In researching the origins of modern Palauan music and dance, Jim Geselbracht has assembled many perspectives on the phosphate mine at Angaur, which seems to have served as a crucible where Pacific Islanders from Micronesia, Okinawa, Taiwan, and other parts of the Japanese Empire came together and learned from each other during their few precious leisure hours.
As I discussed in an earlier post, foreign workers who were brought to Palau to mine phosphate brought with them their music and dance, which in turn had a significant influence on the development of modern Palauan music. This, I believe, was the “big bang” event in Palauan music, where it changed from chants with lyrics that were handed down from the gods (chelid) to modern, composed music (beches el chelitakl). Let’s first explore the history of the mining operation in Angaur.
According to a USGS report :
Mining of phosphate on Angaur begin in 1909 during German administration of the island and continued from 1914 to 1944 under Japanese administration. Mechanized methods were introduced just before the start of World War II. From June 1946 to June 1947 mining was carried out by an American contractor under the control of the US Navy. Mining was resumed on June 30, 1949, by a Japanese company, the Phosphate Mining Co., Ltd. (Rinko Kaihatsu Kaisha).
The labor for the mining operation consisted of Palauan, Carolinian, Chamorran, Filipino and Chinese workers. In a book on Micronesian development , David Hanlon describes the “troubled history” of phosphate mining on Angaur. I’ve extracted a portion that describes the labor force used to mine the phosphate:
Begun in February 1909, the mining of phosphate and the environmental havoc it wreaked had quickly turned Angaur into the “hottest place in the Pacific.” The construction of a railroad, drying plant, sawmill, loading dock, warehouses, thirty-two European residences and eleven workers’ dormitories further blighted a landscape already ravaged by the open-pit technique used to extract phosphate. German overseers and mechanics drank excessively, fought each other, and openly defied their company supervisors. The abuse of Carolinian and Chinese laborers brought to mine the island’s phosphate included low wages, frequent payment in the form of near worthless coupons rather than currency, forced purchases with these devalued coupons of overpriced goods in the mining company’s store, physical punishment and extended working hours. By 1911, the situation had deteriorated so badly that German colonial officials elsewhere in the Carolines were refusing to assist in the recruitment of islander labor for Angaur.
Fr. Francis Hezel extends the story in his book Strangers in Their Own Land :
As the German Phosphate Company made preparations to begin mining operations, the island population of 150 … were moved to a small reservation in the southeast corner of the island. At first company officials intended to rely on Chinese labor for the Angaur mines, and they brought in eighty workers from Hong Kong. The Chinese proved as troublesome to the German overseers on Angaur as they were on Nauru. Dissatisfied with their working conditions and benefits, and insulted by the floggings they received, they killed a German employee and called a general strike during the first year of operations. To provide “more complaisant material for the company than the Chinese”, the German government began recruiting Carolinians. With the assistance of chiefs from Yap and its outer islands, a hundred men were sent to Angaur on a one-year labor contract; a second recruiting voyage produced another two hundred laborers, eighty of them from Palau and the rest from Yap.
Fr. Hezel continues:
In the evenings, during their few hours of leisure, they often entertained themselves by singing and dancing, thus passing on the stick dances, German marching dances and other stylized art forms that have come to be widespread in Micronesia today.
These dances are what are known as matamatong in Palau today. By 1911, the initial 300 Carolinian laborers had doubled in size :
the island now contained a polycultural community of 600: a few dozen Germans, … Chinese, some Chamorros and Filipinos, and the five hundred Carolinians from various islands who worked there.
During Japanese time, the mining labor importation practices continued. According to Hanlon :
Japan’s later civilian colonial government assumed supervision of all phosphate mining on Angaur in 1927 and relied upon labor from the Marianas, Palau, Chuuk and Yap. These island laborers were recruited by village chiefs or headmen who received a small bonus or fee as compensation for the loss of manpower from traditional activities. Most of these laborers were drafted against their will for a year of “totally exhausting work.”
Hezel  describes the mix of workers on Angaur during Japanese times as a continuation of German times:
the 350 islanders at work in the mines … generally served year-long contracts and lived under slightly improved conditions … The mines had always drawn heavily on Yapese, who had the reputation of being the hardest workers in the territory, but their numbers fell off from 200 to 50 during the 1920s because of the serious population decline on the island. Chuukese were called on to provide a proportionately larger share of the labor force, at first under threat of imprisonment, but in time half-voluntarily as the allure of a salary grew among the people.
Virginia Luka describes the impact of the phophate-mining workers in Angaur in a paper written at the Southern Oregon University . In it she cited the observations of Pedro :
Foreign workers from places such as Guam, Saipan, Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei, Japan and China introduced new plants, animals, food, dancing, singing and lifestyles. In Angaur they learned how to bake bread, sew, western dance and how to play some musical instruments such as the guitar, harmonica and accordion from the Saipanese.
Based on these accounts, the 300 to 600 Carolinian workers far out-numbered the local Angaur community of 150. The Palauans observing and participating in the Carolinian dances likely led to the adoption of the matamatong as a Palauan dance. Junko Konishi [dissertation in English available here] states that the word matamatong likely derives from Pohnpei :
The term [matamatong] seems to have originated from the progressive form of the Pohnepeian word mwadong (mwadomwadong) meaning “to play, to take recreation” and dancing.
In fact, Junko relates that over 400 Pohnpeans were exiled to Palau in 1911 after the uprising in Sokehs and over 100 Pohnpean males were sent to Angaur to work in the mines .
However, Konishi developed a detailed explanation  of how the Marshall Islands were actually the birthplace of the marching dance, with diffusion of the dance in the early 1900s from the Marshalls to the Eastern Caroline Islands (including Pohnpei) and Nauru. She states that:
Yapese and Palauan elders recount that Chuukese spread the marching dance in Angaur.
The matamatong dance was also picked up by Japanese settlers in Micronesia. During the 2004 Festival of Pacific Arts, held in Palau, a Japanese dance group performed :
… a dance style called Nanyo-Odori (South Seas Dance) [links go to Youtube videos of Bonin Islanders, the latter with subtitles in Japanese, with katakana for foreign words], presented as an adaption of the songs and dances from the Pacific brought back to the Ogasawaran islands of Japan by Japanese people who had sailed around the Pacific for trading … [and] lived in Micronesia during the period of Japanese occupation and control … The dance is an adaption of a Micronesian dance called the Matamatong … The dance, which was accompanied by songs in a mixture of Palauan, Japanese and English, is said to have been created in about 1914 at the end of the German era in Micronesia and continues to be popularly danced today.
A fascinating exchange [at the Festival of Pacific Arts] ensued between Palauans … and the Japanese performers, in which they compared the dance steps of the Nanyo-Odori with those of the Matamatong (as well as the words of the accompanying songs, some of which the Japanese did not understand). A Palauan musician … Roland Tangelbad, noted that the Japanese still danced the old way, with a German soldier’s style of marching step (goose step) whereas the Palauans had since adapted theirs to the marching step of the US soldiers.
The impact of the Eastern Caroline Islanders among the Palauans went beyond the matamatong dance step :
The Chuukese, who had a tradition of love songs, created many dances for love songs in Angaur during the Japanese colonial period. And those songs, composed with lyrics in Japanese (which was the common language at that time), became popular among different island groups.
I witnessed both marching dances (call maas in Yapese) and stick dances during my fieldwork in Yap in the fall of 1974. One feature that defined both as “modern” was that men and women performed together in the same dance, and not separately as they did in traditional dances.