The Palau Funeral Home & Chapel and its owners, Lisa Borja-Tmetuchl and Uchel Tmetuchl, were accorded the Most Impactful Persons and/or Entity of 2022 Award from the Palau Media Council (PMC) on the 7th of January 2023.

The award recognizes and acknowledges the powerful impact the Palau Funeral Home & Chapel, the first of its kind in Palau, had on Palau’s society and culture in 2022.

“It’s a watershed moment, a moment in time where everything comes together and creates a significant impact,” explained Ongerung Kambes Kesolei, a senior journalist and vice President of Palau Media Council.

“Funeral is one of Palau’s most powerful customary practices.  It brings people, clans, and lineages together. It is also very structured, with certain people having specific roles and tasks in the funeral preparations.  Palau Funeral Home and Chapel changed that,” expressed Moses Uludong, veteran journalist and publisher of Tia Belau Newspaper.

“At the same time, it removed the burden of funeral preparations from families and relieved individuals from the stress related to financial contributions that often become competitive in Palau funerals,” added Uludong.

Assessing the effect, Palau Media Council (PMC) looked at how widespread the impact is on the community, what aspects of peoples’ life it changes, and how far-reaching into the future the impact is.

According to a report from Palau Community College, in 2022, Palau collected over $10 million from funeral contributions.  Palauan spends a significant amount of money on funerals and obligatory contributions.  The practice of announcing individual or clan contributions places stress on individuals to spend more than they have at the funerals.  Palau Funeral Home & Chapel prohibits announcing contributions on their premises.

“We want the focus to be on the deceased and the grieving family.  When announcements are going on, people are not grieving but paying attention to the announcements.  The prohibition of eating within the chapel is for the same reason.  When people start eating, they start talking and their focus changes.  We tell people if they want to eat, to do so outside.  That way, the family of the deceased can grieve in peace and give each other solace without the distraction,” explained Mrs. Lisa Borja-Tmetuchl.

The funeral is one event where families and clans can connect their relations and lineages and some people are upset that the announcements remove this opportunity for people to connect and trace lineages.

“The prohibition of belduchl announcementswas upsetting for some.  My own relatives have scolded me for it, but we believe in the principle of creating space and peace for the grieving family, and so we have tried our best to explain to those that do not agree with us,” said Uchel Tmetuchl.

“We can connect our relations and lineages through other means, other customary practices, not just funerals,” added Tmetuchl.

“One change that the funeral home has made is enabling the whole family, spouse, and children of the deceased to sit together inside and comfort each other.  Our traditional funeral would separate and keep the males outside, only allowing them in at viewing.  Husbands, sons and children, and siblings of the deceased can’t all be together to comfort each other, but here, at the funeral home, they can all sit together inside with their loved one and comfort each other,” added Lisa.

Palau’s traditional funeral process has rituals and taboos.  Mrs. Lisa Tmetuchl said they had to explain why certain things have to be done a certain way, and she said people become very accepting once they understand the reasons why.  For example, Palauans do not leave the body of their deceased relative alone until he/she is placed in the morgue.  “When we transfer the person from the hospital to the morgue, families want to be in the ambulance with the deceased, and some become upset when we stop them.  But after we explained the medical reasons and the liability issues, they would understand and accept it.”

Food preparations and exchanges of food, another important aspect of Palau’s funerals, are curtailed at the Palau Funeral Home and Chapel.  This reduces funeral expenses, but it also cuts into the important exchange process.

The focus, insisted Mrs. Tmetuchl, is on the grieving family and the deceased, which is the principal foundation of the Palau Funeral Home and Chapel.

The Palau Funeral Home & Chapel and the owners, Mrs. Lisa Borja-Tmetuchl and Uchel Tmetuchl impacted the entire community, both Palauans and residents, young and old, male or female, rich and poor, high or low clan.

They streamline the funeral process and, in doing so, reduces cost.  At the same time, they impact and change age-old traditions and customary practices involving funeral rites.

The increasing cost of funerals, increasing number of deaths, people working in formal jobs with limited free time, and lack of venues to hold funerals drive people to seek convenient and efficient services.  Palau Funeral Home & Chapel came at the right time to fit that bill.

It now marks a new era of change and evolution of Palauan culture and funeral traditions.

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