Palau: Anthropological View of the Country and Its People

Small, exotic, tropical, island after island… That is Palau to me. There are several hundred small islands in the Micronesia region, but there are only about 20 000 Palauans. No wonder it has been a struggle to find a book written by a Palauan. I still have not succeeded, do not know if one exists, but at least it has not been translated into the English. This is the reason I ended up reading Being a Palauan by Homer G. Barnett.

Barnett was an American anthropologist, so not a Palauan. This is however as close to the real thing I could get. The short book is an anthropological overview of people of Palau. It is about Palau in the 1940 and 50s. Back then there were only around 6000 Palauans. The islands have been occupied by several foreign powers, and naturally, all of them have left their own mark on the country.

Back in the days, Japanese people told Palauans that they are inferior to the Japanese, and can never reach the level of Japanese intelligence. This for example led to Palauan women wanting to have children with Japanese men, since then the children would at least be better than just Palauans.

Every culture has its own interesting quirks and some strange elements that seem absurd or weird to the rest of the world. These parts of culture are in many ways the most important things, since they have survived over time, and they are just a natural part of everyday life. The most interesting cultural specialty in Palau, based upon the book, is that you can be adopted and adopted again; even after a man is married he can ask to be adopted. This is normal, and it is common to be adopted within the extended family.

I am not the biggest fan of anthropologists going around the world discovering what is going on in other cultures, since to me it is condescending, and in that way not that much different from missionaries or any other person or group telling others they are doing things wrong and that their way is better. I do understand that it is of interest to understand other cultures, but this way it seems forced. Naturally, we are all looking at everything through our own special goggles of our culture and upbringing, but that is different.

I did enjoy reading this book, and I would very much like to read about Palau today, as well as most likely, listen to stories about the country and its people. Maybe one day there will be a national author as well. Listening to stories told by local people is always fascinating and gives that little extra to every trip. Even though his was not exactly what I was looking for I am satisfied enough, but will try to look for a Palauan author in the future.

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