Kuchang Kitang Ngara Kosiil

Ko er a char er a Kosiil

For today’s song I have more questions than answers.  I found this song on a recording made at the Bai er a Metal in 1978 of the electric band playing there.  The singer is probably Brisia Tangelbad, although I have not been able to confirm that.  I am giving it the title “Kucha Kitang Ngara Kosiil,” from the opening line of the song.  I haven’t found this song in any of the song books or on any tapes/CDs where it was given a published title.  Nor do I have any information on who the composer was or when it was composed.  I’ve asked around, but no luck.  Anybody have any information to share?

So let’s listen to this recording.

Kucha Kitang Ngara Kosiil, Bai er a Metal Band, 1978

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A Eanged a Ungil

A Eanged a Ungil
(illustration in the book of sheet music)

Today’s song is a bit of a change from the other modern Palauan music I’ve been writing about on this blog, and it adds some complexity to the narrative of the story of that music’s development.  As I’ve written elsewhere, Ymesei Ezekiel played a large role in the development of Palauan music in the 1950s through the 1970s.  His musical education role, both in the schools and in the protestant church, included making arrangements for, teaching and leading choral singing groups in Palau.  Today’ song — A Eanged a Ungil [the sky is good] — is a general place-celebratory song, describing the beauty of Palau when the rain has stopped, the sky has cleared and the moon has begun to rise.  So beautiful that it attracts the children (and birds) to leave their houses and come to the beach to play.   And a warning:  this song will get in your head and won’t leave!

The only recording of this song I have is from the recordings collected by the University of Hawaii music professor, Barbara Smith, who visited Palau in the fall of 1963.  During that trip she recorded singers and musicians but was also given recordings that had been previously made.  This recording was on a tape entitled “Other Dubbings Given to Barbara Smith, 1963,”  This track feature four-part choral singing.

A Eanged a Ungil, Unidentified Choral Group, 1963 or earlier

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Doki Doki

Doki, doki is a Japanese expression for the rapid beating of your heart, maybe like the English phrase “pitter patter.”  One internet commenter said about it’s meaning:  “That is usually a good thing and is usually when you are anticipating something wonderful about to happen.”  Another said “It’s an expression for ‘heart pounding’, the reason may be embarrassment, love, fear, etc.”  It’s a great onomatopoeia expression that describes, in the case of today’s song, the heart-pounding moment when two former lovers come face to face on the village path.  The awkward meeting on the path brings back memories of an earlier encounter, much in the past.  And perhaps she was the one that was wrong because they had their favorite places to go hang out and once she told him to go there and wait for her, but the whole night passed until the roosters were consistently crowing (and that is really late in the morning) without her showing up.  Since then he has followed his heart elsewhere and so, they step aside, say farewell, and continue on their way down the path.

I only have one recording of this song, from the 1987 Bai er a Metal recording, featuring Sikitong on guitar and vocals.

Doki Doki Sel Tal, Sikitong Beltau and the Bai er a Metal Band, 1978

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Adidil er Tial Buil

Growing up in Central Illinois, in the heartland of America, I was certainly aware of the moon, but it did not play an important part of my life, with perhaps the exception of July 1969 when we were all in the grips of the ultimate connection to the moon (a kot el klou adidil er tial buil), the first moon landing.  But while living in Micronesia for four years during my 20’s, I learned the connection of the moon to daily life as it relates to the tides and the lives of the fish, crabs, etc. that were our food sources.  Nearly everyone in Palau is aware of the current moon phase.  Beyond its connection to every-day life, the moon can be breath-takingly beautiful as well and it is no coincidence that the rising moon is the symbol on the flag of Palau.

Well, and also because Palauans were the first people to go to the moon.  Listen to this Ngerel Belau radio broadcast from August, 1969, telling the story of Tkud and his wife Remesei who, along with their ever-crying child and their favorite lime tree [kerekur], live on the moon:

Cheldecheduch era Tkud me a Remesei, Ngerel Belau – Palauan, August 1969

Cheldecheduch era Tkud me a Remesei, Ngerel Belau – English, August 1969

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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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