The Palau Visitors Authority (PVA) collaborated with the Ngarchelong State in the launching of the now improved World War 2 relic site, the Todai which is Japanese word for lighthouse, on July 26 as part of its initiative to provide evening activities for tourists visiting Palau.
Rehabilitation of the historical site is quite evident during the tour – the place is now more vibrant with the paintings on some structures that depict cultural symbols and figures and pathways are now well-paved and lit with torches installed along the walkways.
Through the tour, visitors can enjoy a beautiful sunset view from atop the site and at the same time, learn about its history and significance in the Japanese military strategy during their occupation of Palau in World War 2. The PVA is considering opening a dinner tour in the site so that visitors, aside from enjoying the place, would also enjoy cultural performances and traditional food during night time.
The site had always been open to visitors but it was launched on July 26, 2019 as part of the PVA’s Alii Pass Program, formerly called One-Stop Shop, an initiative intended to diversify tourist experience in Palau.
Tour guide Snyder Skang offered a bit of a clarification about the reference to the historical site. He clarified that although the site is commonly called Todai, the name of the small hill where the World War 2 site sits is Eleos. Prior to World War 2, Skang said that the hill, being the highest peak in Ngarchelong State, was used by locals to send smoke signals in times of emergencies. During the Japanese occupation, the Japanese soldiers then built the lighthouse on the hill through the locals’ labor.
Skang, who is a resident in the area, said that based on accounts he heard from World War 2 survivors, the locals toiled for the construction of the Japanese lighthouse for a very low pay of 80 cents a day. A day’s work was equivalent to 10 trips to the hill where locals would be carrying heavy materials like cement, sand, pieces of furniture, etc. What was even worst was that the locals did all the job without the aid of any machine or equipment. All the work was purely manual labor.
Aside from the lighthouse, a Japanese commander’s living quarter was also built in the area. It was the only place in Palau during the war that had an electricity and running water, hence becoming a place for meetings and gatherings of the locals who befriended the Japanese commander.
Now, the place has a become a rubble with a few surviving structures with bomb craters and served as reminders of the horrors of war.
Skang said that when Americans attacked the Japanese forces in Palau, the lighthouse was among the first places they bombarded but he said that no local was killed during that attack as they were already asked to evacuate the area a week prior.
Skang added that after the war, some locals used the area as hangout place since the breeze there was good. Others, devoid of the sense of its historical value, also took some materials from the site which they deemed useful.
“The previous generation did not have an idea of preserving this piece of history. Our ancestors did not know. They took materials from the site that they find useful,” Skang said.
“Now, we’re rebuilding it, trying to show our history,” Skang explained. (Rhealyn C. Pojas)