Reader's Digest World Presents The Living Edens Palau-Paradise of the Pacific
Legends of Palau

The Legends

One day, a man from the village of Ngerchemai went out fishing. While he was getting ready to anchor his canoe, he noticed a hawksbill turtle, the largest turtle he had ever seen. In Palau, the shell of a hawksbill is used to make a special kind of money. Without a second thought he dove into the water to try to catch the turtle, knowing full well that if he brought back a turtle of this size he would be the big man of the village. After a great deal of effort, he surfaced with the turtle, but when he turned to climb back into his canoe, it was gone -- instead it had drifted far away. As he struggled toward the canoe with the turtle in his arms, the canoe only drifted farther and farther away. Finally he let go of the turtle, but by then his canoe was so far away that the humiliated fisherman had to swim back to his village with neither turtle nor canoe.

One day, a spider-god named Mengidabrutkoel, was spinning a web in a fruit tree when he saw a beautiful girl looking for fallen fruits. Mengidabrutkoel shook the branches of the tree so a fruit would fall off. When the girl, Turangel, noticed this, she looked up in the tree and saw a handsome man where the spider-god had once been. As they stared at one another they immediately fell in love. Soon they were married and Turangel became pregnant. At that time in Palau, people did not know how to deliver a baby except by slicing the womb open with a bamboo knife. But when it came time for the village women to slice the girl open, Mengidabrutkoel refused to let them near his bride. Instead, he locked the two of them inside their house. While the women stormed outside the house, and the men of the village threw rocks and tried to kill Mengidabrutkoel, he delivered the child. When the villagers heard the baby crying and saw that Turangel was still alive, they made Mengidabrutkoel a hero and honored him with a celebration for teaching them the art of natural childbirth.

Before there were people and land, there were only Palauan gods and the sea. One day, Uchelianged, the supreme god of heaven, looked down upon his vast emptiness and said, "Let there arise a land." A volcanic rock then rose from the sea and upon this barren land sat a giant clam. Soon its belly began to swell and tremble, and it grew larger and larger, as if ready to give birth. Uchelianged saw this and said, "Let there be a strong running sea." So the wind began to blow and waves crashed around the clam, causing it to burst open. From it poured swarms of the first sea creatures to swim Palau. They in turn gave birth and the once empty seas were soon teaming with life, from the smallest seaworm to human forms. And with this one dramatic and spectacular beginning, Palau was born.

After the sea creatures were created some gods kept them as pets. One demigod who lived in the southern region, kept a school of mullet fish. Another demigod, who lived in the eastern region, kept the strong current of the sea for his pet. One day the two demigods decided to trade pets. This explains why today when the fish spawn, many mullet fish appear on the east coast and the strong currents and big waves often beat the southern shore.

The southwestern shore of the island of Angaur is where Palauans believe that the souls of their dead go to bathe before they pass on to the next world. One day, a man was walking near this scared place and discovered these spirits having a great feast. The startled spirits gave him a beautiful wooden bowl filled with food as a gift to the people of his village. But while the man was on his way home, the spirits took away the food and broke the wooden bowl so humans would not see how well the souls lived and would continue to prefer life to death.

Long ago, there was a man who was very angry with his wife. He was so angry that he sent her into the ocean on a raft. However, the gods had warned the woman about her husband's plan, and because of this she was prepared with supplies the gods told her she would need. Days later, when the woman had drifted far outside the reef, she scattered the ashes over the ocean as the gods had instructed. She then stuck the hibiscus branch into the bottom of the sea and covered it with the coconut shell. This created an island an the woman was saved. The island is now known as Kayangel, and the scared hibiscus tree still grows.



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