What Should I Know About Palau?

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

The Republic of Palau is an island nation located in the Pacific Ocean, about 500 miles (800 km) east of the Philippines. It was the last former trust territory of the United Nations Trusteeship Council to attain self-government, in 1994, and is therefore one of the world's youngest countries. Its native name is Belau, and it is often simply called Palau in English. The country's capital is Melekeok.

The rich marine life in the waters around Palau make it an ideal destination for scuba divers.
The rich marine life in the waters around Palau make it an ideal destination for scuba divers.

The native population of Palau has lived on the islands for thousands of years, though their original arrival date is currently a matter of speculation. Genetically, Palauans are linked to both native Australian and Asian ancestors. Their society is traditionally matrilineal.

Palau features a tropical climate year round, much to the delight of tourists.
Palau features a tropical climate year round, much to the delight of tourists.

Europeans first came into contact with Palau, once called the "Black Islands," relatively late. British traders regularly visited the islands in the 18th century, and in the 19th century, they were incorporated into the Spanish East Indies. Palau remained under Spanish control until the Treaty of Paris, ending the Spanish-American War in 1898, forced Spain to give up its East Indies territories. Germany bought Palau from Spain in 1899.

Palau again changed hands in 1914, when the Japanese invaded and took control, and Germany lost its holdings as a result of the Treaty of Versailles, marking its defeat in World War I. After a Japanese defeat in World War II, the country of Palau became a trust territory under the United Nations. Today, it has a Compact of Free Association with the United States stipulating that the latter is to take responsibility for Palau's defense for 50 years.

Palau is a representative democracy with separate executive, judiciary, and legislative branches. The elected president is head of the government and head of state. Palau has 16 states.

Palau has a population of about 19,000, consisting of 70% natives, with Filipinos making up the second largest ethnic group. Whites and other Asians are other minorities. The official languages of most Palauan states are Palauan and English, though some states give local languages official status, and Japanese is an official language in the state of Anguar. Seventy-five percent of the population are Christians, mostly Catholics. Native religious beliefs and Modekngei, a religion incorporating native beliefs with Christianity, are also commonly practiced.

Palau's economy consists largely of tourism, fishing, and subsistence farming. Tourists visit the islands to enjoy the pleasant year-round tropical climate and to snorkel and scuba dive among the diverse marine life. Palau also features the Belau National Museum and the Palau International Airport, offering regular flights to and from nearby countries.

Niki Foster
Niki Foster

In addition to her role as a wiseGEEK editor, Niki enjoys educating herself about interesting and unusual topics in order to get ideas for her own articles. She is a graduate of UCLA, where she majored in Linguistics and Anthropology.

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Discussion Comments


I remember hearing somewhere that after Palau's time as a UN trust nation was up, they had the chance to become part of Micronesia. But when they chose the Compact of Free Association, Palau became independent, but under the protection of the United States.

Another interesting fact about Palau: even though they are associated with the US, they gave asylum to some former Guantanamo bay prisoners in 2009. So it seems they really are, in fact, an independent nation.


@JessicaLynn - You're right, locales that base a lot of their economy on tourism are subject to the whims of consumers and Mother Nature. The Gulf Coast here in the United States is a good example of that. After the oil spill in 2010, a lot of businesses in that area suffered because of lack of tourism.

But hopefully Palau travel will be OK for years to come.

I think this country is interesting because it was a trust nation under the UN for so long. I've never even heard of such a thing! I'm glad they became a democracy afterwards though.


I've never even heard of Palau, which doesn't make much sense considering that it's a tourist location. Although, I haven't traveled much, and I've never been to Asia or Australia, so I can see how I might have overlooked this small country.

Anyway, I find it interesting and a bit disturbing that so much of their economy is based on tourism. I mean, what if something happened to Palau hotels? Like an earthquake or something? Or a disease broke out? Or it stopped becoming a tourist location for some other reason?

It seems like this small country would be in pretty bad shape if something like that happened.

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