Fish 'n Fins - Palau - History
There is not much information widely available about Palau, which is not part of a major continent, but rather in the middle of Oceania. This isolation has kept Palau free from the ravishes of mass-tourism development, but the isolation has also kept away the wide scholarly study of artifacts from Palau's ancient and highly skilled traditional culture, dating back to 1000 BC. † However, those persistent enough to visit Palau can unlock the rich history of a Palauan traditional culture swept into the middle of battles between the superpowers.
Palau served as a hot middle ground between warring superpowers from the east Japan to the west United States. Exploited by Spanish conquest and imperialism in 1885 and sold to Germany in 1899, Palau was placed under Japanese control in 1914 by rule of the League of Nations after WWI. By this time the indigenous Palauan population had been reduced by nearly 70% from exposure to foreign diseases such as small pox. From 1914 until WWII, Palau became a major Japanese naval base and center of control for Japan's Pacific holdings. Koror, Palau's main state, became a bustling Japanese metropolis, with large phosphate mines and copra exports to Japan, as well as a huge foreigner population.
During WWII, the United States attacked the Japanese base at Palau. They launched the "Desecrate I" air raid on March 30 and 31, 1944, which resulted in the Lost Fleet of the Rock Islands, Japanese shipwrecks that we dive today. The tiny island of Peleliu was besieged by U.S. forces for two months. The war obliterated the capital island city of Koror, shed blood on the reefs around Palau, and left a sunken graveyard of ships and bones in the still sea.
At the end of the war, from 1948 until 1994, the United States was designated to provide for Palau under the United Nations Trust Territory agreement, however the islands were left mostly neglected. The US was supposed to oversee the rebuilding and development of a sovereign Palau, which did not happen until the 1994 Compact of Free Association Agreement, in which Palau's government became locally independent from the United States, yet still accepted funding from the US government in exchange for United States military use of the land. There is still much controversy around the nebulous terms of the agreement.
Palau still exists under the Compact of Free Association with the United States, where both Palauans and US citizens are given special privileges in each other's land and the US gives the Palauan government money so that the US may keep the strategically located islands away from any rival foreign power's hands.
The traditional history of Palau, before all the powers invaded and influenced, leaves much to be studied. Carbon dating places inhabitants on the Rock Islands as early as 1000 BC. Today, traces of the ancient culture are still prominent on the island: Bead-money, first-birth ceremonies, communal meeting houses called Bai , ancient terraces on rocky slopes, the remains of cave-paintings and carved stone monoliths in overgrown jungles, and the laws of the Bul . The Bul , orally passed down by Palauan ancestors, is a traditional fish conservation method still followed by fishermen today that bans fishing in certain designated areas during spawning season. The Palauans greatly respect their environment and their ancestors. Only now they struggle to balance environmental conservation with the tourism-driven economy of their developing nation.
Also, see the PNCC history page: