For hundreds of years a small plateau, surrounded on three sides by taller mountains and covering only a square mile, it been populated with around a dozen homesteads wrapped by barns and sheds. Uvelikiel is not the typical nation. There is no border checkpoint and no documents needed to enter. In fact, the 100 who live here frequently take the 3.5 mile footpath to Palavoor, a village on the valley below, meaning Fresh Water or Pure Water in English.
The Palavoor Valley has a mere 1,319 people. Most live in the village with a few hundred living in 7 other small hamlets tucked away in the valley. Simply put, this is the universe of Uvelikiel. The people of Uvelikiel do all their shopping, attend Church and sell their products in this fairly remote valley.
Uvelikiel is fairly nondescript with a stone walkway wide enough for a horse drawn carriage. At the center a stone fountain adorns the hamlet’s community well that is not pumped into the homes. At the northern edge, the stone path widens, divided by the meandering brook that originates from a spring near the mountainside. The stone and wood homes, solidly constructed, are typically two stories and all have cellars or basements.
Uvelikiel has always been a free nation, at least according to the treasury of journals chronicling the centuries of settlement. Being a nation was never a concern but in 1648, other nations felt it important enough to recognize Uvelikiel as an independent country. The original papers and standard ‘gifts’ are preserved in a room inside one of the homes. Locals say people live long lives and are quite healthy. According to records (that seem very detailed) recording each birth, death and cause of death, show many over the age of the century mark with most passing in their sleep. The people claim it is the fresh air, good water, long history of peace and lifestyle where needs are met are all causes for a long life.
Today time seems to have passed Uvelikiel by as the citizens still tend the sheep, selling wool and silk in Palavoor. In more recent decades, dairy cows have been added for local consumption. An apple orchard was planted many years ago and provides the local area with apples and cider. Honey is harvested from this tiny hamlet and chickens not only supplement the diet but produce enough eggs to sell to the stores in Palavoor. They lead simple lives, walking down the path to the village below, taking about an hour to 70 minutes each way. They continue to be happy and fulfilled in their simple lives where none are rich nor poor.
Uvelikiel has a reputation in the valley for top quality foods. The honey produced from a good number of hives. The honey is a favorite in the valley and sells virtually as fast as it can be put on the shelf. The apples, likely what we would call heirloom varieties, are known for their crisp texture and tend to be juicy. They are known to store well, so at harvest, the locals from the valley line up to deplete the supply. Some apples go to make cider, a highly sought after product of Uvelikiel. Palavoorans call a double yolk chicken egg a ‘Uvelikiel’ because the Uvelikiel chickens are known for their plentiful double yoke eggs. Locals in Uvelikiel say this is due to the pure spring water the chickens drink.
The people speak a language with numerous influences, that has developed over the centuries. Even those in the valley can converse in this little known tongue without a name.
The country has a very unique government. The Council of Ancients (made up of 7 or 8 people) rule the country. One of the Council is appointed to a 5 year term as President. The office of President is unchecked by a constitution as one has never been needed. Any disagreements are judged by the President. If requested, the entire Council will reconsider the judgment. The President is responsible for day-to-day activities but major decisions are by majority vote of the Council of Ancients. In fact, when the young choose a mate from outside the nation (required by law many centuries ago by the Council of Ancients), the President is to meet the chosen mate and must approve the potential mate, being responsible for acclimating the new resident in life in Uvelikiel. The Council of Ancients can be asked to give approval should the President feel the potential mate would not be a good choice for either the community at large or the person who has chosen the person to be their mate.
The country has never been at war and never had a time when life was stressful. The only incidents of notice were the President who banned all newspapers from outside the country and ordered he must approve the content of the local paper. It took a few days before the citizens asked the Council to intervene. The President was forced to resign. The only other troubles were a young man who left the country because the Council did not approve of his mate and a man who had a sexual escapade with a local young girl. He was ordered to never return to the country.
There are no taxes levied in the nation and at no point in time has there been any tax. Even so, the President is declared in his duty to be the sole tax collector. As the people put it, there is no want or need unmet, so there is no need for taxation. The only times on record when the President has asked for money from residents was in the time of a community emergency, such as when a home burned or there was a medical emergency. In these rare cases, the President decreed that all families should contribute as they are able to assist their fellow citizen.
Today most funds the Government utilizes comes from the Rustic Festival held each August. The funds gathered during this annual celebration are set aside for any emergency in the community although some funds went to educate a local citizen with a desire to enter the medical field. The Council voted to provide financial help in return for the student coming back to Uvelikiel to act as the local medical expert. He is now a member of the Council and has a room on the side of his house where a small, yet poorly equipped clinic is located. Others who have received funds have been teachers. The festival always produces enough money to buy some books for the school which is held in a small building in the community.
Speaking of education, there are two teachers, one for the younger students and one for the older students. Younger students attend class in the morning while older students attend school in the afternoons. Students are grouped by age versus education level achieved since the number of students is minimal. Each student follows a course laid out by the instructor, personalized for the student and his/her abilities and learning accomplishments.
Communication and transportation is very limited. There are no roads. There are no telephones, no radio, television, internet access and only one newsletter-styled newspaper that pretty much acts as a diary for the nation. Its writings constitute the modern journal of life today in Uvelikiel.
A visitor’s account of a daytrip follows.
From data obtained. Written by Bill Turner 2010
Sources: Uvelikiel Council of Ancients;
Author Bill Walsh;
Eduard Dix, Palavoor
A Day In Uvelikiel
“The hamlet we seek is almost 3,000 feet up in the air from our present location in a lovely and fertile farming valley when a bustling village whose name mean Pure Waters in English, home of some 1,200 with a few hundred more among the small farms of this valley. The driver of the car we hired safely brought us over the narrow winding road. The journey here left us with our hearts in our throats many times as the pock marked road clung to mountainsides. Our gazes out the passenger windows were often met with gasps as we peer at the steep drops only inches away. After a pause for an early lunch, we head out for Uvelikiel on a bright, sunny, warm early summer day.
To reach Uvelikiel we must go on foot, up in the clouds for the 5 plus kilometer trek. The ascent goes easily at first, along a well worn path. It was not long until we reach a lengthy footbridge. The rickety bridge appears unsafe, mostly because should the bridge fail us, we would fall hundreds of feet to raging waters below. Our guide is fearless, we assume, as he coaxes us across, smiling at our hesitation. As we venture forward along the slender trail, dotted with colors of various wildflowers and gracefully shaded in most spots by many species of shade trees. In a few minutes we meet a lady heading down to the valley. While friendly, she seemed surprised by meeting a stranger. The path is becoming more and more steep as we pass several wide spots where shade trees seem to welcome a well deserved rest, yet we continue on switchback after switchback, toward our destination. After about 45 minutes, we see two more ladies heading down the path. We ask if we are close and are assured we shall soon see Uvelikiel. Indeed, within a few more twists and turns, the path opens to an uneven break of pastureland.
We wondered among ourselves if this was indeed Uvelikiel but our guide assures us we are here, pointing to about ten or more grey stone hovels. In the distance we see the path becomes a stone walkway where the homes begin. As we head toward the homes, we look about to see mountains towering around us on three sides tucking in about a square mile of grassy pasture with stands of trees. A gentle brook meanders through it all and sheep graze in the distance. Once at the cluster of homes, all looks deserted. We spot a home with an open door and say hello. A woman comes to the doorway and behind her a young woman. Another lady appears from between a couple of nearby homes. Almost immediately eight ladies surround us, smiling and looking inquisitive. After all, visitors are rare. Our guide offers introductions, followed by a level of hospitality that leaves us spellbound. There is such an innocence among them and yet a hunger for knowledge about the place we strangers call home.
We ask the typical questions. We learn they are perfectly content with their mountain abode, neither lonely, nor unfulfilled in need. They know nothing of the world but of two of the valley towns below and what scant details read in books. By now coffee and pastries are served.
We admit we felt there would be a defined border at Uvelikiel, as it is an independent nation, first recognized in 1648. Indeed they are a nation with a council of elders and a president. The Council of Elders number 7 or 8, but at times as low as 3 or as high as 12, and one serves as President for a 5 year term. Their government is much more informal yet likely more powerful, in some respects, than any government known.
The young lady, the newest citizen, has been living in Uvelikiel for 7 years. She married a young man from the country. She met him as he worked in a nearby town. Before she married, she had to meet with the Uvelikiel government to be approved. After the wedding the government taught her about life in the country. This seemed very intrusive to us, but she explained it was much more fatherly. She said the government wanted to know her and help her understand how her life would change by coming to Uvelikiel. They helped her step into the local social structure with great ease. Her husband, being a good citizen, abided by the Uvelikiel law that young people cannot marry a person of Uvelikiel, but must seek a mate elsewhere. She noted the choice of mate must be approved by the government. A lady must have a personality that is conductive to being a part of a small tight-knit community.
Unlike most governments, there are no taxes and laws are few except where the survival and success of the nation is concerned. Peace and tranquility are paramount and the community is virtually without need.
The ladies explain they attend Church services in the valley below. It is where marriages, funeral and baptisms for the people of Uvelikiel are held.
The roughly 100 people in Uvelikiel lead long lives and a few have reached the century mark. The population has been as low as 50 and as high as 150 during it’s time of habitation. By now a couple of men have come in and they join us, adding that they live wholesome lives and breathe in clean mountain air (their reasoning for their health). We noted their lack of liquor and inquired. Wine is a common dinner drink, but alcohol for recreational use is not known to them, although they do not believe such use of alcoholic beverage is restricted or ever has been.
Such talk sprouted the memory of the great revolt in Uvelikiel. In the early 1900s, the elected president would not allow foreign newspapers in the country and the local paper had to have their content approved. The president was quickly required to resign as the community displayed their disgust. We are told this and much more is recorded in the many books recording life through the centuries in Uvelikiel. We are taken to a small cellar room where the books are neatly displayed in glass enclosed bookcases, away from sunlight and dust. It is the national archives, and a source of pride for the people who get along fine without a flag or even constitution.
A middle aged lady says she knows someone in America, saying she lives in Buenos Aires.
Their homes are simple, clean and functional. Their dress is that of the peasant, made of fabric that wears well and is functional. They are plain, yet proper in every way. The ceiling is held by large beams with a large fireplace and wall with shelves full of useful tools for their lifestyle. Items hang from hook along the walls and from the beams. The pots and pans dangle overhead in the kitchen, now a trend in American kitchens.
The whole population survives from weaving wool and silk, sold in the valley village for many of the wares they need. Uvelkiel has an apple orchard and is known locally for its top quality apples. Honey is harvested from hives and the excess sold in the valley below. The other source of income is eggs, gathered from the scattered flock of chickens that roam the areas near the homes. These are sold in the stores in Palavoor.
All the men and ladies have a dressy outfit they wear to Church and for special events. They also have a more traditional garb for a local rustic festival they hold one weekend each August.
We are impressed with the hospitality, intelligence and contentment we experienced. In fact, we felt a bit of envy, at seeing their uncomplicated life.
The lady of the house brings a small box from a bedroom and begins to show us the ‘valuables’. She shows off her simple gold wedding ring, a cherished scarf, some old coins and a few other trinkets of some value. There are silver chains, a couple of precious stones and even rosary beads. A hoard of Uvelikiel coins is shown. The total would be just over $13.50 in US currency. We can tell, these are the family treasures. We noted the others seemed to share her enthusiasm. There was no jealousy. It seemed we had broken a barrier, being welcomed as honorary citizens. Our guide agreed, noting the people of Uvelikiel are trusting and eagerly welcome any outsider into the fold.
As the time is getting away from us, we tell out gracious hosts we would like to take a few pictures. The men took us for a quick tour where we were introduced to the President. He suggests we take pictures with him and suddenly disappears into the next room, bringing out a small tin. He pulls out a few coins and gives us both coins as a memento, then pulls out a couple of sheets of paper, writing a note thanking us for visiting and signing it with President of Uvelikiel.
As we bid our farewells, we were given names and addresses, asked to mail prints of pictures and to please come back to visit. Offers to put us up are sincerely offered. We didn’t want to leave, but it was late in the day as we returned down the narrow path to the village below. Truly, it was a day we shall never forget.
One could easily question why Uvelikiel would have a need for a currency, but the journals kept in the country say the first coins were minted in 1648 following Uvelikiel being recognized as a nation.
The coins had a very low value and were used mostly as small change. They were eagerly accepted in the valley below by merchants. The people of Uvelikiel have been known for centuries for their honesty and integrity. They are loyal members of the Church in Palavoor and personally known to virtually everyone throughout the valley. It was this reputation that gave credibility to their currency.
The local coinage is still the only local currency accepted in Uvelikiel and still accepted in Palavor.
Coins have been minted in 1 Liard, 2 Liard, 4 Liard and 8 Liard and had originally been minted in silver. Like many currencies of the era, the coins retained a value in silver In 1648 only the coins of Uvelikiel and those issued by the church in Palavoor were minted in silver. The Uvelikiel and Palavoor coins were circulated in the Palavoor Valley area and were nicknamed ‘Peasant Money’ by outsiders.
From the most recent information we have obtained, the Council restricts the number of Liards in circulation to a figure of 602,661 Liards or about $1,400 US dollars, give or take a few dollars. The stated exchange rate is 0.86807015735625 grain of pure silver for 1 Liard. This would mean the entire Uvelikiel money supply would be worth about 1,090 troy ounces of silver.
Compiled by Bill Turner 2010