Easter Island Statue Project Official Website

School of the Pacific Islands in Republic of Belau (Palau)

Jo Anne Van Tilburg, Ph.D.

Most scholars and fieldworkers have reported that Belauans today have very little interest in the monolithic stone carvings and that, in the opinions of many islanders, foreigners surely must have carved them. The experience we had with the Belau Monolithic Sculpture Project in 1987, however, told us something quite different. We found that many Belauans had a profound interest in the carvings as a valued part of their cultural heritage. We were also convinced that some of the carvings were still valued as sacred objects in several of the more remote villages.

We discovered this, in part, because of the way in which we had structured the educational outreach portion of our archaeological field project. Our curriculum, authored largely by Marty Gonzalez, a professional classroom teacher in California with an advanced degree in anthropology and experience in the Pacific islands, was centered upon directed ethnographic research conducted by a team of Belauan highschool students. Twelve young people participated in the project as part of a summer program at the Belau National Museum, coordinated with the Belau Community Action Agency, the Division of Cultural Affairs and our granting agency, California-based School of the Pacific Islands. In the classroom, Marty taught the students global cultural history with special emphasis on Pacific cultures and ethnographic interview techniques. Then they were invited to become directly involved with our archaeological field survey.

The students participated fully in all of our work, mastering skills of mapping, field drawing, compass reading, and writing site reports. They slogged with us through the mud of roads under construction in northern Babeldaob, walked stone paths they had not previously known existed, carried field equipment, and kept detailed records and fieldnotes of their work. They were, individually and as a group, valuable crew members and enjoyable companions.

Their most important contribution was certainly in the realm of ethnography. They asked questions of everyone they met, and interviewed village elders with respect and sensitivity. They filled up pages and pages of notebooks with interesting tidbits of information, family gossip, love triangles, and fascinating village yarns. They learned much about themselves, their own strengths and weaknesses, the value of the memories of their elders, and the significance of their own culture history to outsiders. Our project was enriched by their efforts in many ways, not the least of which was their discovery of a long-forgotten and hidden stone sculpture in the village of Melekeok. Once found, they turned to and helped to excavate it with diligence. All in all, our field school for Belauan highschool students was rewarding on many levels. We regard it as a successful extension of our own fieldwork and community involvement on Easter Island (Rapa Nui). Our colleagues in Pacific archaeology may find it a good model for their own projects as well.

Want to Know More?

Van Tilburg, J. 1989. “The Klidm of Belau.” Tamuning, Guam: Guam and Micronesia Glimpses 3:45-50.

Jo Anne Van Tilburg, Ph.D. — Archaeologist; Director, UCLA Rock Art Archive, Cotsen Institute of Archaeology; Project Director, Easter Island Statue Project Conservation Initiative

Posted on May 3rd, 2009 by Jo Anne Van Tilburg, Ph.D. | Category: Comparative Studies |