What are today termed arts and practiced by a few chosen craftsmen were at one time critical elements of Palauan society. Some have been transformed from their original form to satisfy current trends and tastes, but they all have their roots in the rich tapestry of Palau's unique culture.
From the leaves of coconut palms and the razor-sharp pandanus, women of Palau have woven household items, including sleeping mats, baskets and the sails of the long-range outrigger canoes. Although the women weavers still make traditional wares, they have introduced bags, backpacks and other useful items decorated with a variety of colorful geometric designs.
Long ago, the primary form of travel around the islands was by canoe. Most people lived along the coast, and there were canoes for every task and occasion, such as the sleek war canoe or the bulkier kaeb canoe used to transport people from island to island. Few canoe craftsmen remain today, but there is always a demonstration of this essential craft at the Senior Citizens Center in Koror.
Chants were used to relate stories of historical and ceremonial events and to parody individuals and situations. In Palauan tradition, to criticize or ridicule someone directly was a very harsh and humiliating action that could lead to further recrimination. Instead, the high people of a village would chant a song that was essentially a parody of a person or village that allowed people to enjoy the message while at the same time learning an important lesson.
Chanting is performed on special occasions and in dance performances. One can request of an elder at the Senior Citizens center to demonstrate or give lessons.
Often, chants would be accompanied by dance, which were performed mainly at ceremonies commemorating a day or event. The movements are fluid and unhurried. Even the Palauan cha cha and jitterbug, adaptations of the dances brought in by the U.S. military, are performed with characteristic careful movement. Several restaurants have displays of traditional dance, but the more modern styles are evident on the dance floors at any nightclub.
In order to show social status, women wore udoud money necklaces and turtle shell bracelets. Another delicately carved and shaped turtle shell ornament is a small, shallow dish called toluk. This dish is also regarded as a form of money and was paid to women for their family obligations and services. Primarily using turtle shell and seashells, craftsmen carved and shaped their materials into a variety of uniquely formed items.
NOTE: Items manufactured from turtle shells are banned
from entering the United States and many other countries. For sea
shells, please bring all sea shell products to the Bureau of Marine
Resources to obtain the necessary export documents before taking out
of Palau or call (680) 488-3125/6994/2897 for more information.
Palauan history was until recent times preserved orally. The exception to this was the tales carved and painted into the beams and gables of the Bai meeting houses. Today, you may obtain one of these tales engraved and sometimes painted onto a piece of wood called a storyboard.