Pacific Geographies (Sep 2022)

“Deep in their hearts they still wanna come back” – Sonsorolese people in motion and the implications on culture and identity

  • Stephanie Walda-Mandel

Journal volume & issue
no. 58
pp. 19 – 27


Read online

The island of Sonsorol, one of the Soutwhest Islands of the Palauan archipelago, is located about 340 kilometers south of the main Palauan islands in western Micronesia. Its unique culture and language, which the islanders have developed far away from the rest of Palau, set them apart from the main Palauan population, since they are linguistically and culturally related to the people from the outer islands of Yap and the Caroline Islands. At the same time, their isolated location leads to heavy migration to other Pacific Islands such as Saipan, Hawai’i or even to the US mainland. In the past, the people of the Southwest Islands already set out for other island groups with their outrigger boats, but today this happens with a different motivation and in larger numbers. However, despite large spatial distance, their transnational family networks retain their importance even when the Sonsorolese chain migration movements lead to cultural and social transformations both on the home island and in the Sonsorolese communities in the diaspora, which also have an impact on their identity. To preserve their cultural heritage in the context of migration and globalization, cultural revitalisation projects play a significant role in people’s lives.