Remengesau, Jr. took the lead on a regional environmental initiative called the Micronesia challenge, which would conserve 30% of near shore coastal waters and 20% of forest land by 2020. In addition to Palau, the initiative was joined by the Federated States of Micronesia and Marshall Islands, and the U.S. territories of Guam and Northern Mariana Islands. Together, this combined region represents nearly 5% of the marine area of the Pacific Ocean and 7% of its coastlines.
On September 25, 2009, Palau announced that it would create the world's first "shark sanctuary". Palau has banned all commercial shark fishing within its EEZ waters. The sanctuary protects about 600,000 square kilometres (230,000 sq mi) of ocean, a similar size to the European country of France. President Johnson Toribiong made the announcement at a meeting of the United Nations. President Toribiong also requested a worldwide ban on fishing for sharks.
Saltwater crocodiles are also residents of Palau and occur in varying numbers throughout the various mangroves and even in parts of the beautiful rock islands. Although this species is generally considered extremely dangerous, there has only been one fatal human attack in Palau within modern history, and that was in the 1960s. In Palau the largest crocodile measured in at 4.5 metres (15 ft).