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The Republic of Palau (Belau)

History

Laborers from Palau and Yap working in the phosphate minds on Angaur, Palau
Laborers from Palau and Yap working in the phosphate minds on Angaur, Palau (Photo: Georg Fritz Collection)

The Palau Islands were discovered in 1543 by the Spanish explorer, Ruiz Lopez de Villalobos, and rediscovered in 1710 by the Spaniard, Francisco de Padilla. In 1783, a schooner belonging to the British East India Company was shipwrecked on the reef off Aulong Island. Great Britain claimed the islands and dominated trade in the area until about 1885. Spain then claimed control of Palau until 1899. In l899, following its defeat in the Spanish-American War, Spain sold Palau, along with the rest of the Caroline and Northern Mariana Islands, to Germany. During the German administration from 1899 to 1914, coconut agriculture and phosphate mining were introduced.

An old photograph of a typical Palauan home
An old photograph of a typical Palauan home (Photo: Belau National Museum)

Japanese forces occupied Palau during World War I and received a mandate over Palau, the Northern Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae from the League of Nations in 1920. The Japanese increased efforts in mining, agriculture, and commercial fishing. Fighting between Japanese and Allied forces during World War II occurred throughout much of Palau, and in 1947, the United Nations created the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI).  The United States was named as the TTPI's administering authority. The TTPI comprise four island jurisdictions: the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and the three freely associated states (the Federated States of Micronesia, Republic of the Marshall Islands, and Republic of Palau).

The Trust Territory jurisdictions formed a single federated Micronesian state in 1979, but this eventually dissolved. Palau approved a new constitution in 1981, subsequently signing a Compact of Free Association with the United States in 1982. The Compact went into effect on October 1, 1994, marking Palau's emergence from trusteeship to independence. Under the Compact, the U.S. remains responsible for Palau's defense for 50 years.

 

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