The Death of Kelulau and Our Collapse

Bersoech ra Ngeaur from Rechuodel Vol. 1

I still remember those nights when my father, the late Adelbairekesoaol, would return home from protest-camping for days and nights at the rock islands with the other chiefs. Unknown to me at the time, this was my first exposure to the practice of nonviolence — the peace-building legacy of Gandhi practiced later on around the world by the likes of Martin Luther King Jr. I doubt Gandhi and the principles of nonviolent civil disobedience were on the minds of the chiefs as they slept humbly for nights on end at the ancient rock islands.

They were there because it was their duty to preserve and protect the land and sea. They were there, and probably still try today, because the sacred wisdom of Kelulau demands that they manage our limited natural resources. They were there because they have to make sure we survive as a people by not depleting our resources, driving ourselves into collapse. This is true. I know it’s true not because it’s taught in school or in my precious books; but because it’s passed on through the thread of lives lived and passed, the invisible kereel of multiple generations, the lived and told history of people surviving on isolated islands; that sacred wisdom is the wisdom of Kelulau.

Kelulau, the sacred whisper, is passed on carefully and subtly through years of unspoken words. Those nights I waited on our Nandeng porch for my father so that he can tell me about his rock island sit-in, what they were up against — that would be the KSPLA and the Koror State Government — and most importantly, what’s at stake if they were to lose their fight … those nights were my training of Kelulau. The sense of urgency, duty, and responsibility along with the unbearable thought of losing such precious, pure, and indescribable wonders to the profit-hungry beast that is greed, taught me silently as I sat and listened to my father.

Tonight I think about those very nights as if I’m there again. The smell of ocean salt on my dad’s clothes as he unpacks his things, the sound of night critters chirping on the background, the pain in my heart as I imagine losing the rock islands … I recall them so vividly as though I’m there. How sad that everything he said to me at the time are coming true. Today, divers are complaining on diving blogs about how unpleasant their experiences in Palau were. Crowded dive sites, reckless tourist behavior, and rowdiness with blatant disregard for marine life at the once magical Jellyfish Lake are just some of the things they rant about.

The rate we’re going as a country on our race to the bottom is outpacing nature by a hundredfold.

Tonight I sit here devastated that my son will never get to see, touch, smell, and taste those very wonders I grew up with. The rate we’re going as a country on our race to the bottom is outpacing nature by a hundredfold. We are losing our natural resources so fast that the spirits of Easter Island are watching us with envy as we drive ourselves into collapse way faster than they did. I’m sure of this. I’m sure because they used up all of their natural resources on their own; while we on the other hand, have enlisted the help of the Chinese by passing out low-priced packaged tours.

If they really really care, Chinese tourists would be consuming local goods and services from real local business owners instead of Chinese-affiliated businesses.

Our leaders don’t seem to care. Don’t let them say otherwise because if they really do care, bloggers would not be ranting to the world about how unpleasant Palau was for them. If they really do care, strict regulations and enforcement would already be in place and careless tourist operators would be out of business. If they really really care, Chinese tourists would be consuming local goods and services from real local business owners instead of Chinese-affiliated businesses. Now I understand how important businesses are to our economic health, but I understand human survival even more; and every cell in my brain tells me that we cannot survive as a people if we continue on this reckless path.

We are the death of Kelulau; for its sacredness and invaluable wisdom is wearing away with every dollar we make from exploiting our natural resources. Maybe I shouldn’t say “we” anymore when only a handful of people gain from this systemic injustice while the rest of us bear witness to our own collapse.