The title of this book is taken from a traditional Palauan legend known as “The Escape From the Sea Serpent of Oikuul.”
The tale can be roughly narrated as follows:
A man from Ngiwal kidnapped a young woman of Oikuul village in Airai and forced her to marry him. The violent man had the power to change himself into a striped sea serpent at will. In time, two children were born of this forced coupling, a son and an owl-daughter. When the children reached maturity, the mother told them all about her abduction and unhappiness. The children despised their father from then on, and began to plot their escape to their mother’s village.
The son built a strong canoe and they paddled out to sea. As they neared Airai, the owl-daughter ﬂew ahead to Oikuul to announce their arrival. As the people waded out to meet the canoe they saw a striped sea serpent thrashing furiously, trying to overturn the craft. So they launched an attack and managed to slay the serpent. The children were free at last, and they were received with huge feast in the village, where they lived ever after.
This narrates a similar story: of disinheritance, a journey toward freedom, and a people’s struggle with a “serpent.”
The legacy of US trusteeship in Palau (and the rest of Micronesia), which has culminated in American insistence upon defining future relations in a Compact of Free Association is not unlike a forced marriage. And when Palauans sought to end the indignities of this colonial administration with a democratic experiment of their own, they discovered (like Guatemalans in 1954 and Chileans in 1972) how quickly their patron could turn into a vicious serpent.
In the coming weeks, Palauan Tattoo (Merirei Ongelungel’s art site) and Merirei Media Group will be introducing the “TL;DR” series– an informative art series about Palauan culture, history, government, and politics… So stayed tuned and be sure to follow Palauan Tattoo on Instagram if you haven’t already!