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Traditional knowledge, language, and the men’s house: the case of an Oceanic language in Papua New Guinea

By Hiroko Sato and Luke Mara

Abstract

This paper, co-written by a researcher and a language consultant, will discuss the awareness of and engagement in a community-based documentation project going beyond linguistics in an endangered Oceanic language of Papua New Guinea, based on the community’s perspectives. As is generally seen in much of Melanesia, the area where the language is spoken shows considerable linguistic diversity. It is surrounded by several other indigenous languages. In addition, people have begun to use Tok Pisin and English, and use of Tok Pisin in daily life is becoming especially common. Many speakers, especially in the younger generations, are rapidly losing language competence in their heritage language. Along with the language, the traditional culture has also begun to disappear. Much of the traditional culture is centered on the social institution of the men’s house, which is a place where only initiated men may enter. Each village has several men’s houses, and each family belongs to a certain men’s house. Each men’s house has its own special symbol, as well as a distinctive spirit mask, which plays an important role in ceremonies. Any ceremony is conducted in a men’s house. During ceremonies, all members in the men’s house must get involved and support each other. They sing and dance all night long and it may last for weeks or months. Unlike other neighboring areas, this area still retains the institution of the men’s house. However, it is declining, and as a result their knowledge and skills in ceremonies are not being fully passed on to the next generation. Thus, both language and culture are being lost. However, they have different attitudes to each. As in many other marginalized minority communities, most speakers are not aware of the existing imminent threat to their language. Furthermore, they are indifferent to the language, and do not care whether the language is spoken or not. However, they do care about the situation of the existing threat to their culture. They are concerned about how they can preserve the institution of the men’s house and keep up the traditional ceremonies. Since the community values their culture and the men's house, that will be the best way to approach community-based language documentation. In this talk, we ask (1) what are the community’s needs, (2) how community-based language documentation responds to their needs and values, and (3) how to raise awareness of the importance of their language

Year: 2013
OAI identifier: oai:scholarspace.manoa.hawaii.edu:10125/26101

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