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Farewell to Airai


The sun sets behind the temporary bridge.


As we depart Airai, we ask our guides to share their final thoughts with us, reflecting on all that has been presented here regarding Airai, and on the future of Palau as a whole.




"In 1997, our state government, the legislature of Airai state, passed our Preservation Act. This is one of the best bills that ever went through that legislature. But it is like many laws in the national government. Not too many people are paying attention to them or concerned about them.

"That is when they get lost, when people don’t really practice the laws which say that they are supposed to do this and that, especially preserving the historic sites. I just hope that the younger people will go back to what their elders, their fathers and grandparents and I saw in Airai."


State Office

Airai State government office.


Blowing the trumpet

A Palauan youth blows the triton-shell trumpet to open ceremonies at the 9th Festival of Pacific Arts in Koror, 2006.


“One aspect of the traditional way of life is practiced through the community organizations, the traditional men’s and women’s clubs, and how they get together. There is a protocol for the leadership and organization of these clubs. These are not just like any organization, like today’s organizations, where they can just select who’s going to be their speaker and like that. It comes with their tradition, their culture.

“In Airai, like every place in the Republic, any village has like a house that, whenever the clubs get together, they are supposed to be the leader of the group. Not just anybody here. All the way from the top to the bottom. Those are part of our culture.

"If they don’t understand all this, I don’t think that the traditions that we have would make sense to them. I think it is complicated for them, because we have introduced and are preaching to them a different type of government system, while our culture sort of does things the other way around.”



Main Street

Modern restaurants and shops in downtown Koror.



“If Palau is to be part of the modern-day world, and we are going to continue to live here, we need to make sure that we are still are able to be eat fish and eat taro and live in our environment. But at the same time we have to see that we cannot be dependent upon big countries like Japan and the US and Australia, or wherever else, to pour money in, because that is not how we want to survive. So at the same time we need to look at technology and development in a way that would not destroy the environment which we live on and depend upon for our daily needs."



“It is kind of a tricky situation when you really look at it. Already you can see some environmental damage here. And you have to be aware of that. But the consciousness of environmental preservation shows with the different private organizations that have been created recently. They are sort of policing the environment to make sure that you follow the rules and regulations in development.

"So I am optimistic. I am positive that we are going to be faced with difficulties. We’re going to be pressed with making decisions. But I think our decisions will also be based on how we ensure the continuity of our culture. And of course as you know, culture is not static. Culture evolves and develops, but the core of it is what is important.”


National Bird
Palau's National Bird, biib, the Palauan fruit dove.


Bai-style artwork on the Palau National Communications Corporation headquarters.



"I fully agree that we use whatever means to teach everybody the cultural knowledge and let them feel it and appreciate being a Palauan. At the same time, academically, we must learn the English language, science and math as the basics and really understand the big picture of the world. I think that’s the only way to be able to have people be comfortable as Palauans here and be comfortable in doing international things.

"The world is becoming increasingly international, but I don’t think you want to go out into the world without really knowing your own heritage, your natural heritage and culture. That’s what I believe. And I think we still have a pool of people who can provide a cultural aspect of learning and leadership skills."




“I am the oldest of 8, and when I was 17, our father died, so we struggled. I read as a kid that Abraham Lincoln—the 16th President of the United States—said, ‘All that I am or hope to be, I owe to my aging mother.’ You know, the first teacher, the best teacher is the mother. And you are teaching the child invisibly, unknowingly, from the time you conceive that child until it is born as a lovely kid. And then you raise that kid."



“Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines once said, ‘nothing grows in the shadow of a banyan tree.’ If you keep babying your kids, they keep existing under your shadow, they can never grow. And some kids who have succeeded in life come from wealthy families and they have everything. And some kids from wealthy families become burdens on society. They become spoiled brats and they can’t do anything.

"And some kids who were raised in poor families, struggling families, become wonderful citizens and some become burdens on society. I think I know one thing: love your kid but do not deprive that kid of an opportunity to struggle. Because it is from the struggle that you develop your character. There is no hero that had an easy life. No great play of the day was made while you were ahead. It is always a come-from-behind thing. It is that struggle."


Coconut husks
The aftermath of coconut-husking practice for the Micronesian Games.




“So all in all, the kids here have to learn how to fish, how to husk coconut, how to grow taro, how to survive on a subsistence basis. Because once you set that as the basic foundation, then you can go modern. But if things fail, like the bubble economy of Japan, or Enron and WorldCom, and if things fail, and if you know how to survive at the most basic level, you’re alright.

"So I say, a chance to struggle means a chance to be able to learn how to fish, how to survive, how to wash your clothes, how to take care of yourself. The basic drudgery of daily life—you have to know that. Because if you skip the basics, you may have a very tall building, but if the foundation is flimsy, it is going to collapse."



"So I think that is my message. We have to learn how to survive at the subsistence level, and that brings in our tradition: cooperation and conservation. You know take care of your siblings and your cousins, your families, and then your clan, and then that is it. So that is my message to you."




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