This video is called Diving in Palau, about the seas and wildlife around those islands.
Celebrating the life of Gabriela Ngirmang of Palau
Zohl de Ishtar
26 October 2007
Gabriela Ngirmang, Mirair of Palau, who was instrumental in giving the world its first nuclear-free constitution, passed away peacefully at 12.10am on October 10 (Palau time). Gabriela had been sick for some time.
Palau is a small nation south-west of Guam in the northern Pacific. As matrilineal Palau’s Mirair (leading woman for the eastern side of the state of Koror), Gabriela Ngirmang was the leader of Otil A Beluad (the Anchor of the Land) women’s organisation for the past 50 years. Eighty-four years old, she had been a central figure among the women elders of her nation, and an inspirational leader for social justice and anti-nuclear activists across the Pacific and globally.
Gabriela believed it was her responsibility to protect and advance the wellbeing of her people. She experienced and survived the Second World War and, because of this experience, she did not want Palauans to experience war again. Aware of the devastation inflicted upon the neighbouring Marshallese from the US nuclear test regime, she knew the dangers of all things nuclear. Her concern motivated her to lead her people to write a nuclear-free clause into their constitution as they moved to reclaim their nation’s independence from the United States.
In 1979, 92% of Palauan people voted for their nuclear-free constitution, which included a clause requiring 75% of voters to agree before nuclear weapons could be brought into Palau.
This was the first time a clause banning and/or restricting nuclear activities had been included in any nation’s constitution anywhere in the world. This achievement has not been repeated since.
Unfortunately, the US had different intentions for Palau. The Pentagon wanted one-third of Palau’s precious land and its deepwater harbour (one of the most beautiful in the world) for military purposes, including for the storage of nuclear weapons.
In the 15 years between 1979 and 1994, when Palau stopped being administered by the US (under a United Nations trusteeship) and became the Republic of Palau, the people were forced to vote 11 times to uphold their unique constitutional clause.
Each time a new plebiscite was announced, courageous women would travel between villages and islands to talk with communities to provide them with information so that they could make informed decisions about the Compact of Free Association (which defined the post-sovereignty relationship between Palau and the US) and the changes the US wanted made to their constitution. Women had played a major role in the constitution’s development and now they were struggling to ensure their people knew what was at stake if they rejected the protection of its nuclear-free clause. It was grassroots networking at its best, and at its hardest: women talked to women as they worked in their taro patches.
Standing up against immense pressure from the US government as well as increasing intimidation and corruption within Palau, Gabriela faced threats to her life and violence against herself and her family. …
Today the US retains control over Palau’s military and foreign affairs, and can take any land it wants with 60 days notice. The US has not yet activated this right, and will face another backlash of Palauan resistance should it attempt to do so. The Compact lasts for 50 years (until 2044), with the financial gains the Palauans were able to secure ceasing in 2010.
The Palauan struggle to protect their nuclear-free clause was a real-life case of David and Goliath, as one of the world’s smallest nations stood against the world’s biggest and most powerful. It inspired movements in the Solomons, Fiji and Aotearoa/New Zealand that successfully banned nuclear warships from entering their harbours.
Gabriela was at the centre of this growing resistance to the militarisation of the seas and the planned use of nuclear weapons. Embodying the values of peace and non-violence, she questioned the colonial, military and nuclear implications of US policy and its impact on Palauans. …
Gabriela’s contribution to world peace will be remembered. Her desire for her people, and for all people, to be nuclear-free will not pass with her. Her work continues to live on in others. As her daughter Cita Morei once said, “The fight against the Compact has been a painful struggle but the good news is that it did not kill the women’s spirit, our spirit. The spirit that resists the evilness of war, of nuclear weapons. The mustard seed for world peace that was planted in [Palau’s] nuclear-free constitution did not die.”
It was Gabriela who planted that mustard seed. It is left to the rest of us to nurture it, in her memory.