Emeritus Professor Returns to Palau for Summer Teaching of Language and History

Posted: July 6, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Nicholas Zinzer

Peter Black, emeritus professor of anthropology, first visited the Pacific nation of Palau in 1967. Last month, nearly 40 years after his first visit, he returned to Palau to teach, research and spend time with friends. He was awarded a Rotary International University Teach Fellowship, given to visiting professors who teach in institutions of higher education in developing nations.

“I am here to do what I can that might be useful and to learn what I can about the rapid changes that are taking place in Palau. I am also here to visit some of my oldest friends and their families, people I have known since I first came here,” he said.

Peter Black

During his time in Palau, Black taught a course on anthropology at the Palau Community College. He is still there, working with the Tobian Islander minority community to develop a public health web site; working collaboratively to preserve Ramari Hatohobei, an endangered Carolinian language; developing Tobian’s Internet and PC skills and a web page for the Hatohobei state government; and aiding Assist Tobi Island’s Summer Program and Learning Center.

“I am focusing on the Tobi Island community [in the Palau state of] Koror, as well as doing some work in the oral history and ethnography division of the Bureau of Arts and Culture. Additionally, I am sending a weekly letter to more than a hundred people both here and elsewhere, as well as attending weekly meetings of the Palau Rotary Club,” said Black.

“The health picture of the Southwest Island community here in Koror… is rather depressing,” he said. “Incidents of what are known as first-world diseases are very high. These include illnesses generally associated with poor nutrition, alcohol and tobacco abuse and sedentary life styles. Poor sanitation and overcrowding make their own contributions.”

To improve prevailing health conditions, Black will create a public health web page with the help of his wife, Barbara Black. The web page will contain information on diseases, medical remedies and links to general health and nutrition web sites.

The visiting Mason professor will also attempt to preserve the Ramari Hatohobei language – an endangered Carolinian language. Ramari Hatohobei, the Tobian language, is a variation of an omnipresent language spoken by people from numerous small west central Pacific islands, according to Black. In both July and August, he will record archaic vocabulary before the senior Tobian generation passes, in addition to promoting literacy in the younger generation.

“Tobians are a literate people and one of the aspects of this work most interesting to them is the way their language is represented in writing. A variety of spelling methods are in use, and we hope to get a discussion about this issue underway by posting a systematic review of these orthographies,” said Black.

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