Ymesei Ezekiel was at the top of his song-writing game in the late 1950s, a period in which he seemed to crank out song after song.  Today’s song — Orekuul — get’s its title from the name of the place where the men would practice and perform the ruk dance, an ancient dance style whose source is said to be the god Uchelchelid.  Ymesei composed this song [1], [2] in 1958 [1].

Since only men dance the ruk, and the singer of this song is anticipating going to the orekuul to watch the ruk and see the one who captured her heart, I infer that the song is from the perspective of a woman.  She is excited about the prospect of seeing him, to remind him of how good things had been between them, and she hopes that they can work out a plan to continue and complete her love.  But, because he is a man with no compassion, she leaves confused and broken-hearted.  She is willing to be subservient to him (di okikiuellem – just walk behind you) if only he would confront the problems they face, but he wants to sweep them under the rug, to keep them hidden as a private affair.

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Bechesiil Le Ngak

Bechesiil Le Ngak [Sweetheart, because it was me], composed by Ymesei Ezekiel [1], [2] most likely in 1958 [2], is another “hurt and inert” love song, where the singer expresses her sorrow over following her former lover, both literally (ulekiuellem — walking behind him) and figuratively (ak lilemolem a soam), only to be left abandoned and confused.  The singer expected that in return for following her lover, he would remain faithful to her.  Instead, he continued doing what he wanted.  Although it is not clear if their relationship is over, she tells him to take care of her heart because, after all, they live in the same village and a nasty breakup will be uncomfortable for both of them.

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Yuyake Koyaked

Dictaphone Cylinder Recorder [1]

Among the oldest recordings of “modern” Palauan music (beches el chelitakl, distinct from older, chant-type songs) that I have found are the recordings that the Japanese anthropologist Iwakichi Muranushi made in 1936 while he took part in what was known as the Micronesian Expedition [1].  Apparently as an after-thought, the expedition equipment included a Dictaphone recorder and blank wax cylinders, which were used for recording the music of the islands they visited on their trip.  During the expedition, 44 cylinders were recorded containing 265 songs, including 180 songs from Palau.  The cylinders were sent to the Bishop Museum (Hawaii) in 1936 where they remained in storage until 1981 when restoration work on the recordings began.

Of the 180 Palauan songs that were recorded, 36 were released in the “Call of the Morning Bird” collection.  I’ve yet to find out what happened to the other 144 recordings.  Maria Ikelau Otto, a Palauan, worked with the team documenting this collection to transcribe and translate the Palauan songs in the collection.

As I have written previously, modern Palauan music came out of a cross-cultural exchange resulting from the many people working and living together in the Angaur phosphate mines.  This collection is incredibly important as it establishes a time-line for the songs composed in the first 20 years of the existence of this new musical form.

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Adidil eng Uoi Meringel

Today’s song — Adidil eng Uoi Meringel [Remembering and It Was Rather Painful] — also goes by the name “Kuureng e Matsidosi” [Longing to Meet with You] expresses the pain of a woman whose husband has wandered off to sleep with a former lover while she is left to take care of their children, who miss their father.

The oldest recording of this song I have found is from Keizy Shiro’s YouTube site [3].  The majority of the comments on that site agree that the singer is Julie Tatengelel Aichi.  This is likely from the late 1970s or the early 1980s.  It doesn’t get any better than this!

Adidil eng Uoi Meringel, Julie Tatengelel, early 1980s

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Olik (fruit bat) waiting to be someone’s dinner

Today’s song comes from Ngerbeched in Koror and celebrates the special place (kingelled) for two lovers.  If you listen closely to the words, the singer is very specific about the location of their place:  across the road at the foot of the tree where the fruit bats would feed.  The title of the song (Desekel) comes from the name of the land where their special place was located.  Evans [1] describes the location of Desekel:

“In the west of the northern part of the stone path, only a few steps from the saddle of the nose, lies a 5 meter high hill on the grassland, it is called Bukl ra Desekel. It is said that it was built for Riobch, rubak from Desekel who lived on top of it. In former times Desekel, also called Nglailked, was mostly situated west of today’s Ngerbeched and must have been rather important, because it had taoch Ngaramesekiu in the south and on the northern coast taoch Ngurubul. Otherwise nothing more is known about this place.”

A climb of 5 meters is not very high, so these guys must have been out of shape if they were out of breath climbing that hill!  Today’s tourist in Koror knows this name because of the West Plaza Hotel Desekel, located just off the main road in Koror.

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Ai Se Sils el Kebesengei

There are many aspects I love about making music, but some of the best moments I’ve experienced have been when playing with a group of people and everyone locks into a groove, at a pace that is fast enough that leaves you balancing on the edge of disaster, yet the music holds together and propels you forward.  Exhilarating!  I’m not much of a dancer, but my friends who are have related to me a similar feeling:  you lock into a groove with your partner or partners, the timing of the hand-offs is perfect, and it is like you are floating in the air.  In today’s song, our lovers experience that floating feeling while they dance and use the Palauan word kekellael  (from mengellael, meaning to float or hang in the air) to describe it.  The word is also used to describe the outrigger of a sailing canoe hanging in the air in a perfect balance as the canoe speeds along, heeling to one side.

Men on a Palauan Sailing Canoe as depicted on a storyboard [1]

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Kid a Chad era Beluu

I count at least six Palauan songs whose lyrics contain the phrase “kid a chad er a beluu” [we are people of the village], usually as an argument made by the singer as to why the object of his affection should decide to stay with him or, at a minimum, go easy on his heart as she leaves.  What is implied, but not directly stated, is that they are people of the same village.  It struck me as a curious turn of phrase and I asked a friend what she thought it meant.  She replied that as people of the same village, the couple would have duties and obligations they needed to perform that would require them to interact in the future, and a nasty breakup would make it difficult for them to fulfill those duties.  So go easy!

Captain Wilson’s View of the Beluu in 1783 [4]

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