Numbami Kin Terminology, PNG

Speakers of the Numbami language in Papua New Guinea employ bifurcate merging, Iroquois-type kinship terminology. One of the major classificatory criteria of such a system is whether a chain of relationships crosses sex lines or stays within the same sex. For instance, siblings of the same sex (parallel siblings) are distinguished according to whether they are elder or younger than oneself (ego). Siblings of the opposite sex (cross-siblings) are not. Similarly, one’s father’s brothers and mother’s sisters are distinguished according to whether they are elder or younger than the respective parent, and their children (parallel cousins) are classified as either elder or younger parallel siblings in accordance with the relative age of their parents.

In contrast, relative age is not regularly distinguished for relatives linked across sex lines, such as one’s father’s sister’s children or mother’s brother’s children (cross-cousins). This lack of age-ranking among cross-cousins (and perhaps marriageability) may suggest why the gode-lu-gode (‘cousin-to-cousin’) relationship is considered the most open and easygoing kin relationship among the Numbami.

Nearly every major kin category is indicated by a pair of forms that distinguish female from male members of the same category. The term for females is usually derived from the base form by means of a suffix, usually -ewe, that is transparently related to ewa ‘woman, female’. (The nasal that often intervenes is discussed below.) Whenever there is a derived female-specific counterpart, the base form usually refers only to males, but it can also be used to refer to all members of the particular kinship status, whether male or female.

amba ‘great-grandfather’
ambanewe ‘great-grandmother’

tumbuna ‘grandson, grandfather’
tumbunewe ‘granddaughter, grandmother’

tama ‘father’ (somewhat archaic or technical in usage)
tina ‘mother’ (somewhat archaic or metaphorical in usage)

mama ‘father’ (both referential and vocative)
awa ‘mother’ (both referential and vocative)

mama bamo‘father’s elder brother, mother’s elder sister’s spouse’
awa bamo ‘mother’s elder sister, father’s elder brother’s spouse’

mama kae ‘father’s younger brother, mother’s younger sister’s spouse’
awa kae ‘mother’s younger sister, father’s younger brother’s spouse’

sika ‘elder (usually male) parallel sibling (father’s elder brother’s son or mother’s elder sister’s son)’
sikanewe ‘elder female parallel sibling (father’s elder brother’s daughter or mother’s younger sister’s daughter)’

kapa ‘younger (usu. male) parallel sibling (father’s younger brother’s son or mother’s younger sister’s son)’
kapowe ‘younger female parallel sibling (father’s younger brother’s daughter or mother’s younger sister’s daughter)’

lu ‘cross-sibling (woman’s brother or male parallel cousin)’
lunewe ‘female cross-sibling (man’s sister or female parallel cousin)’

gode ‘cross-cousin (mother’s brother’s or father’s sister’s child, usu. male)’
godenewe ‘female cross-cousin (mother’s brother’s or father’s sister’s daughter)’

asowa ‘spouse (husband or wife)’
asosika ‘spouse of one’s elder parallel sibling’

asokapa ‘spouse of one’s younger parallel sibling’
iwa ‘spouse’s (usu. wife’s) cross-sibling’ (Tok Pisin tambu)

iwanewe ‘husband’s cross-sibling’
kolamundu ‘cross-sibling’s spouse’ (Tok Pisin tambu)

wowa ‘uncle (mother’s brother or father’s sister’s husband)’
wawe ‘aunt (father’s sister or mother’s brother’s wife)’

natu ‘offspring, son (of self or parallel sibling)’
natunewe ‘daughter (of self or parallel sibling)’

tamota ‘nephew (son of cross-sibling or cross-cousin)’
tamotewe ‘niece (daughter of cross-sibling or cross-cousin)’

The female suffix is most likely responsible for preserving the last vestiges of an intervening set of possessive suffixes that have been lost everywhere except on a handful of these kin terms. Even where the suffixes survive, however, they do not constitute a full paradigm (only singulars) and are highly variable in usage. Moreover, they are always redundant. Except when they appear on vocatives, they are always accompanied by the preposed possessive pronouns. Whenever there is doubt about which form to use, the ending -n-ewe, which used to signal a 3rd person singular possessor, appears to be the safest choice.

naŋgi lu ‘my (usu. male) cross-sibling’
anami lu ‘thy (usu. male) cross-sibling’
ena lu ‘his/her (usu. male) cross-sibling’

naŋgi luŋgewe/lunewe ‘my female cross-sibling’
anami lumewe/lunewe ‘thy female cross-sibling’
ena lunewe ‘his/her female cross-sibling’

naŋgi gode ‘my (usu. male) cross-cousin’
anami gode ‘thy (usu. male) cross-cousin’
ena gode ‘his/her (usu. male) cross-cousin’

naŋgi godenewe/godeŋgewe ‘my female cross-cousin’
anami godenewe/godemewe ‘thy female cross-cousin’
ena godenewe ‘his/her female cross-cousin’

It may not be coincidental that the word bumewe ‘European[s], white[s]’ looks like a term for females. Compare Iwal pupkawe ‘European’, avie ‘woman’, but Jabêm bômbôm ‘European’, bômbômò ‘European female’.

Bifurcate-merging terminology also shows up in older varieties of Tok Pisin (and other Pacific pidgins/creoles/Englishes), where for some speakers brata (< ‘brother’) can mean ‘parallel sibling’, while susa (< Eng. ‘European’) can mean ‘cross-sibling’ (as defined above). So a female might be referring to her brother when she says susa bilong mi and might be referring to her sister when she says brata bilong mi.

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