A Blid er a Mesechesechel Ngedeloch

Today’s song was composed by a man named Simang in 1935 [1].  I  was told by Suki Rengchol that Simang was Baul Dakubong’s father.  Simang is also listed in Tutii’s songbook [1] as the composer of the song Bechesiil a Ulumulak re Ngak [sweetheart, you lied to me] and the entry says “Aimeli” … (the rest of the name was cut off on the copy) after his name.  That was probably “Aimeliik,” where Baul is from.  I don’t have a recording of that other song, but would love to find it.

This is one of only a few songs in the Palauan songbook whose lyrics ponder the subject of the impending or recent death of a loved one.  Ribang seems to me to be about death that is in the future.  Compare that to Meringel a Rengul, that is about the impacts of a death in the recent past.

The oldest recording of this song (Ribang) I have is from the Ngerel Belau Radio Tapes with Wataru Elbelau singing.  The song was titled “Di Ua Blok Bad” and it starts on what is considered to be the second verse.

Di Ua Blok Bad, Wataru Elbelau, 1960s

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Mechas Momes

I received a message this week from an elementary school teacher whose 2nd grade class is studying Palau and is interested in a song that conveys the essence of Palauan music. Wow, that is asking a lot. But after thinking about it for a few days, and deciding that songs about extra-marital affairs are probably inappropriate for 2nd graders, I thought that one song that everyone knows and teaches their kids would be appropriate: Mechas Momes [Old woman, look at me]. This is a song to be sung while dancing, complete with hand motions and body contortions.  I wish I had a video to demonstrate the accompanying dance, but haven’t come up with anything.

This song is very old, but I don’t have any information about who composed it or how old it is.  It doesn’t show up in any of the song books I have.  I learned it in 1980 during my Peace Corps training.  I only have a single recording of this, done by Beverly and Yosko on their 1996 tape of childrens’ songs entitled “Biib me rengalek.”

Mechas Momes, Beverly and Yosko, 1996

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Yumeni Kienai

malta ke mo metik er a klungoliolem e dimlak mosiur er a nasake ni hutari

Today’s song — Yumeni Kienai [remaining in my dreams] — is another song of love lost, this time because one or both of their families did not approve of the relationship.  But in this song, as in many others like it, the singer does not want to let go and she dreams of reuniting with her lover in the future.    But her lover made things difficult as he didn’t accept the decision of the elders and incited others to support their quest to be a couple.  He fed the fire (ng ulsiu a ngau) of the controversy.  That led to major conflict in their houses, their village and, in fact, all of Palau, and the singer says “hey, chill out and wait until peace returns so that we can get together in the future without causing another major crisis.”

There are several reasons why the families might not approve of a couple getting together.  The anthropologist H.G. Barnett related a story he was told by a rubak named Ngiraoik, probably in the late 1940s [5]:

In former times, Ngiraoik said, important families kept a much closer watch on their children than they do now.  All young people had love affairs that were carried on in secrecy, just as now; but parents were not blind and if they were members of a ranking family they put a stop to an undesirable affair at once.

Here Ngiraoik told a story which is known all over Palau and which is said to be true.  It tells of a love affair between a young man of high rank and a girl from a low-class family.  This was bad enough, but what made the match impossible was the fact that they were third cousins.  In the beginning they did not know this, nor did their parents, for they belonged to different clans that came from different parts of the island.  The great-grandfather of the boy was a brother of the great-grandmother of the girl, which made their children necessarily of different clans, since everyone belongs to the clan of his or her mother and must marry outside it.  It just happened that in this case the love-struck pair were related to their sibling great-grandparents through males only, and over the generations this connection had been forgotten.  This is the more understandable in that the boy’s line had consistently married up the social scale while the girl’s immediate forebears married down.  When all this came to light the couple was forbidden to see each other again.  They refused to submit and continued to meet secretly.  Finally one night they loaded a canoe with food and other goods and set sail for the south, never to be heard of again.

That is a story that must have been put to music at some point, so perhaps someone can identify the song for me.  But the story does convey the tension between love on the one hand and family obligations (to marry up the social ladder) on the other.  And that tension is definitely evident in Yumeni Kienai.

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Kaeri er a Todaiyama


Today’s song — Kaeri er a Todaiyama [return to the lighthouse]– celebrates the memory of first love found on the mountain in Ollei, Ngerchelong on which sits Todaiyama, the old Japanese lighthouse and communications center.  I read  on a travel site that the Todaiyama was completed by the Japanese in 1936.  Today there sits a wreckage, the remnants of the battles fought there in World War II.  But in 1941, when this song was supposedly written by Rechucher Kaske [1] [2], it must have been a pretty cool place to hang out.  Assuming that you made friends with the Japanese that worked there.  The singer finds his true love through their tryst, but his lover apparently moves on.

I was under the impression that Rechucher Kaske, who was also the composer of Arumi no Singoto (aka Kebruka), was from Ngardmau.  So why would he be writing about Todaiyama, in Ollei?  Maybe he hung out there with his Ollei buddies from the Ngardmau bauxite mines during his time off.

This song, of course, should not be confused with another song called Todaiyama, that one composed by the Ollei composer Kodep Kloulechad in 1952 and performed by Brisia Tangelbad on her tape “Toluk el Bad.”  I’ll save that song for another day.

Here is Soul Johanes singing Kaeri er a Todaiyama on his 1995 tape “Aloha.”  Soul gives it the name “Todayama” (with that spelling) on his tape.  This was recorded at Abbey Road Studio in Manila, Philippines.  The musicians were Joey Villamor on keyboard, Caloy Colayco on Guitar.  On the tape cover, it says “Special thanks to Jason Uehana and Fulg Haruo for composing these beautiful Palauan Song.”  That would contradict the composition credit given to Rechucher Kaske in the songbooks [1], [2].  I contacted Saul who said “I know it wasn’t written by Jason or Fulg.  Definitely an older song written before our time.”

Todayama, Soul Johanes, 1995
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Today’s song comes from 1935, during the Japanese period, and celebrates the memory of gorging on doughnuts. I am guessing that the song title — Komorisang — refers to the love object for the singer, a person whose name was probably Komori-san. Perhaps Komori was the source of the doughnuts that everyone ate up while they hung out at the dock at Mengeremong. It is kind of a silly song. My take on this is that the singer sneaks out at night where Komori-San is waiting, perhaps expecting some “mengurs a ngurd.” But she sees the donuts and is more interested in food than in Komori-san. A love story for food.

Doughnuts must have been a special treat in Palau of the 1930s.  Mechas Iwesei Rengechel recalled her childhood days during Japanese time [1, Story 47] and recalled that:

After school finished, I sometimes visited Nanbo (South Seas Trading Company) on my way home and saw my father working there. He gave me some money and I bought aberabang (oil bread), shaved ice with sweetened syrup, ice cream or karinto (fried dough cookies). I ate them on my way home.

Donats sesei de kung a koliang

Karinto is a classic Japanese snack made from flour, yeast and brown sugar and deep fried, kind of hot-dog shaped. Others remember Okinawan doughnut balls. Mechas Barbara Telams worked at the Watanabe bakery in 1941 and her job was to make dough into balls [1, Story 30], presumably for doughnuts. Mechas Ochob Giraked recalled that during that period [1, Story 36]: “It was fun to go to a store with my friends and buy sweets. We could buy two donut balls for 5 sen from an Okinawan store.” Rubak Techitong Rebuluud recalled [1, Story 45] that when he had reached third grade, he started to work after school at the houses of Japanese officials, earning 1 yen 50 sen a month: “At that time you could buy a shirt and pants for less than 1 yen. We could buy an ice cake or donut ball with the change.” Mechas Ngerair Kozue Rechelulk recalled [1, Story 48] similar prices: “We could buy two pieces of twisted donut for 5 sen.” Mechas Paulina Towai recalled [1, Story 56] that “there was a Japanese store in Ngerbeched and they sold coffee, beer, rice, shaved ice with strawberry syrup, tama (donut balls) and other sweets.”

The doughnuts that the elders remembered might have been Sata Andagi, Okinawan-style doughnuts, pictured above. There is a fascinating story about these doughnuts being used by a mother to secretly hide gold coins for her soon-to-be exiled son because the king and her son were in love with the same woman, and that story leads to their alternate name for these doughnuts: koban age [fried gold coin].

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Aluminum Work is Fun

Kebruka Tracks in Ngardmau

If you hike to the Taki waterfall in Ngardmau, and look around at the hills, you will see scars of red dirt that are remains/reminders of the bauxite (chidudes) mining that occurred in Ngardmau from 1940 to 1944.  Bauxite is the raw material that goes into making aluminum and it was mined by a Japanese company using the labor of Palauans, Okinawans, Koreans and other Micronesians.  As you hike down the trail you’ll come across the remains of the cable-car [kebruka] railroad that was used to transport the bauxite from the hills where it was mined to the processing facility and then to the dock.  And when you see those tracks, you might start singing to yourself (or your friends) that classic song of Ngardmau, Arumi no Singoto [Aluminum Work], also known as “Kebruka.”

The song was composed by Rechucher Kaske [1], [2], [3], [4], probably in the early 1940s.  The earliest version of the song I have found was recorded by Lisa Sandei on the tape “Mai Tai” that she and Halley Eriich put out in 1992.  This recording has a bit of a glam-rock sound to it, and I can picture a “flying-V” electric guitar playing the lead.  The musicians are not listed on the liner notes, but the recording was made in the Philippines.

Arumi no Singoto, Lisa Sandei, 1992

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Sera Dekot el Tibir el kmo

The Hinode Band from Ngermid included Evasio Marino and Ymesei Ezekiel

When we first fall in love, we cannot imagine a future without our lover and we might say that only death will end our love.  But too often, that initial infatuation fades away, and the love does not survive the harsh light of daily life.  That fading away is most cruel when it happens to only one of the lovers.  That can lead the other lover, the one not willing or able to release their heart, into a downward spiral of depression.  That is the subject of today’s song:  Sera dekot el tibir el kmo (kodall a ulebengelel) [When we first planned that death would be its end].  Kind of a long title, and so it is sometimes named “Tibir el kmo” [planned that] or “Sera Dekot” [When we first].  This song was composed by either Evasio Marino [4] or Ymesei Ezekiel [1], probably in the late 1950s or early 1960s.

Here is Evasio Marino singing with the Hinode band in the mid 1960s.  The backup musicians include a mandolin, guitar and someone playing rhythm.

Sera Dekot el Tibir el Kmo, Evasio Marino & Hinode Band, 1960s

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