Reaching the Nations

Palau

By David Stewart and Matt Martinich

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Geography

Area: 459 square km.  Comprising six island groups of over 300 individual islands in the Philippine Sea and North Pacific Ocean, Palau is the westernmost archipelago of the Caroline chain and located to the southeast of the Philippines.  Island geography varies from low-laying coral terrain to mountainous terrain.  Tropical climate prevails year round which is modified by a wet season from May to November.  Typhoons are a natural hazard.  Environmental issues include proper disposal of solid waste, sand and coral dredging, and overfishing.  Palau is divided into sixteen administrative states.

Population: 20,956 (July 2011)       

Annual Growth Rate: 0.363% (2011)    

Fertility Rate: 1.73 children born per woman (2011)   

Life Expectancy: 68.63 male, 75.12 female (2011)

Peoples

Palauan: 69.9%

Filipino: 15.3%

Chinese: 4.9%

other Asian: 2.4%

white: 1.9%

Carolinian: 1.4%

other Micronesian: 1.1%

other/unspecified: 3.2%

Palauans are related to Micronesians, Melanesians, Polynesians, and Malayans.  Approximately 30% of the population are migrant workers or immigrants from East Asia and Micronesia.   

Languages: Palauan (64.7%), Filipino (13.5%), English (9.4%), Chinese languages (5.7%), Carolinian languages (1.5%), Japanese (1.5), other Asian languages (2.3%), other languages (1.5%).  Palauan is the official language of all islands except on Sonsoral, Tobi, and Angaur where Sonsoralese, Tobi, and Anguar and Japanese are the official langauges, respectively.  

Literacy: 92% (1980)

History

Seafarers from Indonesia or Oceania are believed to had settled Palau as early as the second millennium B.C.  The British began visiting the islands in the eighteenth century followed by the Spanish in the nineteenth century.  Spain took territorial possession of Palau and sold it to German in 1899 following Spain's defeat in the Spanish-American War.  Japan gained control of Palau in 1914 followed by the United States in 1947 under the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands.  Several major battles in World War II were fought in Palau, such as at Beliliou.  A new constitution was approved in 1981 and Palau signed a Compact of Free Association with the United States the following year.  Palau declared independence in 1994.[1]

Culture 

Palauan society has diversified over the past century as a result of foreign occupation and the influx of migrant works.  Christianity and subsistence farming are the predominant societal influences.  Traditional cuisine consists of fish, cassava, coconut, yam, taro, and pork.  Western and Asian foods are commonly eaten.  Alcohol consumption rates are higher than the world average.

Economy

GDP per capita: $8,100 (2008) [17.3% of US]

Human Development Index: N/A

Corruption Index: N/A

Tourism, subsistence agriculture, and fishing drive the economy.  The government is a major employer.  The United States provided up to $700 million in aid for the first fifteen years following independence to maintain US military installations.  The expansion of the tourist industry and foreign investment has developed greater self-sufficiency.  Forest, gold, minerals, and marine products are natural resources.  Services generate 82% of the GDP whereas agriculture and industry generate 6% and 12% of the GDP, respectively.  Major industries include tourism, handicrafts, construction, and clothing.  Coconuts, copra, cassava, sweet potatoes, and fish are common agricultural products.  The level of perceived corruption is lower than most of Oceania.  Petty corruption and misuse of funds are the primary types of corruption that occur in Palau.[2]

Faiths

Christian: 90%

other: 10%

Christians

Denominations  Members  Congregations

Catholic  13,621

Evangelical  2,000

Modeknei  1,800

Seventh Day Adventists  1,000

Latter-day Saints  424  1

Jehovah's Witnesses  100  1

Religion

Most Palauans are Catholic (65%).  Other prominent religious groups include evangelicals, Modekngei, Seventh Day Adventists, Latter-day Saints, and Jehovah's Witnesses.  Modekngei is a syncretic Christian denomination that incorporates indigenous beliefs.[3] 

Religious Freedom

Persecution Index:

The constitution protects religious freedom which is upheld by the government.  Religious groups must obtain charters as nonprofit organizations and receive tax-exempt status.  The government has not refused registration to any religious groups in recent years.  Foreign missionaries may serve in Palau and must request a missionary permit from the Office of Immigration.  Religious instruction is not permitted in public schools.  Christmas is a recognized national holiday.  There have been no reported societal abuses of religious freedom in recent years.[4]

Largest Cities

Urban: 83%

Koror, Meyungs, Airai, Kloulklubed.

Cities listed in bold have no LDS congregations.

One of the four largest towns has an LDS congregation.  80% of the national population resides in the four most populous towns.  64% of the national population resides in Koror State.

LDS Background

The first known Latter-day Saints to live on Palau were American military servicemen during World War II.  A member of the Hawaii Honolulu Mission presidency visited Palau in 1977 to explore prospects for beginning missionary work.  Full-time missionaries were assigned in 1978 and were restricted by the government to work only on the islands of Koror, Arakabesan, Malakal, and Airai.  The first Palauan Latter-day Saints joined the Church in late 1978 and the Meyungs Branch was organized shortly thereafter.  Palau was reassigned to the Micronesia Guam Mission in 1980.  In 1985, an American Latter-day Saint shipped 1,000 school books as part of an Eagle Scout project.[5]  There were 59 Latter-day Saints in 1981 and 200 members in 1987.  Three additional congregations were organized in the late 1980s (Airai, Koror Topside, Koror Central) and where consolidated shortly thereafter.  An LDS Chinese congregation briefly operated in the early 1990s to meet the needs of converts from mainland China but was discontinued after many of the converts returned to China.[6]  In 1993 there were 300 members, one district, and two branches.  By 1997, there was one branch.  Membership totaled 400 in 1997, 384 in 2000, 437 in 2005, and 424 in 2009.  In 2010, there were approximately 60 active members in the Koror Topside Branch, or 15% of national LDS membership.  Church attendance sometimes reaches as high as 80 on holidays.  In 2010, there were four elders and a senior missionary couple assigned to Palau.  The sole LDS branch meets in a church-built meetinghouse in Koror.  Palau is assigned to the Manila Philippines Temple district.  In 2010, the branch president of the Koror Topside Branch was the Ngardmau State delegate for the government.  In 2009, one in 49 was nominally LDS. 

Opportunities

Religious freedom and a predominantly Christian population generate favorable conditions for LDS missionary activity.  Mission leadership has held the vision of opening a second branch on Palau, but that goal requires  new active converts and efforts to reactivate less-active members.  The Koror Topside Branch provides mission outreach to Koror, home to two-thirds of the national population.  Full-time missionaries operate regularly on Babelthuap, increasing the percentage of the national population receiving limited mission outreach to 95%.  Notwithstanding having fewer than 20,000 speakers worldwide, Palau benefits from translations of LDS scriptures and materials including the Book of Mormon, the Testimony of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the Articles of Faith, a few primary materials, and a family guidebook.  Most non-natives have LDS materials in their native language.  Palau receives abundant LDS missionary resources despite its tiny, isolated population.  Full-time missionaries report that there were three seminary students in 2010.  Expanding seminary and institute programs with assistance from the senior missionary couple may lead to greater doctrinal understanding, higher convert retention rates, and greater numbers of local members serving full-time missions. 

Challenges

With the lowest member activity rate in the Pacific, the LDS Church in Palau has struggled to retain new converts and reactive less-active or inactive members.  The first LDS congregation was organized three decades ago on Meyungs Ilsand, but in 2010 nearly all of the 43 LDS households were inactive or less active.  Full-time missionaries have worked for years to reintroduce the Church and reestablish church attendance among these members with no noticeable success.  Full-time missionaries reported in 2010 that the branch conducted meetings in English despite Palauan members comprising the majority, largely due to the presence of foreign full-time missionaries and a handful of non-native members from the Philippines and Mexico.  Reluctance of local members to speak Palauan at church and to missionaries has heavily contributed to poor member activity rates as those not proficient in English may stop attending meetings.  Many administrative and ecclesiastical tasks are placed upon full-time missionaries, resulting in reduced member participation in holding and magnifying callings.  Overstaffing the branch with missionaries has likely exacerbated poor member-missionary participation.  Many local members and leaders have a desire to share the gospel, but are unable to plan and coordinate proper activities without reliance on full-time missionaries.  Travel to the temple is time consuming and expensive, resulting in limited temple attendance from active members.

Prospects

The outlook for future growth of the LDS Church in Palau is poor due to the unwillingness of native members to speak Palauan in LDS meetings, low member-missionary work participation, and the lack of apparent success in reactivating less-active and inactive members.  The opening of Palauan-language-only dependent branches or groups in areas with concentrated numbers of less-active members may lead improve prospects retaining and reactivation less-active members, although prospects for reactivation appear dim after years of largely fruitless efforts. Most future growth is likely to occur through new converts rather than through reactivation, although improved standards for baptism will be necessary to avoid repeating past difficulties with the lapse of most converts into inactivity.


[1]  "Background Note: Palau," Bureau of East Asian and Pacific Affairs, 4 October 2010.  http://www.state.gov/r/pa/ei/bgn/1840.htm

[2]  Shuster, Donald R.  "Republic of Palau 2004," Transparency International Country Study Report, 2004.  http://www.transparency.org.au/documents/palau.pdf

[3]  "Palau," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148889.htm

[4]  "Palau," International Religious Freedom Report 2010, 17 November 2010.  http://www.state.gov/g/drl/rls/irf/2010/148889.htm

[5]  Romney, Richard M.  "Books to Palau", New Era, Nov. 1985, 27

[6]  "Palau," Country Profile, retrieved 4 March 2011.  http://newsroom.lds.org/country/palau