A Teblo Ng Di 2 (Spirit of Belau Is Not In Numbers)

By Santy Asanuma —-

In Palauan “teblo” (two) is more than two. Palauan people do not rely on numbers but the heart (reng) of the idea. We do not like empirical science because it involves research and formal experiment which require being exact. Little wonder most of our students do not pursue studies in fields that require math and science of exactness. But when it comes to social sciences (tekoi ra reng me a deleuill er a rechad) that requires a lot of sentiments (aikel el di ultuil ra tekoi er a rengud me a uldesued). At one time in the past history of Palau in the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s if you asked any high school seniors or the ones already in college what field of studies will they pursue, the most common answer was political science or other fields that require little or no math at all.

Be that as it may, Palau is beginning to show weakness in its grasp in social scientific abilities as well. Cultural ways, though they are very informal in the sense that they lack the complex mathematical computation or accurate detailed information or tested formula, always fulfill the needs of the people without fail. An example of this is during super typhoon Bopha I relied on the accuracy of internet weather imaging to give me the confidence in knowing the details on it or if it was going to hit us. I knew everything and boarded my home and store in anticipation of a super typhoon. However, this time during super typhoon Haiyan I relied on my spiders inside and outside of my home. Silly as it may sound but I did not board my store or house because the spiders did not abandon their webbed homes.

I showed my daughter this rather informal system and she was very skeptical of this spider system. The same daughter when asked by her mother to bring “teblo” (two) lemons from grandma’s tree. To my wife’s surprise she brought only two lemons from the tree. I reminded my wife that the kids are schooled for exactness and accuracy. They understand formula and computation that empirical sciences (formal thinking) as opposed to the Palauan informal cultural ways. In this instance we realized that we have not schooled our kids in the Palauan numbering system. “Teblo” is never two but more than two.

The reasoning is not mathematically or scientifically based but more on the “feeling-lel” (the sentiment associated in the action more so than anything else). The Palauan mentality and practice dictate that the asker should be more considerable and not impose too much the ones being asked for anything so teblo is the number to ask for. But the response for any culturally smart Palauans should consider the fact that the asker might really like lemons and could use more than two lemons. The right number is a lot of lemons would rightly satisfy the request for two. Here the exactness of numbers does not work for good reason.

I know science is all good but I hope we keep the cultural going stronger. It is based on this practice Palauans have provided for victims of Bopha and now we hope we rely on these cultural best practices though informal to take care of victims of Haiyan this time around. After all, caring and giving are not scientifically based but more humanitarian (tekoi ra klechubechub el mo er a rechad) in nature. So please the victims by more than two. Sulang.


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