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Oceania and the Pacific Islands: Papua New Guinea and a Sing Sing

The Melanesian country of Papua New Guinea ("PNG") occupies the eastern half the world's second-largest island--just a bit north of Australia--which it shares with Indonesia's West Papua. Unlike Australia , with a dry, open landscape British colonizers committed to tame, PNG has ample rain which feeds ample, dense rainforests that amply intimidated German, British and eventually Australian colonial forces into staying on the coast.

PNG's rugged terrain and general lack of transportation infrastructure continue to make it a challenging place for international visitors to access, though international corporations find a way to extract resources that are important in the West such as oil, copper and gold.  PNG's cultural resources are "gold" to us; people in PNG  speak over 800 indigenous languages. Though many of these languages are highly local, boast less than 1000 native speakers and are in threat of extinction, a good number are still viable and active. The one most widely-spoken is Tok Pisin, which blends English, German, Malay, Portuguese and local languages categorized as "Austronesian."   

This week in class we sing:

We sing "We Are Happy," a hello song from Uganda, to open every All Around This World class. This week we sing hello in Tok Pisin: "U stap gut?"

Poaka E” is a song from Rellon and the Solomon Islands about our favorite animal – a pig!  (More.)  

Lau Lupe” is a rhythmic Samoan song that tells the surface story of dancing girls and pigeons, but actually muses about the passing of time. (More.)  

 “Te Waka” is a strong, stirring Maori haka, as the best are. (More.)  

Kafa” is All Around This World's mashup of a melody that introduces pan pipe players in the Solomon Islands and a Vanuatuan drumming song, traditionally played along with the beating of bamboo poles. (More.)  

A LITTLE MORE:

As mentioned above, in PNG people speak over 800 indigenous languages. Though many of these languages are highly local, boast less than 1000 native speakers and are in near threat of extinction, a good number are still viable and active. Ethnologue's Papua New Guinea page will give you a good sense of who speaks what language and with whom.

Though the most widely-spoken local languags in Papua New Guinea are Melpa, Huli and Enga, the nation's official languages are English (due to quirks of colonization, as described above, though few use it), Hiri Motu (spoken mainly in the south) and the lingua franca, Tok Pisin.

Tok Pisin, also known as Melanesian Pidgin Enlgish or Neo-Melanesian, began as a "pidgin/crole" language blending English, German, Malay, Portuguese and local "Austronesian" languages and has transformed into a developing language in its own right. Like most "pidgins," Tok Pisin developed in the colonial era as a mix of the colonizer's language (in PNG's case, English) and local dialects (in Tok Pisin's case, primarily the local language of Tolai). Linguists disagree about whether its grammatical structure is based upon that of specific local languages or if it only developed when the first generations of speakers, those children who grew up speaking Tok Pisin rather than the more complex originating languages of English or the local tongues, imposed some sort of "default grammar humans are born with" (as Wikipedia's entry on Tok Pisin puts it) to the language their parents had taught them.

At TokPisin.com you'll find a plentiful English => Tok-Pisin or Tok-Pisin => English dictionary. Try searching for a word or term in English to see the equivalent in Tok Pisin. If you get caught up you can refer to Hawaii.edu's Tok Pisin page for grammatical tips. For example, "I love music class" translates roughly as "Mi laikim singsing skul." And, of course, "I eat breakfast with happy purple ear-pigs" translates very roughly as, "Mi kaikaim kaikai long moning wantaim amamas hap ret yai-pik."   

Enjoy!

Jay

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