Archive for January, 2007

January 31, 2007

Mera el Chad (real person)

Ng ke mera el chad (he is a real person). And who is not is the likely rebuke (ke mechokl) today. This phrase is not used so much anymore because for fear of being accused in putting down other people. In this day and age Palau with our notions (uldesued) on democracy and Christianity, this would be politically incorrect to say (tekoi el de dung e ng sebeched el otour a chetechat ra rebeluu). But this is an authentic Palauan measurement (mera el kerbai ra klebelau) that has been used to describe those who posses social disciplines and principles (llechuul e medengei a tekoi e kedung el chad) due to proper upbringing (ungil a ulekerrulel). It follows that such persons place high value on propriety (medengei a meral tekoi). This very Palauan mentality demands that one should not wait to be told to refrain from doing something wrong. 

So the next question to ask ourselves: are there any real persons (mera el chad) in Palau today? There are more Palauan MD doctors, PhD doctors, master, BS, AS, and AA degree holders in all field of work than ever before. Since more Palauans are educated from kindergarten through college, it is safe to say that there are more “mera el chad” in Palau than anytime before. This should make life in Palau sensible (kleuadel e ngarngii a urebetelel a rokui el tekoi ra chelsel) and more desirable then yester-years. If one listens to all public messages and speeches on tv, Palau is “heaven on earth.” This statement I admit to borrowing from another master degree holder and strong supporter of the government. And to defy this position is politically incorrect. The days of public protesting or demonstrations are nowhere in sight, and Palauans are expected to be happy for Palau and not be a nuisance (olibesongel) to the public by complaining or simply questioning the way things are. 

Therefore Palau heaven here on earth makes it that our students are well trained to face the development and job requirements taking place now and into the future. Our health and medical care are where we want them to be. And our elders live life free of worries for their daily needs or retirement benefits. And above all, the working class needs are met with no problem. The Compact Road might as well be the road to the promise land nearing its completion. Another good telltale (a chais a merael), foreign participants at all the conferences and festivities hosted by us can only remark on our blessings with awe (te di mechas a rengrir er a klengar rekid). Life in Palau must be good then because even the foreigners are telling us so. Now let me see one “mera el chad” take a stand and say the opposite (kmu ng telemall a Belau e mla medikik a rokui el tekoi ra chelsel). 

There is definitely no shortage of educated Palauans today. Maybe the right question to ask ourselves then is do we Palauans today value propriety and discipline (a mera el tekoi ma kldung). I cannot believe that all the educated Palauan people have been deceived in all these years by electing the wrong people to be their leaders. Only Tobi Ngerur in known Palauan history has complained that Camsek Chin was not qualified to be a Senator in the Sixth OEK. Whether right or wrong he took a stand, and more than that, he went to court. So what has been everyone’s basis in electing a person to be a senator, president, or vice president? And if the leaders are trampling on our lives (te mla tmak er kid), where are the educated Palauan people? What is their excuse for allowing this frustration continue to put a heavy burden in our hearts (ng di lmangel a rengud kung)?

A question has been directed at us by a mera el chad in the person of Dr. Kuartei; is this not a government of the majority. If Palauan people continue to put humanoids or androids (te mesil ma lechub e te robot el diak a rengrir el ua rechad) in the leadership, you should understand why your state of misery is not heard or let alone felt by elected leaders. May I suggest one simple good old fashion Paluan solution; a klemera el chad ma kldung bo le kerbai ra omelilt e al ta a remerreder ma rebeluu a mo dokngei. 

By Santy Asanuma

January 28, 2007

My little place

I recently loaned a book to friend of mine which I have owned for many years and from time to time I would read the book to anchor myself to the basics of “my little place.” The title of the book is, “A small Place” by Jamaica Kincaid of Antigua, an island much like Palau in the Caribbean. It is a book that all Palauans must read as it provides some internal perspective on how we cannot “smell our own breath”. 

Ms. Jamaica talks about a public library much like our own which was destroyed by an earthquake that rocked Antigua in 1974. In the marketplace in Antigua there is a sign that says, “THIS BUILDING WAS DAMAGED IN EARTHQUAKE OF 1974. REPAIRS ARE PENDING.” This was published in 1989, some fifteen years after the earthquake.  

Palau, my little place presents few of these oxymoron perspectives and many have been left to be “repaired in the future.” Like the library in Antigua, many are critical issues in the development of the social capital in my little place. 

Recently, in the very corner of Palau, including the coffee shops and the taxi stands everyone deliberated on the national budget and the closure of the government. In the aftermath, “it was not anyone’s fault” was the conclusion at least from both committees of OEK, a strike contrast of the conclusion from the streets of my little place. As a student of government in my little place, I presume that the reasons there is a contrasting conclusion the governed and the governors is because there are intrinsic issues that are left to be repaired. 

The first issue is, Democracy as a government of the majority. In the past few years, the Olbiil Era Kelulau has deliberated as two distinctive branches of government. How can nine senators and nine delegates are over ruled by the “minority block of the HOD?” Where is the government of the majority? Is the overall voice of OEK based on majority opinions or not? If not, why not? If this is not prudently corrected, than in my little place, the separation of powers will continue to be violated by the politics of exploitation. 

The second issue is, The passing of retroactive legislations. I suspect that there is a constitutional issue with retroactive legislations. Laws cannot have past memories as they are to be prospective. For instance, retroactive budget laws while good for the short term; it does take away the power from the voting constituents to demand expediency from their leaders. It is a systematic bribe to the demand of the owners of the government. If this is not corrected, a door has been opened for laws to have past memories and systematic bribery.

The third issue is, The substitution of politics and policies. Several occasions during this deliberation, politics dominated the policies. For instance, the budget bill for my little place became a rider on other bills. Policy? No, politics. Politics is the game that is played but policies are what provide the framework for the governance of my little place. While politics is a game for politicians, policies is life for the constituents. 

The fourth issue is, People cannot smell their own breath. So who watches the government and how it deliberates? Transparent governance can only be a conclusion of an independent evaluation and I suspect that my little place needs such institution. The voting and service user constituents must be empowered to evaluate how their government is meeting their needs and expectations. That is the basis of the statement, “government by and for the people.” The ability to evaluate their government by their votes must not be removed from them. 

My little place, Palau is much like the “small place” of Antigua where if we do not start repairing the damages of the past, we are doomed to repeat them. As Mr. Issigonis (1988) once said, “a camel is a horse designed by a committee” and truly we cannot smell our own breath in my little place. (This article also appeared in Tia Belau, January 12- 18, 2007)

By Stevenson Kuartei, MD

January 28, 2007

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January 20, 2007

Palauan klauchad

I suppose everyone knows the core social structure of Palauan Klauchad. There are three distinct but interrelated level of Klauchad. And they are Ongalek, Telungalek, and Kebliil. Briefly, Ongalek is the basic unit of Klauchad. Ongalek can be as small as a nuclear family – a couple and their children. However this sphere of ongalek can extend beyond nuclear family to include parents of the nuclear family or grandparents of the nuclear family and continue to extend itslef but where it ends varies and cannot be determined completely. The senior male leader of Ongalek is Okdemaol. A number of Ongalek who originated by the same female line would together form a Telungalek and among the Okdemaol of the group one becomes a Merredele-ra-Telungalek. A group of Telungalek which don’t necessarily be related by blood would form Kebliil. And among the Merredele-ra-Telungalek one becomes the title bearer of the Kebliil.  

A process of choosing a leader is the same from within the Onaglek, Telungalek, and Kebliil. There is always an element of competition between and among the members of the Onaglek, Telungalek, and Kebliil. And the selection always comes down to whose Ongalek, Telungalek who carry out their responsibility and contributes more to the family. There are of course variables involve in the selection process. But usually the eldest of the family that have contributed more to the Ongalek becomes a leader of the Ongalek. The Okdemaol then vie to be the leader of the Telungalek. And among the Merredel-ra-Telunaglek they compete among themselves for the Kebliil title.  

Now with the above definition (my definition) as a backdrop, how does these structure of Klauchad work is best exemplified by an account of the U.S military in Angaur immediately after the war. When the military government started issuing emergency relief supplies to the people it brought to fore some unforseen cultural complications. One of the items they distributed was shoes. Without clear understanding of the social stratification an attempt to establish who needs shoes evoked a community-wide controversy. Shoes were not merely an article of wear but a mark of status. And their distribution must be funneled through the head of the Kebliil down to Telungalek and then to Ongalek. However, the U.S military government concerns about the well being of the people brought the American democratic concepts of social equality that all should have shoes. This clashed with native concepts of social stratification.  

Our highly stratified and hierarchical system of kinship that provides organization and well being for everyone in Ongalek, Telungalek, and Kebliil have been messed-up by the concept of social equality – all individuals are equal. This is where Klauchad is today and I see a transformation to a more alienating one tomorrow. The leaders have seen their authority erode within the affairs of their sphere if influence Ongalek, Telungalek, and Kebliil.  When the head of the family’s influence wane which is the case today Klauchad then becomes more between individuals then between Ongalek, Telungalek, and Kebliil.  

Members of the family becomes disillusioned when they see others despite of their status in the family accumulate physical goods or become wealthy and start influencing matters of the group. Realizing that there is no longer an order of things in the family social structure one (family/individual) start to chart own way. Seeing that accumulation of wealth is one sure way to gain power and influence, a competition starts among and within Ongalek, Telungalek, and Kebliil.  

A culture of competition has now commenced. This new culture creates alliances among the members of the group, and alliances can shift for profit motives, families torn apart. The destructive cycle continues and has manifest its way through the social stratification stucture that a leader for Ongalek, Telungalek, and Kebliil are in dispute. Our family social structure has been turned upside down from a group values to individual values. To try and turn it right side up today is like pushing water uphill.

One evidence for that is when parents send their children to school they send them with a mantra “rungalel ke mo blak a rengum er a skuul meng mo sebechem el mo dikau ra tara klebesei”. There’s a concept of inidividualism in that statement. No longer do people value the klauchad in the kinship structure. In this dod eat dog world, one has to fend for his/herself. And that is the future of Klauchad that can be seen today. 

Posted by Kambes Kesolei (

January 9, 2007

Societal and political explosion from adverse cultural and political forces

The theory of relativity was formulated by the Nobel Price Winner, Albert Einstein. The theory of relativity became the foundation for the energy formula (E=mc2). Through the process of nuclear fusion, energy is produced and this lead to the invention of nuclear bombs including those tested in the Pacific and those dropped in Nagasaki and Hiroshima. The application of the theory of relativity to cultural and political forces has been taken on by many sociologist and political scientists as they predict societies. 

The recent conflicts between the Executive Branch and Olbiil Era Kelulau while part of the democratic process, the expression of the conflicts are examples of adverse political forces. The Ngatpang constitutional issue, Ngiwal’s speakership and Ngchesar political fragmented factions have created schisms in these small communities and not because of philosophical difference but that of alliance. Even within Olbiil Era Kelulau, the political factions which used to be the leverage for political debate has now become a platform for personal debate. The contradicting roles of traditional leaders in the modern governance and the debate about equal representation have slowly fueled the underlying conflicting forces within the Palauan society that carries with them potential energy when collide. 

Our culture and traditions are going through trying times as there are those who would argue to completely get rid of it and there are those who live by it. There are conflicts between clan Ourot, the title holders and even among the Ulechell and Ochell in many clans in Palau. The modern justice system is full of cases on traditional power struggle that includes title and land ownership. There is a constant application of modern jurisprudence in dispensing traditional conflicts which continues to fractionalize and at times disengages members of the Palauan society. The conflict that Palauans deeply feel between modernity and traditions rots the very core of our essence as people. It portrays symptomatically as depression, alcoholism and explodes as suicidal ideations and actions. 

 In some of our churches, there is tradition of gossiping among the members, narcissism among congregation and pulpits, self proclaimed sanctimony which at times creates conflicts within the church. These conflicts within the church are gradually leading to spiritual abuse and in some cases spiritual suicide and sometimes go unrecognized by the churches themselves. 

These conflicting forces according to the theory of relativity would one day collide and as they do, a societal, a political and even a religious would take place. Palauan history has not been spared from such events. The furlough, the bombings, the assassinations and shootings of the eighties were expressions of such political explosions. The emerging of Modekngei in the 1914 was a religious expression of such explosion. The neo-creation and expression of the role of traditional leaders in our constitution creates governing conflicts that exists today, where they are sometimes ridiculed openly. 

The discussion around town, among the commoners, fathers and the likes, the fishermen, the farmers, the merchants, the taxi drivers expresses such frustrations is drawing nigh. Such expression of the quiet inner anger must be taken seriously by the leadership because, in bountiful time it is calm, but in times of famine, it is expressed. 

The political, societal and spiritual conflicts can lead to the demise of he very fabric of why WE are Palauan society. The solution lies in what separates politicians from statesmen, reactionaries from visionaries and technocrats from true leaders. 

This critical juncture in Palauan history must be marked by leaders who will rise beyond political rhetoric and move us toward a harmonious relativity. Anything short will only mean turmoil just beyond the horizon. (This article also appeared in the issue of Tia Belau, January 5 – 12)  

By Dr. Stevenson Kuartei

January 9, 2007

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