Gabriela Ngirmang – Palau

Linked with LA SUBSISTANCE ET LA POLITIQUE.

She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.

She says: “All I am trying to do is to make a little difference so that future generations may enjoy a beautiful and peaceful future, united with respect for one another and respect for the environment”.

She says also: “I came here because the women feel that our interests are not being satisfactorily protected, and out of concern for the Palauan citizens. The Compact is hundreds of pages long, it is written by lawyers, and the political education on the document is biased to support the political needs of the President of Palau. Despite much public relations and efforts to sell the Compact, we clearly understand that the implementation of the Compact gives the United States the right to conduct military operations on as much as one-third of our land – forever. We see that the Compact says military rights may end in 50 years if mutually agreed. This means, we understand, that if the United States wishes to continue its control of our land, it needs only say so and this will go on forever. This is unacceptable.”

Gabriela Ngirmang - Palau redim 50p.jpg

Gabriela Ngirmang – Palau

Whatever view you hold of Gabriela Ngirmang as a peace activist (unheard of in Palau) or a Mirair (traditional title), a matriarch of Ikelau clan, she has made a lasting impression.

Acclaimed as “valiant” in the Pacific Women’s Conference in Guam (1989) for her successful defense of Palau’s nuclear-free constitution, she features in a textbook for students of government as “a woman having political efficacy,” vital for democracy. Gabriela believes politics is important not just for the powerful few but for everyone. Yet she never claims to be, or to have done, anything extraordinary.

Whatever views one may have of Gabriela Ngirmang as a peace activist (which is unheard of in Palau/Belau) or as Mirair (traditional title), a matriarch in her clan of Ikelau, she has made a lasting impression. She was acclaimed in 1989 in the Pacific Women’s Conference in Guam as a valiant woman because of her leading role in defense of Palau’s Nuclear Free Constitution under the country’s Compact of Free Association with the USA. She is featured in the Palau government textbook for students of government as “a woman having political efficacy”, political efficacy being vital for democracy. Government by the people depends on people like Gabriela who believe politics is important – not just for the powerful few but for everyone. Yet, she herself never claims to be, or to have done, anything extraordinary.

Gabriela worked extensively on many levels to keep her island land and waters nuclear free. She traveled to Washington DC to appear before the US Senate Energy Committee headed by Senator Bennett Johnson. She told him: “I came here because the women feel that our interests are not being satisfactorily protected, and out of concern for the Palauan citizens. The Compact is hundreds of pages long, it is written by lawyers, and the political education on the document is biased to support the political needs of the President of Palau. Despite much public relations and efforts to sell the Compact, we clearly understand that the implementation of the Compact gives the United States the right to conduct military operations on as much as one-third of our land – forever. We see that the Compact says military rights may end in 50 years if mutually agreed. This means, we understand, that if the United States wishes to continue its control of our land, it needs only say so and this will go on forever. This is unacceptable.”
Gabriela talks about the lead up to that meeting: “A representative of the United States Department of State visited me in my home in Palau when he gave me Senator Johnson’s invitation. One of the questions he asked me was why I did not like the Compact. I told him 50 years was too long and there is no provision for adequate funding for all that time. Then he asked the question, ‘Do you want the years reduced and the money reduced, too?’ Then he asked another question, ‘Do you not want the United States to protect you? To provide security? Are you not interested in the United States protecting you from another country, such as the Philippines coming in to attack you?’
I told him during the Second World War we experienced bombings and attacks on our islands. But the attacks were not against the Palauans. The attacks were against the Japanese who had a military presence on our islands. So you can be sure that the presence of the American military bases would invite attacks of other countries, not at the Palauans, but at the Americans. I found that the State Department official approached this only from the concern of money, asserting to me repeatedly that if we get fewer years, we would get less money. This is not the issue. We do not need the money. I have been assured repeatedly that the United States has no present intention of exercising its rights to use our land for military purposes. I am not reassured. We do not seek options on US land. And we assume that if you seek options on Palauan land, then you at some point intend to use them.”

Along with her translator, Ms. Isabella Sumang, Gabriela and women elders petitioned the UN Trusteeship Council to look into the injustices to the Palauan people should the Compact be approved without change in favor of Palauans. They networked with peace activists around the world and got support and solidarity from the World Council of Churches, various women’s groups, and the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York. Palauans voted eight times for the Compact of Free Association.
Asked why she got involved in these issues, Gabriela replies that her traditional position as Mirai, caretaker of culture, means she has to take care of people and safeguard Palauan culture. “If anyone comes hungry, I have to feed them, with what little I have. My fear for my own life was less than my hope and dreams for the people of Palau. I wanted the people of Palau to keep thinking as Palauans and not be enticed with goods and dollars of foreigners.”

What has been most difficult in her experience is in dealing with the voting system in the present government. The newly introduced voting system threatens the fabric of Palauan society. It has disturbed the fabric of leadership by transferring power to those who otherwise did not have the capacity to rule. Asked how her experience could be imparted to future generations, Gabriela feels that schools should teach children about war – the devastating effects of World War II on the islands.

Talking to Gabriela about her achievements she says, “I have done nothing. All I am trying to do is to make a little difference so that future generations may not experience the war like I did, that they may enjoy a beautiful and peaceful future, united with respect for one another and respect for the environment. Unity brings harmony. Harmony brings the balance that is inherent in Palau’s traditional system of values and beliefs. I always have hope because I believe that God will not abandon us; only when we abandon God do we feel hopeless. It is important to always have faith. Faith in God will sustain one in working for social justice and other social action work.” (Read all on 1000peacewomen).

links:

okedyulabeluu;

WEBfish pacific;

law.uc.edu;

making headway;

Speaking to Power: Gender and Politics in the Western Pacific, by Lynn B. Wilson;

Read: Daughters of the Pacific (Paperback), by Zohl de Ishtar, on amazon.

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