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 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.
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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.