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Regional News

Melisa David Somorang and the beauty of Sonsorol

PALAU’S Sonsorol island, also called Dongosaro or Dongosaru, is encircled by a coral reef extending off shore, and is located 1.6 km south of Fanna Island.

The village of Dongosaro, which is the capital of the state, is located on the west coast. The island is thick with coconut palms and other trees, and its inhabitants speak Sonsorolese, a local Trukic language, and Palauan.

Melisa D. Somorang

Melisa D. Somorang, a native of Sonsorol, said the island remains pristine and beautiful with a rich cultural environment and traditions that many feel should be preserved.

One of Palau’s 16 states, Sonsorol was probably the first of its islands visited by a European — the Jesuit Francisco Padilla in 1710.

But since then, it seems that not a lot has changed in Sonsorol.

Growing up there, Melisa remembers everyone cooking and eating together and sharing equally what was available with all community members. She said Christmas was always the most joyful time of the year because everyone shared presents dropped by a U.S. military plane. Besides traditional food, she also enjoyed the traditional dances performed by islanders of all ages.

Swimming was a fun daytime activity, Melisa said, and Sonsorolese were attentive to their traditions. Elders taught the young how to make coconut oil or tuba, flower braid and turtle shell jewelry as well as the meaning of tattoo designs.

Melisa said Sonsorol has a distinctive way of tattooing women and men. “Tattoos were decorated on different parts of the body for women and for men according to each family’s tribal lineage. However, today, chiefdom and tribe connections have evolved to include all members of the community. The traditional lineage division has dissolved.”

Melisa has been residing on Saipan for many years now, but she still believes that Sonsorol must remain what it has always been: the island of natural beauty, sacred dances, delicacies, tattoos and other traditions.