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Micronesia - Aspects of Palau



According to legend the islands of Palau once comprised a single large land mass. On this land mass, there lived a very unusual man called Uab. When he was a child, he did not play with other children but was simply content to eat large amount of food and to sleep. Even when he was very young, he would eat much more than the adults and soon he grew to be enormous. The older he got the more he ate and it was not long before he was eating all of his food that his family could produce. After that, he consumed all of the food of his neighbours as well. He continued to grow larger and larger and he had to move out of his house because it was too small for his gigantic body. Day after day, week after week, and year after year, Uab continued to grow. By then he was eating all of the food in the community and the people were starving just to feed the ever hungry Uab.

Finally, they decided to do something otherwise they would all starve to death. They had a meeting and decided that they would burn the gigantic Uab by building a large fire around him. This they did and the fire raged around the giant who remained upright but at last he toppled and fell into the fire. As he hit the ground, he gave a huge kick with his enormous foot and pushed Peleliu away from Angaur, where it remains today. The partly submerged body of the fallen giant then formed the islands of Palau. His legs became Koror, his penis became Aimeliik next to Koror which today has the most rainy weather. The stomach of the giant formed Ngiwal, which is very rich in food crops, and his head rested in Ngerchelong, whose people are known for their intelligence.

The legend of Uab the giant explains why the Palau islands are separated and why the people of each of the islands have different characteristics.    


Farming on Palau is characterized by communal planting, women farmers, and individual cultivation. Women attend to the farming on Palau. Most of the food is raised by individual families and farming is occasionally done without the help of others in the community. The land is usually worked by a group of women from a community to come together for this purpose. The main food cultivated is taro with other foods such as sweet potato, tapioca, bananas and breadfruit being an important part of the diet.

Communal farming is initiated by a leader. When a high ranking woman in the community sees that the families will run low on food, she calls a special meeting of all the women in the community. She makes them aware of the problem and informs them that it is time to cultivate the land. The women will work together as a group on each farm and a date will be set to begin work. At this time, it will be decided on which family's farm to start work and a schedule is developed for each of the farms in the community. According to Palauan custom, all women will be required to work and to cooperate with each other until the planting has been completed. If a woman does not work without substantial reason such as pregnancy, she will be severely criticized by the community.

When all the planting has been completed, each individual is responsible for the upkeep of her land. The crop that is harvested will not be shared, but will become the property of each family.


Preparation of the land for planting of taro is normally done as soon as it is cleared of sticks, branches and stumps. The women turn over the soil by hand and in doing so, insert a fertilizer which mainly comprises the leaves of hibiscus and other trees available near the taro swamps. After the soil has been prepared, the water is drained from the area to facilitate planting and mulching. The planting materials comprise the stalks from previous taro crops which are inserted into the prepared patch and at the same time, banana leaves are used to mulch the entire patch. On Palau, it is believed that the banana leaves will help in controlling weeds from spreading.  

Palauan woman working in a taro patch

After this process, water is reintroduced after about a week and one or two inches of it is maintained in the patch. This supplies the required moisture for the taro plant as well as controlling weeds, rats and snails. 


In Palauan custom, a man will first discuss his wishes with the girl he wants to marry. If she is agreeable, then he must depend on relatives to help him get permission from the girl's parents. If either set of parents is not in favour of the marriage, then it will not go ahead. If both parents agree, however, then the man will have certain traditional responsibilities. Should the man's parents not agree, one reason for this may be that the girl does not have enough Palauan money.

According to custom, the man wishing to marry must ask a cousin, his father, or another important relative to accompany him to the girl's home. The reason for this is that elders are very respected in the Palauan custom. When the relative and the man enters the house, they will both sit close to the door with the suitor sitting to the left. When the girl's parents see this, they will know that the purpose of the visit is to discuss marriage. If the discussion is concluded successfully, the relative will then leave the house and the man will remain at the home of his future bride.

After a month or two, the parents of the girl will prepare food, and this will be sent with the couple intending to marry to the home of the man. Before this, the parents of the man will be notified so that they can call a family together. When the food is accepted, the marriage ceremony is agreed upon.

For the wedding ceremony, friends and all members of both the families will gather together. At this time, there is no singing or dancing. People will just sit and talk while the man's parents and real sisters are giving Palauan money to the bride's parents. In paying this money, it shows to everybody that the couple are really married.

For the marriage feast, the bride's relatives will prepare a large amount of food and will slaughter a pig for the groom's relatives. Also at this time, the relatives of the groom will collect money and present it to the bride's relatives. The Palauan way of celebrating marriage is similar to a farewell party for after the marriage, the young woman will no longer be part of her family and will live with her husband at his home. The food from the bride's relatives and the money from the groom's relatives should always be of equal value. Also, at wedding feasts, clan status is a consideration.

Following the marriage, the couple will usually stay at the home of the husband or with his parents if he does not have a house of his own. Although living apart from her family, the woman still has certain obligations to them for which her husband is responsible. In Palauan custom, the man is the financial sponsor for his wife. He must contribute money for his wife when her male relatives buy their homes. He must also provide money for his father-in-law whenever he engages in Palauan business customs. The wife must contribute food when a relative of hers dies, and this donation is the husband's responsibility. Money for dowries is expected when the wife's relatives get married, and her husband must provide this.   

Divorce is quite often initiated by the husband's relatives. If the relatives feel that the wife is not participating in their business customs or helping other relatives, they will tell the husband to divorce his wife. Consequently, it is very important in Palau for a woman to cooperate with her husband's family.

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