Meked Besebes
Facilitator, ICH Global Facilitator Network-Palau

In Palau, important lessons about life and how to conduct oneself may be captured in a particular oral tradition. Stories are told a retold from generation to generation to impart significant principles and values about being Palauan. There are stories explaining the origins of life on Palau, settlement patterns, and migration between places. These oral traditions may be transmitted through stories, chants, performances, and architecture. Significant cultural sites are also a medium of conveying important oral histories of migrations and events that supports close lineage among families and villages. Other oral stories show the importance of certain plant and animal species in Palauan culture.

The following are two stories that illustrate important lessons about respect, friendship, and how to live in harmony with nature.

Story 1: Ngchui—Kereomel and Melbaob

A long, long time ago before mankind in the village of Ngchui, there were two friends, Kereomel and Melbaob. They were birds who fed on fish.

One early morning, Kereomel walked to the mangrove dock of Ngchui to check the tide and found Melbaob sitting there.

Melbaob looked up and saw his friend, and asked him, “What brings you to the dock this early?”

Kereomel replied, “Oh, I came to see the tide because I am thinking about going fishing.”

“When the tide is right to go fishing, could I go with you?” Melbaob asked his friend.

“Sure, if you want to,” Kereomel answered.

Kereomel went home and waited for the tide to recede. Once the tide started to go down, he went and called his friend.

“Where will we go to fish?” asked Melbaob.

Kereomel replied, “We’re going to a place called Tnger.”

When the two friends got to Tnger, the west end of the reef near the village of Ngchui, the tide was still high so they sat on chiloil, rocks in the reef, and waited for the water level to drop.

While they waited for the tide to ebb, they could see fish swimming around them. Melbaob could not sit still. He kept moving around and his eyes kept darting here and there, following the movement of the fish. Kereomel saw this and said to his friend, “Let us sit back and relax, because once the tide has gone out, we will be walking on the reef picking fish.”

And so they sat waiting for the tide, and still Melbaob could not control himself because of the sight of the fish. Finally, he could wait no longer and went down to fish. His friend Kereomel warned him, “Fish, but do not overdo it, for our village is far and we do not wish to have any problems.”

When the tide was low, Kereomel too began to fish. When he thought he had enough, he said to Melbaob, “It is time to go home.” Melbaob agreed.

Kereomel turned to his friend to see that Melbaob’s neck could not bend because he had eaten more than he could swallow; sticking out from his mouth was a fish’s tail. Kereomel thought, “Now we have a problem.”

On their way back to Ngchui, Melbaob fell into the sea between Tnger and Ochimer. Kereomel went to him and said, “I warned you to be careful about how much you took but you never listen, so now you have brought ollachidnger [a lesson learned] upon yourself. And now that you have vomited everything in your stomach here, this place will be called Tmecherur.”

So, the sea between Tnger and Ochimer was called Tmecherur. When they finally got home, Melbaob was hungry because he had vomited everything he ate, due to the fact that he did not listen to his friend’s advice. The lesson learned from this story is to listen to and heed advice. Do not wait until something goes wrong and then say, “Oh, I should have listened to the advice after all.”

Story 2: A Moral Lesson from Ongael of Ngerchemel

This is the story of an ongael (Phaleria nisidai Kaneh)1 plant in Ngerchemel, a village in Airai. This particular ongael plant bore so much fruit that each branch nearly broke from the weight. All kinds of fruit-eating birds visited this plant regularly and waited patiently for its fruit to ripen. While waiting they held a meeting and decided to divide the branches equally, meaning all birds should receive an equal share of its fruit. The uppermost branch of the tree was designated to the laib (Nicobar pigeon).

During the harvest season, all of its fruits ripened except the top part that belonged to laib. All the other birds nourished themselves while the laib starved, waiting for his portion to ripen. The laib’s portion did not mature until the harvest season ended, when it fell to the ground.

This went on for the next four harvest seasons, leaving no ripe fruits for the laib. The other birds began to notice the laib sulking on the ground, so they called another meeting. They asked the laib “Ngerang a chised me ke metitngot er bebul a chutem?” (“Why are you wandering and hopping back and forth on the ground?”)

The laib replied, Sechelei, ng mocha re ngii a euang el mo bedul a eim el sim el diak bo el mark a blingelek el chetebtel a ongael. (“Friends, about four to five harvest seasons have passed but my portion has not ripened.”)

The other birds responded Chelechang el mei el sim, ea lsekum ng diak bo le mark sei el blingelem, e ke mei me ke melai a ulus e ra omengang ra delongelam. (“If your portion does not mature this coming harvest season, you will eat from our portions.”)

There is a moral lesson to be taken from this short story. It is about love and compassion toward those who are in need. The laib’s attitude of waiting for the harvest season became a Palauan idiom referring to a person who waits patiently for an unmarked time that might never arrive. The idiom is: Errang, ngerang a ke mengiil er ngii, ke mengiil ra rekel ongael? (“Hey, what are you waiting for, the ongael to ripen?”) (Palau Society of Historians 1996:61)

1. Ongael is also known as Delal a Kar (Mother of Medicine), and is a significant medicinal plant in Palau.