“Ou Belau er Ngii”

By Fuana Tmarsel —-

Despite few attempts to translate the idiom, “ou Belau er ngii”, I decided that my translations doesn’t quite capture the heart of it. It will take the skill of a linguist to render justice so I left it alone. I have often heard this expression used to describe substandard behavior or performance below par. In fact my encounter with the phrase has always been with people attempting to criticize in a nice way – turning it instead into a euphemism. Instead of saying that a person is not performing at standard or above, we say, “ngdi ou Belau er ngii.”

The phrase suggests a unique and distinct Palauan style of conducting business that is inferior and below par; the ease, and laxity lends to careless approach that is substandard. In other words, ke dou Belau er ngii. The phrase is troubling especially because it “insults” a people to which I find identity and a sense of culture.

In any case, I spoke to a friend who helped me to see what the phrase entails. This is not only redemptive but also correct perspective and does justice to the phrase and the people. Ou Belau er Ngii describes an attitude of ease and kindness. It describes familial and kinship attitude toward each other – looking after each other’s interests and so forth. It was cultural for the father who manages the family affairs to let go of things and to allow relatives to help themselves to stuff around the house. Relatives and neighbors were allowed to walk in the house and help themselves to all kinds of stuff – salt, soy sauce, onions, hoe, knife or what not when they needed it.

There was a mutual sharing or rather “borrowing” in the neighborhood and between households that was acceptable by the manager of the house. At times objects were broken or lost in the mix and the manager of the house decides to let it go because I think really there was nothing he can do. This is acceptable at home because it worked.

However, the same attitude is destructive at the work place. When the employee begins to help themselves to properties of the work place, like taking equipment home without returning them, or behaving without accountability and the manager does not issue corrective measures because he is conscientious of hurting others feelings, then eventually the workplace breaks down. Work is substandard and inferior but because we do not want to hurt “family members” or bring them to accountability eke de mecha ou Belau. In these instances, the kindness that we are showing is destructive for our government, people and in the long run the coffer. So in other words, “Ou Belau may be good at home and among relatives to strengthen family ties, but not in the government and the workplace, where ownership is not ours and our families.

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