THE PALAU STORYBOARD AND OTHER LEGENDS

Storyboards were introduced into Palau by a Japanese artist during the
Japanese occupation of Palau and adapted by the islanders to record their own traditions.
 
The stories that are told on the Palau storyboards are usually old Palauan legends
or alternatively legends from different islands especially Yap, Federated States of Micronesia.

An artist carves a Palauan legend on a storyboard

The people of Palau have long been both good story tellers and skilful in woodcarving. As a result, the practice of telling stories through woodcarvings or storyboards is a natural extension. The storyboards themselves can be made from several good hard woods that are grown on Palau. The first of these is ironwood, or dort as it is known in the Palauan language. This is the preferred kind of wood as it is both strong and long lasting. If ironwood cannot be obtained either because it is not available or too expensive, imported woods are occasionally used for storyboards.

The construction of a storyboard may take some weeks to complete depending upon its size. In some cases, carvers had been known to produce poor quality work in order to meet the increasing demand from tourists and visitors to Palau.

When the construction of the storyboard is complete, it will be finished by painting it with different colours or alternatively it will be treated so that the wood retains its natural colours. Tourists tend to prefer the painted board however the storyboards that retain the natural shades of the wood appear most attractive. With these, the wood is finished using black and brown shoe polish which causes it to shine and retain the true shades of the wood.   

A good quality storyboard with a natural finish

Palauan storyboard of the legend Itabori

The stories that are told on the storyboards are usually old Palauan legends or alternatively legends from different islands especially Yap, Federated States of Micronesia. Some of the legends that may be featured on the storyboards are as follows:

Ngirngemelas tells the story about a brave Palauan warrior and his deeds.
Uwab is a story about a legendary giant.
Surech ma Tulei is the story about two lovers.
Melechotech-a-chau is a legend about a giant with an unbelievably large penis.

Palauan storyboards can be quite expensive by local standards and are usually purchased by tourists or high government officials and businessmen who are able to afford them. Normally, about 90 per cent of Palauan storyboards are sold to visitors who normally receive an attached paper explaining the story associated with the board. These papers can, over a period of time be lost or misplaced resulting in the story associated with the storyboards becoming obscure.

 

THE LEGEND OF WHY A GIRL BECAME A DUGONG IN PALAU

Once there lived an old man and his wife. One day the wife went to her taro patch while her husband remained at home. While she was away, the husband was turned into a nut tree by an evil spirit and when she returned he was nowhere to be seen. She called out for him but could get no answer and she knew something strange must have happened. She then called out the names of all the plants nearby hoping for a response. She called the lemon tree, the banana tree, the pineapple plants, the breadfruit tree and the many others but she got no response.

For a while she sat down to rest and then remembered that she had not called out to the nut tree. So she gathered all her strength and shouted loudly to the nut tree. She shouted so loudly that she caused a branch of the tree to bend and the blood dripped down from it. The wife then cried because she knew that her husband had been turned into that nut tree.

She then remained alone until one day she felt a stirring in her wound and she knew that she was pregnant. Soon she delivered a beautiful baby girl and as the girl grew up she asked about her father only to be told that he had died a long time ago and not to think about him.

The girl was very obedient and her mother treated her kindly. She was well looked after and fed but was told she must never eat the nuts from the nearby nut tree. The girl obeyed her mother's wishes.

The girl eventually became very curious about the nut tree and one day while her mother was working in the taro patch, the girl picked some nuts from the tree and cracked them. When she was about to eat the nuts, her mother suddenly appeared and the girl felt very ashamed for disobeying her mother. What she did was to put the nuts in her mouth so her mother could not see them and ran towards the sea. Her mother saw what happened however and followed the daughter begging her not to swallow the nuts. The daughter continued running into the sea and was turned into a dugong and then disappeared.

The girl had the nuts in her mouth but had not swallowed them when she was turned into the dugong. Today, one can see a bulging in the jaws of the dugong where the nuts were in the girl's mouth.

PALAU FUNERAL CUSTOMS

When a death occurs on Palau, immediate relatives of the deceased have specific responsibilities. The head of the clan of the deceased notifies all relatives who, with the help of others in the community will build a coffin and the deceased's sister will prepare the body for burial. The body is then placed in the centre of the abai or community house.

The sister-in-law of the deceased is responsible for bringing food which should be served to the visitors. In this she will be helped by the female relatives from both sides of the family. In return, the female visitors contribute such gifts as cloth, soap, fine woven mats and Palauan money to the sister-in-law.

The burial ceremony takes place after one or two days, but when a chief dies it might wait up to four days. While the body is at the community house, there are specific places where the sister of the deceased sits while the other relatives sit opposite to each other. When a married man dies, the four grandparents, if they are living, sit opposite each other in pairs at the coffin. The wife's place is at the foot on one side while the mother takes the foot at the other side of the coffin. This is because at this time the wife will be too grief-stricken to be close to the head of her husband. The sister sits at the head and are expected to place their faces close to the face of the dead brother and wail loudly in a manner that is forbidden to the wife. The wife is expected to weep, but must keep her composure.

Food is served to visitors at this time in accordance with the particular designated order. The chief is served first, then the women around the coffin, and then those who are outside, and lastly, those who are cooking food. Either a man or a woman from a higher clan will serve. The reason for this is that the server must be familiar with high clan customs to ensure that the chief is properly served. Should this not be done, the parents of the dead person may be fined in Palauan money.

The burial site is selected by the chief, the father of the deceased and the closest relatives. Palauans have different cemeteries such as community cemeteries, high clan, low clan and family graveyards. The time of burial will then be determined by the elders after the grave has been dug. It is customary to bury the dead between 3 and 5 p.m. Before the burial, all the sons, daughters and sisters will make a final visit to the body before the coffin is closed.

The coffin is carried from the community centre, head first, cradled in a rope sling between bamboo poles. The first to leave will then be the sisters who carry with them two woven mats. The others follow in procession to the cemetery and upon arrival one mat is placed in the grave. The coffin is placed on this mat and the other mat will cover the top of the coffin. After the coffin is lowered into the grave, the mourners walk by, each dropping a handful of soil into it.

After the burial, everybody returns to the community house where the body had been kept and food is served. After this, they are free to return to their homes. On the seventh day after the burial, the relatives visit the grave and enclose it in cement. This is the final day of official mourning. 

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