Officially called the Republic of Palau, this nation – one of the world's youngest and smallest – is made up of six island groups consisting of more than 300 individual islands. Its terrain varies from the high mountains of Babelthuap, the main island, to low lying, coral islands ringed by barrier reefs. Rainfall may occur year round, resulting in a humidity rate of 82%. Palau has a tropical climate and a year-round temperature of about 82° F (27° C.). Typhoons are rare, though Palau is vulnerable to smaller tropical storms, earthquakes and volcanic activity.
Palau's population – more than 20,000 people – has a mixture of Melanesian, Micronesian and Polynesian origins. About 70% of the people live in the capital city of Koror on the island of the same name. Tourism, subsistence agriculture and fishing are Palau's main resources.
Palau occupies the westernmost cluster of the Caroline Islands in the North Pacific Ocean, southeast of the Philippines. The site of numerous battles between Japan and the Allies during World War II, Palau was later administered by the UN until 1978. A Compact of Free Association with the United States was approved in 1986 and ratified in 1993. Palau gained full independence in 1994.
Three quarters of Palauans adhere to Christianity, with the largest portion of those being Roman Catholic. An indigenous religion known as Modekngei, a mixture of Christian and traditional beliefs together with fortune telling, is also widely practiced.
There are four living languages in Palau. Palauan is the most widely spoken, and is the official language, alongside English. A New Testament in Palauan was published in 1964. Sonsorol, spoken on the island of Sonsorol by about 600 people, is the official language of that state. Tobian is nearly extinct, with only 22 speakers in 1995, though it's the official language on the island of Tobi. Residents of the state/island of Angaur primarily speak Japanese.