Belau - >History and Cultural Relations

The archipelago was discovered more than 2,000 years ago by Austronesian voyagers sailing from insular Southeast Asia. These early settlers occupied both low-lying islands, where fishing was the primary subsistence activity, and high volcanic and limestone islands, where extensive taro cultivation was possible. Perhaps as late as the twelfth century AD., the Islanders constructed monumental terraced earthworks and built inland villages on elaborate stone foundations. There is a strong possibility that prior to European contact Belau had interaction with the Chinese, whose ships could have been the source of the ceramic and glass beads still functioning as exchange valuables. Sir Francis Drake visited briefly in 1579; extensive relations between Belau and the West began in 1783 when the East India Company packet Antelope wrecked on the reef. The islands have been subject to successive claims by colonial powers: Spain (1885-1899), Germany (1899-1914), and Japan (1914-1944). In 1947 Belau became part of the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands, a United Nations "strategic trusteeship" under the administration of the United States. Constitutional self-government was proclaimed in 1981 when the Republic of Belau seated its first government, while the islands continued to be subject to the trusteeship. After decades of bitter factional and legal disputes, Belau is currently negotiating a Compact of Free Association with the United States. The first president of Belau, Haruo Remeliik, was assassinated in 1985; the second President, Lazarus Salii, died of gunshot wounds in 1988.

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