“Funerals remain one of the most important of all Palauan rituals. As in the past, this is the occasion for major gathering of the lineages and clans, organized primarily by the female elders. Transfers of food and wealth are made to settle the affairs of the deceased…” (By Jean E. Roy van Keulen, Winds of Fate, Micronesian Love Story)
Palau funerals in 2022 collected over ten million dollars ($10,104,595.00 USD), 6,197 turtle shell money, and 132 Palauan money. The amount of money collected in 2022 exceeded 2021 by $111,338. More Palauan money and turtle shell money were collected in 2021 than in 2022.
During a Palauan funeral, relatives of the deceased gather together to contribute money toward settling the affairs of the deceased, including paying for the funeral, children, wife and other related expenses. Funerals are announced nationwide and relatives, and related clans are called by names to come and help with funeral expenses.
“Monies from the US CARES Act through the Workforce Innovation & Opportunity Act (WIOA) contributed to the increase in the 2022 collections despite the COVID-19 pandemic,” explained Dr. Patrick Tellei, President of Palau Community College, which has been collecting the data from funerals for the last 12 years.
“That program injected $15 million into the economy,” added Dr. Tellei. WIOA, the United States federal program, administered the US CARES Act pandemic assistance program that provided funds to Palauan citizens who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 pandemic. Overall, that program brought in approximately $50 million from 2020 to 2022.
255 Palauans died in 2022, 53 of which passed away outside of the country, according to Dr. Patrick Tellei. That’s 202 Palauans that passed away in 2022 in the country. The highest number of recorded deaths in the country in one year, was in 2021 where 230 Palauans passed away.
According to Minister Gaafar Uherbelau of the Ministry of Health & Human Services, 2022 was the first year that number of deaths exceeded the number of births in Palau, although he did not reveal the specific numbers.
People continue to contribute a lot of money because they believe it is their responsibility, added Dr. Tellei, of the high amount of collections collected at funerals, despite the economic downturn.