Omelouch (Giving best bites to children)

By Santy Asanuma —-

Who makes a nation? Is it the government or the people? Some of the children, who were born up to the 1980’s, might have been fed as babies through the cultural practice of “omelouch.” Usually parents or grandparents of a child would chew food in their mouth to soften and make it suitable for the baby to eat during every meal time. Before you go into convulsion out of disgust be reminded that presidents, vice-presidents, senators, delegates, doctors, lawyers, principals/teachers, judges, chiefs, business owners, and most of our high and mighty citizens today were fed through this practice.

It might sound grotesque (oltobekmudech) or uncivilized but it is more safe and nurturing than you would know. Furthermore, the parent or grown up feeding the child would pick the best parts of the food and process it for the child. This practice is based on the traditional principle that children are fed first and the best of foods like belochel should be set aside for them. As a part of this practice, untold truth is that many of these parents/grow up’s drank water and went to sleep on empty stomachs. The denial of self to promote and nourish our children/youth is fundamental premise (uchul a kerbai) in this Palauan traditional principle to build a strong society.

This may sound nonsensical (klebelung) to most Palauans today including the ones who were raised this way but this practice may have contributed to secure our social development and well-being as individuals, family, clan, and ultimately as a whole community. Traditional practices like this one as primitive as they may appear to modern Palauans today operated on the principle of nurturing and forever strengthening the connectivity in human relationships between parent(s) and child(ren); and between home(s) and community as the central foundation of a strong society built on social development of its people as its foremost societal policy.

This is also based on traditional principle that “beluu” (community) has higher right and should always prevail over any individual member regardless of whom he or she is. On this premise, the good of many, which is harmony of society, is paramount and above any individual rights because it is collective (betok el chad) and carry more weight. The legend of Meduchrutechei (a know-it-all guy) of Ngerutechei illustrates this very principle of Palau as a society. Belau does not need one person but the other way around. This predicated (ngorrimel) that one must always maintain respectable behaviors in his or her community. Thus, Palauan traditional principles primarily look into achieving social development and harmony in the community.

I can say we have put Palau upside down at all cost including our social development in the pursuit of modernization. As a result, there are more mess in families, clans, and community at large with widespread confusion because we are putting all of our focus and resources on governmental/political development among other cynical interests promoting the individual today. First, government has not been a good agent for social development as we are here and now because of government; and second government should be reflective of the social fiber of our society and not the other way around. I am not afraid to say that Palauans today are more primitive, if not confused on what is more important, than our ancestors in our social well being. Culture and social development have to go first and government follows if this nation will ever come up with some meaningful sense of direction. Develop the people first.

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