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Pelew Islands

PELEW ISLANDS (Ger. Palauinseln, also Palao), a group of twenty-six islands in the western Pacific Ocean, between 2 35' and 9 N., and 130 4' and 134 40' E., belonging to Germany. They lie within a coral barrier reef, and in the south the islands are of coral, but in the north of volcanic rocks. They are well wooded, the climate is healthy, and the water-supply good. A few rats and bats represent the indigenous mammals, but the sea is rich in fish and molluscs; and Dr Otto Finsch (Journ. des Museum Godefroy, 1875) enumerated 56 species of birds, of which 12 are peculiar to the group. The total area is 175 sq. m., the largest islands being Babeltop (Babelthuap, Baobeltaob and other variants), Uruktapi (Urukthopel), Korror, Nyaur, Peleliu and Eilmalk (Irakong). The population is about 3100. The natives are Micronesians, and are darker and shorter than their kinsmen, the Caroline Islanders. They usually have the frizzly hair of the Melanesians, and paint their bodies in brilliant colours, especially yellow. The men vary in height from 5 ft. to 5 ft. 5 in., the women from 4 ft. 9 to 5 ft. 2 in. The skull shows a strong tendency to brachycephalism. Two curious customs may be noted the institution of an honourable order bestowed by the king, called klilt; and a species of mutual aid society, sometimes confined to women, and possessing considerable political influence. There are five kinds of currency in the islands, consisting of beads of glass and enamel, to which a supernatural origin is ascribed.

The islands were sighted in 1543 by Ruy Lopez de Villalobos, who named them the Arrecifos. The origin of the name Islas Palaos is doubtful. The islands were bought by Germany from Spain in 1899, and are administered together with the western Carolines, Yap being the administrative centre.

See K. Semper, Die Palau-Inseln (Leipzig, 1873); J. S. Kubary, Die sozialen Einrichtungen der Palauer (Berlin, 1885) ; A. A. Marche, et Palouan (Paris, 1887).

Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)

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