A peek into Palau’s past

The sun was blazing hot and burning into our skins and we were all panting. We were approaching the fifth and final historical site in the State of Ngaraard in Babeldaob. Perspiration drenched our bodies when we finally reached the the remains of a traditional village that might have existed about 800 or 900 years ago.

Still reeling from a hangover, I had to drag heavy feet and was always at the rear of the group. There were eight of us, including two archaeologists, staff from the Historical Preservation Office (HPO) and a couple of Palauans who were well versed with the oral history of the countryside. The silence of the jungle was broken only by our heavy breathing and an occasional grunt when somebody’s foot got tangled in the roots of the trees. I was getting tired, my body unprepared for the long walk we had as I was thinking we will be covering only one historical site. But Rita, our Palauan archaeologist decided to cover the five registered sites in the State.

I had been battling the urge to drink water for almost three hours, not wanting to drink for fear I might be needing to empty my kidneys and I know it would be hard to do it just about anywhere in the jungle.
We were following a stone pathway about one meter wide that our American archaeologist companion said, are coral stones. It means that the former residents of the place must have been very strong and skillful to be able to drag the huge slabs of stones and cut them to form pavements and stairs. And to think that there were no backhoes or bulldozers or electric saws then!
The stone pathway snaked its way into several directions, and here and there we could see stone platforms where the village Bai (a meeting house) must have stood. We traced another stone pathway heading towards a dsried up pool which could have served as a bathing area and saw several broken urns and bowls- remnants of what could have been used as a container for drinking water.

I could just imagine that the hundreds of years ago, the place we were treading was populated with early inhabitants and bustling with day to day activities. I saw several burial places and felt a shiver of chill ran up my spine thinking that underneath us were the remains of long-ago Palauans.

An interview with an archaeologist from the HPO previous week led me into this expedition into the jungles of Babeldaob, where only a few feet have trod in the recent past. I am not much of a history fanatic. I passed all my history subjects with barely passing grades. I mean I found reading novels and short stories much more interesting than digging into what transpired thousands of years ago and memorizing dates and numbers but I have committed myself to write something about the remains and I had to do it.

I was silent on the trip back to Koror, my hangover completely gone. I was thinking way ahead into the future- probably thousands of years later, when archaeologists and reporters and HPO staff would trod on the very place we were living in and say to themselves- “this used to be a bustling city, and thousands of people lived here, based on the relics and pieces of things they left…….” while we might be lying beneath the remnants and never hear what they are saying…..uh-uh. Next week I’ll be visiting old graveyards and stone monoliths in Ngarchelong State.

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