The Republic of Palau (Beluu er a Belau in Palauan) is an island country consisting of an archipelago located in the western Pacific Ocean. The country contains approximately 340 islands, forming the western chain of the Caroline Islands in Micronesia, and has an area of 180 square miles (466 square kilometers). The capital Ngerulmud is located on the island of Babeldaob, in Melekeok State. Its most populous islands are Angaur, Babeldaob, Koror and Peleliu. The latter three lie together within the same barrier reef, while Angaur is an oceanic island several miles to the south. About two-thirds of the population live on Koror. The coral atoll of Kayangel is north of these islands, while the uninhabited Rock Islands (about 200) are west of the main island group. A remote group of six islands, known as the Southwest Islands, some 375 miles (604 km) from the main islands, make up the states of Hatohobei and Sonsorol. Palau shares maritime boundaries with Indonesia, the Philippines, and the Federated States of Micronesia.
Politically, Palau is a presidential republic in free association with the United States, which provides defense, funding, and access to social services. Legislative power is concentrated in the bicameral Palau National Congress. Palau’s economy is based mainly on tourism, subsistence agriculture and fishing, with a significant portion of gross national product (GNP) derived from foreign aid. The country uses the United States dollar as its currency. The islands’ culture mixes Micronesian, Melanesian, Asian, and Western elements. Ethnic Palauans, the majority of the population, are of mixed Micronesian, Melanesian, and Austronesian descent. A smaller proportion of the population is descended from Japanese and Filipino settlers. The country’s two official languages are Palauan (a member of the wider Sunda–Sulawesi language group) and English, with Japanese, Sonsorolese, and Tobian recognised as regional languages.
The name for the islands in the Palauan language, Belau, likely derives from either the Palauan word for “village”, beluu, or from aibebelau (“indirect replies”), relating to a creation myth. The name “Palau” entered the English language from the Spanish Los Palaos, via the German Palau. An archaic name for the islands in English was the “Pelew Islands“. It should not be confused with Pulau, which is a Malay word meaning “island”.
Palau was originally settled between the 3rd and 2nd millennia BC, most likely from the Austronesia or Indonesia. The islands sustained a population of short-statured Negrito or Pygmy people until the twelfth century, when they were replaced. The modern population, judging by its language, may have come from the Sunda Islands.
Sonsorol, part of the Southwest Islands, an island chain approximately 370 miles (600 kilometers) from the main island chain of Palau, was sighted by Europeans as early as 1522, when the Spanish mission of the Trinidad, the flagship of Ferdinand Magellan’s voyage of circumnavigation, sighted two small islands around the 5th parallel north, naming them “San Juan”.
After the conquest of the Philippines in 1565 by the Spanish Empire, the archipelago of Palau became part of the territory of the Captaincy General of the Philippines, established in 1574 as part of the Spanish East Indies with the capital based in the colonial center in Manila. However, the Spanish presence only began to express with evangelization, began at the end of seventeenth century, and its dominance began to take shape in the eighteenth century.
The conscious discovery of Palau came a century later in 1697, when a group of Palauans were shipwrecked on the Philippine island of Samar to the northwest. They were interviewed by the Czech missionary Paul Klein on December 28, 1696. Klein was able to draw the first map of Palau based on the Palauans’ representation of their home islands that they made with an arrangement of 87 pebbles on the beach. Klein reported his findings to the Jesuit Superior General in a letter sent in June 1697 equaling to the discovery of Palau.
This map and the letter caused a vast interest in the new islands. Another letter written by Fr. Andrew Serrano was sent to Europe in 1705, essentially copying the information given by Klein. The letters resulted in three unsuccessful Jesuit attempts to travel to Palau from Spanish Philippines in 1700, 1708 and 1709. The islands were first visited by the Jesuit expedition led by Francisco Padilla on 30 November 1710. The expedition ended with the stranding of the two priests, Jacques Du Beron and Joseph Cortyl, on the coast of Sonsorol, because the mother ship Santísima Trinidad was driven to Mindanao by a storm. Another ship was sent from Guam in 1711 to save them only to capsize, causing the death of three more Jesuit priests. The failure of these missions gave Palau the original Spanish name Islas Encantadas (Enchanted Islands). Despite these early misfortunes, the Spanish Empire later came to dominate the islands.
British traders became prominent visitors to Palau in the eighteenth century, followed by expanding Spanish influence in the nineteenth century. Following its defeat in the Spanish–American War, Spain sold Palau and most of the rest of the Caroline Islands to the German Empire in 1899 pursuant to the German–Spanish Treaty (1899). The Germans opened the first post office in the Caroline Islands in 1899, using stamps inscribed KAROLINEN. These were used until 1914.
During World War I, the Japanese Empire annexed the islands after seizing them from Germany in 1914. Following World War I, the League of Nations formally placed the islands under Japanese administration as part of the South Pacific Mandate. Japanese stamps were used in the South Pacific Mandate and after annexation to the Japanese Empire.
During World War II, the United States captured Palau from Japan in 1944 after the costly Battle of Peleliu, when more than 2,000 Americans and 10,000 Japanese were killed. The islands passed formally to the United States under United Nations auspices in 1947 as part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands established pursuant to Security Council Resolution 21. United States stamps were then used.
Four of the Trust Territory districts joined together and formed the Federated States of Micronesia in 1979, but the districts of Palau and the Marshall Islands declined to participate. Palau, the westernmost cluster of the Carolines, instead opted for independent status in 1978. It approved a new constitution and became the Republic of Palau in 1981.
In 1981, Palau voted for the world’s first nuclear-free constitution. This constitution banned the use, storage and disposal of nuclear, toxic chemical, gas and biological weapons without first being approved by a ¾ majority in a referendum. This ban delayed Palau’s transition to independence, because while negotiating the Compact, the U.S. insisted on the option to operate nuclear propelled vessels and store nuclear weapons within the territory, prompting campaigns for independence and denuclearization.
It signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1982.
The first stamps issued by Palau was a set of four issued on March 10, 1983, after it gained sovereignty from the United States (Scott #1-4). On December 14, 1983, a set of eight stamps were released designed by New York City designer Rosemary De Figlio and printed by House of Questa, a security printer in Great Britain (Scott #33-40). The artist used a selection of engravings from George Keate’s eighteenth-century book, Account of the Pelew Islands. The stamp concept tells the story of the August 9, 1783, accidental discovery of the islands when the English Captain Wilson shipwrecked the East India Company’s packet, Antelope. The wreck off the coast of Palau led to the first recorded encounter, both extended and harmonious, between Palauans and Europeans.
After eight referenda and an amendment to the Palauan constitution, the Compact was ratified in 1993. The Compact went into effect on October 1, 1994, marking Palau de jure independent, although it had been de facto independent since May 25, 1994, when the trusteeship ended.
Legislation making Palau an “offshore” financial center was passed by the Senate in 1998. In 2001, Palau passed its first bank regulation and anti-money laundering laws.
It may be way too early to picture a Christmas stamp, but Scott #60 is the only Palauan stamp that I currently have in my collection. It is part of a set of four released on November 28, 1984, portraying Christmas flowers. This 20 cent lithographed stamp, perforated 14, pictures the beach morning glory (Ipomoea litoralis), also known as bayhops or goat’s foot. It is a common pantropical creeping vine belonging to the family Convolvulaceae, growing on the upper parts of beaches and enduring salted air. It is one of the most common and most widely distributed salt tolerant plants and provides one of the best known examples of oceanic dispersal. Its seeds float and are unaffected by salt water.
Originally described by Linnaeus, it was placed in its current genus by Robert Brown in 1818.
This species can be found on the sandy shores of the tropical Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. Goat’s Foot is common on the sand dunes of Australia’s upper north coast of New South Wales, and can also be found along the entire Queensland coastline.
Goat’s Foot is a primary sand stabilizer, being one of the first plants to colonize the dune. It grows on almost all parts of the dune but is usually found on the seaward slopes, sending long runners down towards the toe of the dune. The sprawling runners spread out from the woody rootstock, but the large two-lobed leaves are sparse and a dense cover on the sand is rarely achieved except in protected situations. This plant grows in association with sand spinifex grass and is a useful sand binder, thriving under conditions of sand blast and salt spray.
Together with Melanthera biflora, Portulaca oleracea and Digitaria ciliaris, beach morning glory is usually one of the first species colonizing degraded or altered environments in tropical zones of the planet.