Indigenous Attempts to Protect the Environment: A Pacific Island Case

Joshua Epstein

DOI: 10.2190/EQYD-2DR6-29JK-3LHV


This article examines attempts by the inhabitants of a tiny and emerging, dependent country to safeguard their island environment, in the face of complex threats. It is based on anthropological fieldwork conducted in Palau; which is now a constitutional republic, and still part of the United States administered Trust Territory of the Pacific. Palauan conditions are introduced, including the Islands' interaction with a succession of foreign powers. Subsequent articles will analyze a number of roughly sequential, pivotal events in Palau's recent evolution. These start in 1975, with the controversy over whether to locate a "superport" for oil, in Palau. Treatment ends with the initial challenges to Palau's environmentally-protective government — this was in early 1981. The study spotlights the maturation of Palau's environment/development dilemma. Though it shares some Third, as well as Fourth world characteristics, this case of "national underdevelopment" is also distinctive. In fact, it lays bare dynamics that fuel a most worrisome aspect of "modernity;" the incremental, and building threat of irreparable damage to the environment, from uncontrolled economic and/or military activities.

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