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Early history

It is believed that the first inhabitants of Palau came from East Indonesia and arrived on Palau as early as 2000 BC. Remains of habitation as old as 3500 years have been found on the Rock Islands.

These people were able to provide for their own food (fishing, fruit, vegetables) due to the very fertile soil that Palau has. The Palau people had a rather complicated social system. Their culture was matrilineal and matriarchal. For example, all their property was managed by the women, although it belonged to the clan. Another example is that the chiefs were elected by the older women. The importance of the clans depended on the amount of land and money they had. Villages were inhabited by 7 to 10 clans and the "chief" of the most important clan became the leader of the village.

British, Spanish and German rule

The first European to see Palau was probably the Spaniard Ruy Lopez de Villalobos in 1543. He named the island "Arrecifos", which means reefs.

In 1686, the Spanish claimed Palau, but did nothing further to develop the island. It was not until 1783 that regular contact between the people of Palau and the Europeans began. In that year, the English ship Antelope, with captain Henry Wilson, ran into the reefs off Ulong Island.

The crew was treated well and they even helped the Europeans to repair the ship. The son of Chief Ibedul of Koror went with the British to be educated in Britain. Unfortunately, he died of smallpox within six months. The British were shocked by this tragedy and their interest in Palau and trade with Palau increased. Unfortunately, the trade also included guns and other weapons with which the clans fought each other and which were even sometimes used against the Europeans.

The British were the main trading partners until the Spanish drove them away in 1885. Spanish missionaries introduced Christianity and writing to Palau before the Spanish sold Palau to the Germans. However, the Germans were more interested in making money than in developing the island and its people. By the time they finally took over the island in 1899, only 4000 inghabitants were alive. European diseases in particular had meant that of the estimated 40,000 inhabitants of Palau before the first contact with Europeans, only 4,000 were alive. Through inoculations and better hygiene, the Germans succeeded in counteracting these diseases. But the Palauers were also forced to work on the coconut palm plantations and other enterprises.

Japanese occupation

The Japanese occupied Palau in 1914 until the end of World War II. During this period, the culture and traditions of Palau were seriously threatened. Schools were opened, but the islanders were taught a subordinate Japanese dialect. Furthermore, the chiefs lost their control over their village to Japanese bureaucrats. Many businesses were established, for which thousands of guest workers were brought from Japan, Korea and Okinawa to work in phosphate mines, the rice fields and pineapple plantations, among other things. The local population lost their land, either by selling it or by simply taking it away. From 1922, all Japanese possessions in the Pacific were controlled from Koro, which changed into a modern city with paved roads, electricity and running water from the tap. Of the 30,000 inhabitants, only 20% were of Palau origin. In the late 1930s Palau was cut off from the outside world and Japan began to defend the islands.

During the last months of the Second World War, the Americans attacked Malakal Island and Airai State and destroyed all Japanese installations. However, the real fighting took place in September 1944 on the southern islands of Peleliu and Angaur.

Before the Americans began their invasion, most people were taken to Babeldaob by the Japanese. Why this was done is still not clear, but in any case it kept many alive. The islands of Koror and Babeldaob remained free of fighting and the Japanese soldiers present there (25,000) stayed until the end of the war.

From Trust Territory to Independence

Palau became one of the trust territories under the administration of the United States in 1947. The Americans hoped that Palau would become one political entity together with the rest of Micronesia.

In 1976, the United States separated the administration of the Northern Mariana Islands from that of the rest of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, namely the Marshall Islands, the Federation of Micronesia and Palau. The people of Palau, however, voted against merging with the Federation of Micronesia in 1978 and adopted their own constitution in July 1980. Koror became the provisional capital, which, according to the constitution, was planned to be on the biggest island Babeldaob.

The constitution also stated that Palau would remain a nuclear-free zone. However, this was against the wishes of the Americans who wanted to fall back on Palau if the bases in the Philippines were closed. The United States therefore drafted a Compact of Free Association, which stated that nuclear weapons could be placed on Palau, but also that they would actually control the whole of Palau. As a kind of compensation, they would give Palau hundreds of millions of dollars. Even after eight referendums, it was not possible to remove the anti-nuclear passage from the constitution. The government then decided to amend the constitution so that people could simply vote for or against it. In November 1993, the Compact was approved by a 68% majority. It was secretly hoped, and so far successfully, that with the end of the Cold War no military installations would be built on Palau. In the end, the Compact stated that the Americans would only have military access to one third of the territory. In return, there was a fee of $140 million for the first 15 years of the 50-year contract.

The US Congress agreed to a treaty of free association and on 1 October 1994 Palau became an officially independent country. In December of that year, Palau was admitted to the United Nations as the 185th member state. In June 1985, Palau's first president, Huaro Remeliik, was assassinated.

Three years later, his successor, Lazarus Salii, was found dead. It seemed that he had committed suicide.

The implementation of the western style of government often clashed with traditional culture of clans and chiefs. Gradually things are improving, also because the youth is confronted with the western style of government from the beginning. In 1996 Palau's pride, a 213-metre bridge between Babaeldaob and Koror, collapsed.

In November 1999, a group of international banks decided to suspend payments with Nauru, Palau and Vanuatu due to suspicions of money laundering by Russian and Latin American criminal organisations.

21th century

The presidential election of 7 November 2001 was won by Vice-President Tommy Remengesau with 52% of the votes. On 2 November 2004, he won again with 66.5% of the votes. Elias Camsek Chin was elected Vice-President, defeating incumbent Vice-President Sandra Pierantozzi with over 71% of the votes.

On 26 April 2005, elections were held for delegates to a convention for a new constitution for the Palau Archipelago. It was held from 17 May to 15 June. An important proposal at the convention was to replace the US-inspired model of a presidential republic with that of a parliamentary democracy. In addition, an expansion of the powers of the House of Traditional Leaders (a kind of Senate) was advocated. In November 2008, Johnson Toribiong won the presidential election and his appointment followed in January 2009.

In January 2010, Palau receives aid of USD 250 million from the US. The president denies that there is any connection with the housing of ex-prisoners at Guantanamo Bay.

As of 17 January 2013, Tommy Remengesau is again President of Palau. In February 2014, President Remengesau announced Palau's intention to ban all commercial fishing from its waters.

As part of that new policy, Palau began in 2014, following Indonesia's lead, to fire foreign fishing vessels that were fishing illegally in Palau's territorial waters. In just over a year, 15 Vietnamese-flagged boats were set on fire, seizing 25 tonnes of illegal fish destined for black markets in Asia.

In June 2015, four more Vietnamese vessels were set on fire, the captains arrested and the remaining crew members sent home on two boats that were spared. Eight tonnes of sea cucumbers and reef fish were found in the ships set on fire. In January 2017, Tommy Remengesau runs for his fourth term as president. In 2017, Palau starts stamping the "Palau Pledge" into passports to remind visitors to act in an environmentally and culturally responsible manner. By 2020, Palau bans sunscreens that are toxic to the coral reef and extends the fishing ban to 80% of the Exclusive Economic Zone.


Galbraith, K. / Micronesia
Lonely Planet

Levy, N.M. / Micronesia handbook Moon

CIA - World Factbook

BBC - Country Profiles

Last updated April 2024
Copyright: Team The World of Info