Palau is made up of over 200 volcanic and coral islands in the North Pacific Ocean. Excavations reveal that early civilizations thrived on the islands as early as 1,000 BC, and that Palauans are descendants from the Polynesians, Malays and the Melanesians. The first major foreign contact was in 1783 when the English Captain, Henry Wilson, was shipwrecked on one of the islands. From then on Palau was exposed to further European contact, starting with British traders and a growth of Spanish influence in the 18th century. In 1899, Spain sold the Caroline Islands (including Palau) to the Germans who, after World War One, passed the islands to the Japanese. After World War Two, Palau became a United Nations Trust Territory under the United States government for 47 years; the US agreeing to improve Palau’s infrastructure and education system. In 1994 Palau signed the Compact of Free Association treaty with the US and gained its independence. Since then, Palau has continuously received financial aid from the US, who is now also responsible for Palau’s defence.
To support the islands’ abundance of marine and jungle life sustainable tourism is encouraged on the islands. Since Palau is also one of the only nations to recognize Taiwan, Taiwanese tourism plays a significant role in fuelling the Palauan economy. Despite the large amount of foreign impact, Palauans identify strongly with their traditional culture, which sees the celebration of ancestral codes and beliefs through ceremonial practices and events. The surrounding marine environment has fostered a deep connection with the sea and, through years of harvesting fish as a livelihood, Palauans have learned to understand the currents and behaviours of the fish depending on the moon. The Japanese also significantly influenced culture on Palau, especially in the shift from a subsistence economy to a market economy. Storytelling is another important cultural practice, functioning as the primary way Palauans have recorded and retold their history. Music on the islands shows a fusion between Micronesian heritage and influences from the United States, Western Europe and Japan.