Collection Description

Culture Name


Culture Description

The Belau archipelago in the western Pacific Ocean was settled about 2,000 years ago by Austronesian language speakers (the language today is Belauan or Palauan). Now most Belauans also speak Japanese and/or English as the island was subjected to successive control by foreign powers including Spain (1885-1899), Germany (1899-1914), Japan (1914-1944) and a UN mandated Trust Administration by the United States (1947-1981). Traditional subsistence depended on fishing and the cultivation of taro. Income from government employment and immigration to the United States has become important in recent years.


Select the Culture Summary link above for a longer description of the culture.


Oceania --Micronesia



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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

The Belauans (OR15) collection covers a wide range of ethnographic information collected in 1940s to 1990s.

The oldest available ethnographic information on Belauan culture and society in the collection was compiled by Augustin Krämer, a German ethnographer who visited Belau and neighboring islands in the early 1880s. Originally published in German in 1900, this document provides important information relating to traditional history, status and role of chiefs, kinship stem, family life, gender and sexuality, property inheritance, and crime and social control. The best general introduction to Belauan culture and society in the collection are the works of anthropologist H. G. Barnett (Barnett 1949, no. 4; 1963, no. 3). Together, these works describe several themes, including child care and development, women’s status, economic activities, reciprocity and other forms of exchange, marriage and family relations, social personality, religion and recreation, as observed in the late 1940s (Barnett 1949, no. 4; 1963, no. 3).

R. W. Force further enriched the information from 1940s with two books published based on fieldwork undertaken in 1954-1971. One of these books focuses on leadership and culture change (Force 1960, no. 13). The other describes and analysis Belauan kinship (Force 1972, no. 14).

The remaining documents in the collection provide in-depth analysis of other themes. Smith focuses on changes in Belauan social structure as observed in 1970-1983 (Smith 1983, no.1). Parmentier discusses a variety of themes relating to history and political economy including dynamics of political life (Parmentier 1987, no. 2), traditional history and inter-village relations (Parmentier 1986, no. 22), and money and the morality of exchange (Parmentier 2002, no. 20; 1988, no. 21). Nero focuses on social change at the family and community levels. Topics covered in her works include the impacts of war on family ties and shared cultural ideals (Nero 1989, no. 23), the ways traditional stories and mythologies are used in contemporary political life (Nero 1992, no. 25), and the rise of alcohol drinking and domestic violence (Nero 1990, no. 24). Ysaol, Chilton and Cllaghan describe contemporary practices associated with the Belauan money-raising custom of ocheraol, an institution for mutual help by which a person asks relatives and in-laws to contribute money often to be used for constructing house or purchasing other key assets (Ysaol, Chilton and Cllaghan 1996, no. 19).

Finally, Shuster reviews the effects of the Compact of Free Association agreement between the United States and Belau which has been a major divisive issue among Belauan politicians since the early 1970s (Shuster 1994, no.26).

For more detailed information on the context of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document. See also the Woleai Region Collection (OR21), and the Marshallese Collection (OR11).

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Bai –men’s club house– Use PUBLIC STRUCTURES ( 344)

Bladek –ancestral spirit– Use CULT OF THE DEAD ( 769)

Blai –house– Use LINEAGES ( 613) with COMMUNITY STRUCTURE ( 621) and HOUSEHOLD ( 592)

Bus –marriage valuable paid by the husband’s side to the wife’s side– Use MODE OF MARRIAGE ( 583) with NUPTIALS ( 585)

Dui –chiefly title (rank)– Use STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE ( 554) with COMMUNITY HEADS ( 622)

Klobak –village council– Use COUNCILS ( 623)

Korong –shaman or person possessed by spirits– Use REVELATION AND DIVINATION ( 787) with SPIRITS AND GODS ( 776)

Merak –wealthy person– Use ACCUMULATION OF WEALTH ( 556) with STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE ( 554)

Ochell –matrilineage– Use LINEAGES ( 613)

Ocheraol –raising money from relatives for covering costs of home building or purchasing other assets– Use MUTUAL AID ( 476) with KIN RELATIONSHIPS ( 602)

Ongalek –residential family– Use NUCLEAR FAMILY ( 594)

Ruk –inter-district dance festival– Use DANCE ( 535) with REST DAYS AND HOLIDAYS ( 527)

Telungalek –land holding group– Use LINEAGES ( 613) with REAL PROPERTY ( 423)

Udoud –local currency– Use MEDIUM OF EXCHANGE ( 436)

Ulechell –patrilineage– Use LINEAGES ( 613)

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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