Category Archives: Papua New Guinea

Malaria Killed More than Combat in PNG

From Hell’s Battlefield: The Australians in New Guinea in World War II, by Phillip Bradley (Allen & Unwin, 2012), Kindle Loc. 4885-4905:

From the moment the Australians flew into Nadzab, they were under insidious assault. Carried by the fragile mosquito, malaria could fell and even kill the strongest of men, and the Ramu Valley, the valley of death in the local dialect, had one of the highest incidences in the country.

The traditional treatment was with quinine, but 90 per cent of the world’s supply came from cinchona-tree plantations in Java, which was now under Japanese occupation. After the 252 Lark Force escapees ran out of quinine on New Britain in early 1942, fifty died within five weeks and most of the remainder needed hospitalisation. An alternative malaria suppressant had to be found or it would be impossible to maintain troops in northern Australia, let alone New Guinea. Atebrin, a synthetic version of quinine that had been developed in Germany before the war, became the Australian Army’s official antimalarial drug, and what quinine remained was reserved for treatment. Australian scientists helped develop practical methods of synthesising Atebrin and pinpointed the dosage that most effectively suppressed malaria among deployed troops. In New Guinea, wearing protective clothing, using mosquito nets, spraying, improving drainage and of course taking the bittertasting Atebrin pills became as important as any combat discipline.

Malaria is not found above elevations of about 1000 metres, but most of the fighting in New Guinea took place along the coast or in the lowlands of the Markham and Ramu Valleys. High rainfall increased the opportunities for mosquitoes to breed, so the relatively dry area around Port Moresby was less dangerous than Milne Bay and the Papuan beachheads, where malaria was rampant. From October 1942 to April 1943, malaria caused almost five times more casualties than combat did. Even that was not the full story, as most affected men had recurrences of the disease after returning to Australia. The highly malarial environment of the Ramu Valley almost crippled the Australian campaign. Almost 1 in 10 of the operational troops were falling ill with malaria each week, meaning that within eleven weeks almost all would be infected. There were other diseases, some—such as scrub typhus—much deadlier, but malaria accounted for 90 per cent of losses due to disease. As a result of the scientists’ studies, the daily Atebrin dose was doubled, and the infection rate fell by about two-thirds. For Japanese troops in New Guinea, malaria was also a serious problem. Though they had stocks of quinine, the progressive breakdown of their supply system meant that almost all frontline troops were infected with malaria, and deaths from it increased as the war went on.

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The Japanese Retreat from Lae, PNG

From Hell’s Battlefield: The Australians in New Guinea in World War II, by Phillip Bradley (Allen & Unwin, 2012), Kindle Loc. 4518-4577:

After the loss of the Bismarck Sea convoy the previous March, the Japanese command in Lae had seen the writing on the wall and made contingency plans for evacuation. As part of those preparations, the engineering unit of Lieutenant Masamichi Kitamoto had orders to blaze a land route across the Huon Peninsula to Lae. At the 1932 Olympic Games in Los Angeles, Kitamoto had run for Japan. Now he would again be asked to use his legs for his country. A week after the loss of the Lae convoy, his fifty-man detachment from the 30th Regiment Independent Engineers crossed the Vitiaz Strait from Tuluvu, on the western tip of New Britain, and landed on the New Guinea mainland. With a native guide, the heavily burdened engineers set out to cross the Saruwaged Range to Lae. ‘It was just like climbing a slide from the bottom to the top,’ Kitamoto wrote later. ‘You had to bend forward deeply to bring the centre of gravity before you. It was as if someone had put a heavy weight on our heads and [was] pulling our legs at the same time.’ It only got worse: ‘The incline kept going up and up into the skies. Our legs grew stiff and we gasped for breath . . . Gazing at the clouds below us, we continued the march up the sharp incline . . . It was so cold that it seemed that our hands which grasped the rocks to pull us up would become frozen.’ At 4500 metres, Kitamoto’s engineers crossed a summit higher than Mount Fuji in Japan. Almost as testing was the descent down the other side. The expedition to Lae took three weeks, but when Kitamoto reported to Lieutenant General Hidemitsu Nakano’s headquarters on 3 April, just a month after the Bismarck Sea debacle, Nakano had his escape route.

Now it was mid-September, and the Japanese situation in Lae was desperate as Kitamoto again reported to Nakano’s headquarters. When the young lieutenant entered, Nakano was in conference with his key officers, poring over a map spread across the table. Kitamoto soon learned that Nakano had ordered a retreat: there would be no final battle for Lae. Civilian employees had already left, beginning their trek on 4 September. For the troops who remained, there were two potential routes: across the Saruwaged Range to the north coast, or through the foothills of the Finisterre Range, parallel to the Markham Valley. Having traversed both, Kitamoto was asked for his opinion. ‘The second plan is impossible,’ he told Nakano, knowing that Allied aircraft could easily interdict a route through the kunai grass that covered the foothills. Kitamoto continued: ‘The first plan is difficult, but there is still some chance of success. If I had to make the final decision I would choose Plan 1. However, the sacrifice will be great.’ The die was cast: the order was issued.

The first group of Japanese soldiers, about 2000 naval troops including Kitamoto’s men, set off from Lae on 12 September, making their way inland along the west bank of the Busu River. They formed one of four groups, totalling 8650 men, headed for the high mountains with enough rations to last ten days. Intermediate supply dumps were established north of Gawan and at Iloko. The first and third groups went into the mountains via Gawan, the second and fourth groups via Kemen. Kitamoto’s engineers led the way, setting up signposts and repairing the track as they went. They crossed the Busu about 3 kilometres upstream from the now fallen kunda bridge. General Nakano travelled with the second group, which halted at the Busu for three days while a new bridge was constructed. The final organised group left Lae on 15 September.

Shigeru Horiuchi, a twenty-two-year-old private with III/238th Battalion, had arrived in Lae only a week before the Australian invasion. Since then, his unit had gone through ‘two weeks of hell,’ under constant attack from Allied bombers; ‘even the officers were trembling in funk holes and had no taste for fighting.’ Horiuchi’s company did not leave Lae until 17 September, but Horiuchi was soon forced to drop out because of a leg wound. He was captured a few days later sheltering in a native village 25 kilometres north of Lae.

In the first days of the trek, 200 men had died, mostly wounded and sick. ‘The mountains were only 500 metres high and this much casualties,’ Kitamoto observed with dismay. ‘How many will die before we clear Mt. Sarawaket, which is 4500 metres high? The sharp precipices rising before us will take many victims.’ Once the track began to rise, ‘the soldiers helped each other along, the strong carrying the rifles of weak men. However, as they grow tired, even the strong began to discard their rifles.’ Kitamoto ordered that any discarded weapons should have the chrysanthemum insignia filed off because ‘it was humiliating to throw away the arms that belong to the emperor.’

As the men weakened, the incidence of malaria increased and more men dropped out. In the first 1500 metres of the climb after leaving Kemen, 500 men died. Steep precipices dropped away on both sides of the track. ‘After we escaped the clutches of the enemy we were confronted by nature,’ Kitamoto wrote. Those who lived also confronted the corpses of those who died. ‘Using the dead bodies as stepping stones and clinging to the slippery lichen-covered rocks, the men made their way up the mountain. Fresh red blood ran from the mouths of the dead when they were stepped on and their glassy eyes stared us in the face.’ Approaching 4000 metres, the cold bit hard into lightweight tropical uniforms; though exhausted, the men were afraid to fall asleep lest they freeze to death. Another 800 men died crossing the top of the range. ‘The screaming voices of the men who slipped from the log bridges to their death in the canyons below, the wailing cries of the men who could move no more and were asking for help . . . it was a sense of hell, something quite out of this world.’

By now the rations had gone. Starving, some men ate human flesh. As he approached the summit of Mount Saruwaged, Kitamoto saw that ‘in the shadow of the rocks, three soldiers had pinned a trooper to the ground while one of them stabbed him in the heart with his bayonet. There were no signs that the dead man had asked the others to kill him. The remaining three soldiers cut slices of the dead trooper’s thigh and began to devour the human flesh.’ After Kitamoto shouted at them, ‘the men looked in my direction, flies that gathered about dead meat swarmed about their faces but they had no strength to drive them away. They had become mad with hunger and fatigue.’ Kitamoto covered the corpse and moved on.

In the end even Kitamoto’s strength gave out, and he was carried to the coast on a stretcher. He reached Kiari, some 20 kilometres west of Sio, twenty days after leaving Lae. Staff Officer Sugiyama told him: ‘I wish to bow my head in gratitude for your strong legs. Your legs saved the whole division.’ Once he recovered, Kitamoto headed back to the top of the range to help the stragglers reach the coast. The last stretcher case was brought in on 15 November. An 18th Army report showed that of the 8650 who had left Lae, 6417 survived—a loss of over 25 percent. Most of the survivors staggered into Kiari suffering from malnutrition and malaria. Although only 1271 of them were officially classified as ‘sick,’ Kitamoto wrote that all the men ‘were a group of invalids . . . in no condition to fight.’

Even on the coast, safety was not assured: three men died as they rested on the beach, crushed by a falling coconut tree. ‘At second look, I discovered that they were the men who became mad and ate their comrade during the march,’ Kitamoto wrote. His right-hand man, the native guide Rabo, also knew what these men had done. ‘Those soldiers no good,’ he told Kitamoto as he stared at the three dead men. ‘They eat friend. God punish them.’ As Rabo turned away, Kitamoto felt a shiver run down his spine.

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Japanese Bayonet Practice in New Britain, 1942

From Darkest Hour: The True Story of Lark Force at Rabaul – Australia’s Worst Military Disaster of World War II, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2006), Kindle Loc. 2440-2447, 2592-2601:

In 1942 the great majority of Japanese troops carried the 6.5mm Arisaka Model 38, a long but relatively light rifle that boasted almost no recoil. The weapon also had another important attribute, as described in a U.S. Army intelligence bulletin: “The length of the Model 38 makes it particularly suitable for bayonet fighting. When the Japanese infantryman is armed with this rifle and the Model 30 (1897) bayonet, which is also unusually long, he feels that in close combat he is a match for his larger and taller enemies.” The Imperial Army placed a heavy emphasis on bayonet fighting. Recruits spent hours practicing such moves as the “side-step thrust,” the “low body thrust,” and the “body contact thrust.” At this point in the war, few members of the South Seas Detachment, if any, had personally experienced hand-to-hand combat. They didn’t know what it felt like to pierce a man’s body with the thin, fifteen-inch-long blade affixed to the end of their rifles. But on the morning of February 4, many of Noda’s men would find out.

WHEN THE LONG DAY OF KILLING FINALLY ENDED, NODA’S MEN HAD massacred 160 Australians. All were tied up, rendering them completely defenseless, before they were bayoneted or shot. The mass execution, sanctioned by Colonel Kusunose at Rabaul, almost certainly had the approval of Major General Horii. Afterward, the Japanese tacked a chilling message to the front door of the Waitavalo plantation house: “To Commander Scanlan—Now that this Island is took and tightly surrounded by our Air Forces and Navy you have no means of escape. If your religion does not allow you to commit suicide it is up to you to surrender yourself and to beg mercy for your troops. You will be responsible for the death of your men.” Leaving the bodies to rot in the sun, Noda and his troops boarded their landing craft and headed back to Rabaul, taking with them the twenty-two prisoners that had first surrendered on the beach. The 8th Company stopped at Adler Bay and picked up dozens of soldiers waiting there under a white flag, and also stopped at the Warangoi River for more prisoners, including Harold Page and Harry Townsend. All were delivered to Malaguna Camp, part of which had been wired off to form a prison compound.

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New Britain Jungle as Great Equalizer, 1942

From Darkest Hour: The True Story of Lark Force at Rabaul – Australia’s Worst Military Disaster of World War II, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2006), Kindle Loc. 2150-2169:

The jungle, it turned out, was a great equalizer. Lieutenant Colonel Tsukamoto’s battalion encountered several impediments as they pursued the Australians, not the least of which was the heavy rain that blanketed the Gazelle Peninsula. Similarly, Lieutenant Colonel Sakigawa’s mechanized unit slowed to a crawl as they advanced around Ataliklikun Bay on January 27. “The butai could not advance as hoped,” he reported. “The mountain roads went up and down and in some places [soldiers] walked in mud and water up to the knees. And also there were obstructions on the roads [such] as fallen bamboo and rotted trees.”

Other units experienced even greater difficulty. One detachment of mountain artillery tried to drag their wheeled guns through the heavy jungle. They reached the Vudal River on January 25 only to find it impossible to ford, so the soldiers hacked out a road to a different crossing. They even labored to build a temporary bridge, but their progress was so slow that they were forced to leave the field guns in the jungle. By the time the detachment finally reached the western shores of Ataliklikun Bay, they had lost contact with the fleeing Australians.

As a result of such setbacks, the battalion commanders requested naval support. General Horii arranged for a destroyer and three transports to conduct a “sea pursuit,” resulting in the aforementioned landings at Lassul Bay and Massawa Bay, but these proved to be only a minor threat to the Australians. The Japanese did not venture inland, mainly because the jungle quickly conspired against them. As the writer of an operational report later explained: “Practically every man of the 1st Infantry Battalion suffered from malaria owing to an eruptive outbreak of the disease at the time of mopping up … in particular, the pursuit action in the Ataliklikun Bay area.”

The heavy rains and high humidity of the past several days had created ideal conditions for mosquitoes. Many of the men in Tsukamoto’s battalion, poised to capture hundreds of Australians, were themselves laid low by malaria. That so many became infected was the result of “nothing but negligence,” according to the report, which placed blame squarely on the “leaders, medical staffs and epidemic prevention staffs in particular.” Days passed before the Japanese realized what had caused the outbreak. At least ten men died, and several others were “affected in the brain and became mad.” Within days, the combat strength of the South Seas Detachment was reduced by half.

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Japan’s South Seas Detachment Crosses the Line, 1942

From Darkest Hour: The True Story of Lark Force at Rabaul – Australia’s Worst Military Disaster of World War II, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2006), Kindle Loc. 1125-1147:

Private Akiyoshi Hisaeda, from the Ehime Prefecture of Shikoku, kept a diary as he sailed to Rabaul aboard the transport Venice Maru. He described the conditions as “very cramped and uncomfortable,” and noted that the temperature inside the ship reached 43 degrees Celsius (110 Fahrenheit). Life inside the other transports was equally awful. There was little fresh water, and the crude wooden benjos (latrines) were up on the main deck, which also happened to be where the meals were cooked. Down below, everyone was tormented by hordes of flies.

The Japanese soldiers were no strangers to terrible conditions or harsh environments. Their rigorous training system, based on the principle of instant obedience achieved through strict discipline, had prepared them well. From the moment they began training as recruits, they were immersed in a culture of degradation and abuse, a rude awakening for people who had spent their entire lives learning group harmony. Not only were recruits cursed and shamed in front of their peers, they were also beaten regularly. Sometimes they were hit on the buttocks with wooden sticks, other times they were slapped, usually with an open hand but occasionally with the sole from a hobnailed shoe. Many instructors were sadistic, barely more than thugs, and they had tremendous latitude to punish recruits with methods calculated to break down every vestige of individuality. Frequently the entire class or platoon received the same punishment: If one suffered, all suffered.

One of the cruelest penalties was meted out during evening meals. Picked at random, recruits were ordered to recite by memory from the Gunjin Chokuyu [軍人勅諭 aka ‘Imperial Rescript to Soldiers and Sailors’], “Emperor Meiji’s Instructions to the Men of the Fighting Services.” First issued in 1883, it exhorted warriors to carry out their duties with loyalty, propriety, valor, faithfulness, and simplicity. The wording was archaic, difficult to memorize, and if anyone made a mistake or forgot a passage, he was forbidden to eat. For recruits already bruised, exhausted, and ravenous from the day’s training, the denial of food was excruciating. After six months or more of such extreme conditioning, the recruits emerged as well-disciplined soldiers, their “bodies and minds tempered hard as steel.” The men of the South Seas Detachment were no different, and could tolerate anything that nature or the Imperial Army could throw at them.

WHEN THE INVASION FORCE REACHED THE EQUATOR AT 0500 ON JANUARY 20, the South Seas Detachment paused to commemorate a special event. In all of Japan’s 2,600-year history, they were the first army force to cross the line. Miyake later described the scene aboard his vessel: “On the day we crossed the equator, all the men, fully armed and equipped, assembled on deck. ‘At this time, when we are about to … advance into the southern hemisphere, we shall pay our respect toward the Imperial Palace,’ said the commander toward his assembled subordinates. Solemnly, and with overflowing emotions, the men presented arms toward the north.”

The South Seas Detachment [南海支隊 Nankai Shitai], under Imperial Japanese Navy command, was mostly drawn from Japan’s 55th Division, which was recruited primarily from Shikoku and played a key role in the Burma Campaign. The 55th Division’s home base and elite POW camp was Zentsūji. The POWs included about 200 Americans captured by the South Seas Detachment on Guam and Wake Island, a few dozen mostly British prisoners from Singapore, and 60 Australian officers from Rabaul. The Zentsūji POW camp was a Potemkin village to impress International Red Cross representatives with Japan’s humane treatment of its captives. Most of the rest of the men captured in the Rabaul Campaign died aboard the hell ship Montevideo Maru en route to Hainan Island, when it was torpedoed by an American submarine, the USS Sturgeon, on 1 July 1942. The loss of those 1050+ men was Australia’s single worst military disaster of World War II.

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Australia’s Thin “Northern Barrier” in 1941

From Darkest Hour: The True Story of Lark Force at Rabaul – Australia’s Worst Military Disaster of World War II, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2006), Kindle Loc. 668-680, 288-295:

To the military planners in Australia, the long string of islands comprising the Mandated Territory of New Guinea and the British-protected Solomons represented a sort of fence. Some in the War Cabinet even referred to it as the “Northern Barrier,” though the islands weren’t fortified until 1941. Lionel Wigmore, an esteemed Australian historian, more accurately described them as “a slender chain of forward observation posts.”

In the fall of 1939, an officer of the Royal Australian Navy (RAN) set out to link the islands with a communications and intelligence network. Over a period of months, Lieutenant Commander Eric A. Feldt traveled “by ship, motor boat, canoe, bicycle, airplane, and boot” from New Guinea all the way to the New Hebrides, single-handedly enrolling dozens of plantation owners, traders, and assorted civilians into a loosely organized group known as the “coastwatchers.” All of them would perform a crucial role the coming war, many at the cost of their lives.

Simultaneously, detachments of a small militia organization, the New Guinea Volunteer Rifles (NGVR), were established among the major islands. Representing the mandated territory’s only infantry force prior to 1941, the NGVR was authorized the day after Australia declared war on Germany, and many of the region’s able-bodied men were volunteers. Lieutenant Colonel John Walstab, the supervisor of police on New Britain, trained a unit of approximately eighty men who formed a rifle company, a machine gun squad, and a small headquarters unit.

Finally, in early 1941, the AIF decided to send most of the 8th Division to augment the defenses at Singapore, minus the 23rd Brigade, which would garrison three islands north of the mainland: Ambon, Timor, and New Britain. The War Cabinet grandiosely referred to the islands as the “Malay Barrier,” but each small landmass was separated by hundreds of miles of ocean.

The garrisons chosen to defend the islands received operational code names, though none sounded particularly inspiring. Sparrow Force, consisting of the 2/40th Infantry Battalion [= 2nd Battalion of 40th Regiment] plus an antiaircraft battery and troops of the Netherlands East Indies, would be sent to Timor, east of Java. Gull Force, with the 2/21st Infantry Battalion as its nucleus, would fortify Ambon, two hundred miles farther to the north. The last but strategically most important assignment, the defense of Rabaul, went to the 2/22nd Infantry Battalion and its attached units, known collectively as Lark Force.

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Massive Volcanic Eruption in New Britain, c. AD 600

From Darkest Hour: The True Story of Lark Force at Rabaul – Australia’s Worst Military Disaster of World War II, by Bruce Gamble (Zenith, 2006), Kindle Loc. 391-417:

The most recent of these caldera-forming eruptions occurred sometime around AD 600, though its exact date is a mystery. The eruption was cataclysmic—one of the most powerful since the time of Christ—and utterly devastated hundreds of square miles of New Britain and the surrounding islands. It likely began with a period of vigorous seismic activity which generated large quantities of magma beneath the existing ring fractures. Numerous tremors shook the island over a period of days or even weeks as pressurized gases weakened one of the old fault lines. The earthquakes grew in frequency and intensity until the conditions underground finally reached a critical state. At some point, the magma chamber not only boiled over, it blew apart.

The noise must have been stupefying. The ground literally ripped apart around the weakened ring fracture, from which a great ring of fire twenty miles in circumference burst forth. Pent-up gases exploded from below, hurling a thick column of rock, dust, and ash into the sky. The tiniest particles, boosted by heat and convection, soared an estimated one hundred thousand feet into the upper atmosphere. Larger rocks and glowing blobs of magma arced back to the surface, where they splattered against the ground or struck the sea with the sound of thunder.

The greatest devastation resulted from the terrible cloud itself. Most of the material hurtling skyward eventually lost momentum, then gravity took over and the outer portions of the dark, roiling column collapsed. Superheated to more than 1,800 degrees Fahrenheit, the material accelerated as it fell, and when it hit the ground it burst outward at more than one hundred miles an hour. Known as “pyroclastic flow,” the incandescent cloud spread rapidly over the ancient volcanoes and raced downhill to the sea, boiling the water spontaneously as it blasted across the surface. Outlying islands were wiped clean in seconds. By the time the energy finally dissipated, the fiery cloud had killed every living thing on land and marine life near the ocean’s surface for thirty miles in every direction.

Other destructive effects reached even farther. The prevailing winds carried heavy accumulations of ash fifty miles southwest of the volcano. Huts collapsed, crops were ruined, and the surviving islanders groped through blinding, polluted air. They too would be wiped out, doomed to eventual starvation unless they could quickly find a source of unaffected food.

Sometime after the eruption subsided, the unsupported roof over the empty magma chamber caved in. An oblong area approximately seven miles long and five miles wide collapsed suddenly, sliding downward for hundreds of feet. Additionally, the sea breached a portion of the southeastern rim and flooded most of the huge depression.

After the dust finally settled and the sea calmed, a large portion of the island resembled a bizarre moonscape. The pyroclastic flow had deposited grayish veneers of ash and pumice on the steep slopes of the old volcanoes, and low-lying areas around the caldera were buried under a hundred feet or more of the stuff. Based on vulcanologists’ estimations, the eruption had disgorged ten cubic kilometers of magma and debris from the earth. (By comparison, the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in AD 79 displaced only three to four cubic kilometers, and the explosion of Mount St. Helens in 1980 displaced less than one cubic kilometer of material.)

Compare Krakatoa and Long Island (Papua New Guinea), which produced similarly massive eruptions.

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Language Documentation Hiatus

My slow and erratic progress on documenting Numbami, the language I did fieldwork on in Papua New Guinea in 1976, suddenly gained traction on October 1, when I imported my old Numbami dictionary file into a new software package I had just been introduced to. Now dictionary work has taken precedence over blogging, photography, and other hobbies as I tediously clean up the many import errors and add many cross-references and reverse-entry keywords. After the cleanup, I’ll have a printable Numbami-English and English-Numbami lexicon and be ready to digitize the text, glosses, and translations of several wonderful narratives I transcribed (in pencil) 35 years ago.

Before I imported the dictionary data, I had begun to retranscribe one of my best narratives whose pencil transcription had gone missing many years ago. A couple years ago, a language documentation specialist at the University of Hawai‘i (my old alma mater) had converted my old cassette tapes to digital media (.WAV and .MP3 format), so I could use Transcriber to align the audio with the transcription.

While underemployed in 1991, I had first input all my manual Numbami wordlist cards into Shoebox. In 2006, a friend helped me convert the Shoebox database into SIL’s new and improved Toolbox. Now I have imported the Toolbox data into SIL’s latest language documentation software package, FLEx, and have begun cleaning and recoding it.

One of the best things I did during my fieldwork was to record and transcribe in the field a good range of narratives: two well-organized procedural texts about women’s work cooking food and about the communal work of processing sago palm starch; two personal tales about experiences being civilians on the front lines during World War Two; and a couple of traditional tales, including an origin myth that combines elements from both coastal and inland cultures. (I translated and blogged a passage from one of the war stories here.)

My host father (long deceased) was a retired schoolteacher and village kaunsil (elected representative to the local government council). He told me that a portion of the timber royalties from village land was allocated to help pay for the education of village youths, who had to leave the village even to attend elementary school. Timber royalties also helped pay for the small diesel vessel that carried people and goods back and forth along the mountainous coast, which lacked an overland highway.

It was not until the 1990s that a Tok Ples (Vernacular) Skul was established in the village to teach basic literacy in the local language, before children went away to elementary school, where Tok Pisin was the lingua franca. I made a tiny contribution to getting it started by sending enough linguistic materials on Numbami to show that it had a workable orthography, which was a prerequisite for any Tok Ples Skul. But my work on the language was otherwise aimed at other linguists, for whom I hope eventually (after I retire) to finish a reference grammar of the language.

But my priorities shifted over the past year from language description to language documentation, thanks to new technologies and new relationships. One factor was the new language documentation software mentioned above. The other was making new contacts via Facebook with well-educated grandchildren of my host father who have mastered English and Tok Pisin well, but know very little Numbami. They are my new target audience, not linguists and not people in the village who still speak the language (to the extent they do).

Numbami is the village language of only one village on the face of the earth. In the 1970s, that village had fewer than 300 people, and even there more people spoke Tok Pisin than Numbami. If the elders had to write, they wrote in Jabêm, the Lutheran mission lingua franca in which all but one old lady had been educated. My host father was educated in Jabêm schools, had taught in them, was an acknowledged authority on the language, and managed to get me interested enough to make Jabêm the standard of reference for much of my analysis of Numbami. (Many years later, I sidelined my Numbami reference grammar to translate Otto Dempwolff‘s grammar of Jabêm after I met by chance online a potential cotranslator in Romania whose German was much better than mine.)

The first paper I published after returning from my fieldwork in Papua New Guinea was on multilingualism and language mixture among the Numbami. If village residents want to find spouses they’re not related to, they generally have to marry someone from a different language group. Unless both spouse and children live in the village, they don’t learn more than the rudiments of the village language. The kids grow up speaking Tok Pisin, in any case. If they pursue education and job opportunities in town, they learn English, too.

Nothing I can do will affect language use in the Numbami village. If people end up abandoning that language in favor of others more useful, I can’t blame them. Villagers have been shifting language loyalties throughout the human history of New Guinea, for all sorts of reasons. The articles I’ve published so far are of little use to anyone except other linguists. But the dictionary I’m now editing may be useful both to a few linguists and to a few educated, town-dwelling people of partial Numbami heritage who want to learn more about their lost ancestral language, but who are accustomed to learning through the medium of English. Finally, the narrative texts may also be of at least historical interest to a third tiny audience of people who learned to speak Numbami in the village and to read it in the Tok Ples Skul.

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Legend of Sens-Pas-King in Kamtok & Tok Pisin

From West African Pidgin-English: A Descriptive Linguistic Analysis with Texts and Glossary from the Cameroon Area, by Gilbert Donald Schneider (Athens, Ohio, 1966), pp. 177-179. I have followed Schneider’s spelling of Kamtok (except for collapsing mid vowel distinctions) and his translation into English, and have added my own translation into Tok Pisin (New Guinea Pidgin). Both pidgin varieties here are likely to be somewhat rural and old-fashioned.

1k. Som boi i bin bi fo som fan kontri fo insai Afrika, we i bin get plenti sens.
1e. There once lived a very clever lad who lived in a beautiful part of Africa.
1p. I gat wanpela boi i bin stap long wanpela naispela hap long namel bilong Afrika, we em i saveman tru.

2k. I pas king fo sens sef, so i nem bi sens-pas-king.
2e. He was smarter than the King himself and so was given the name, Wiser-than-king.
2p. I winim king yet long save, olsem na ol i kolim em Save-winim-king.

(P olsem ‘so, thus’ < E all same)

3k. King i bin feks plenti, ha i bin hia sey, dis smol-boi i di kas eni-man fo sens.
3e. The King was very annoyed when he heard how this young boy was outwitting everyone.
3p. King em i kros tru, taim i harim tok olsem, dispela boi i save winim yumi olgeta long save.

(K ha ‘how, as’; K kas ‘catch, outwit’)

4k. So, king i bin mimba sey, i go kas i, i go win i fo sens.
4e. He decided to put the lad in his place with a few tricks of his own.
4p. Olsem na king i tingting olsem, em bai kisim em, em bai winim em long save.

(K mimba ‘think’ < E. remember; P kisim ‘catch s.t.’)

5k. I bin sen i imasinja som dey, we dem bin tok say, mek yu kom fo king i tong, na palaba i de.
5e. One day the King sent a messenger to the young man and summoned him to come to the palace for a discussion.
5p. Wanpela dei em i bin salim tultul bilong en bilong tokim em olsem em i mas kam long ples bilong king na toktok wantaim em.

(K tong ‘town, house, place’; P tultul ‘translator’)

6k. Sens-pas-king i bin go, i mas-fut fo rot, waka trong fo hil, sotey i rich fo king i tong.
6e. Wiser-than-king began his journey, up and down the steep hills he went and so finally arrived at the King’s palace.
6p. Save-winim-king i bin go, i wokabaut long rot bilong maunten, inap long em i kamap long ples bilong king.

7k. King i tok sey, yu don kom.
7e. (Upon arrival) the king welcomed him.
7p. King i tok olsem, yu kam pinis.

(K preverbal don and P postverbal pinis mark perfective aspect.)

8k. Mek yu klin ma het, biabia i don plenti tumos fo ma het.
8e. He asked the young man to cut his hair because it was so long.
8p. Yu mas klinim het bilong mi, gras bilong en i kamap planti tumas.

(K biabia, P gras ‘hair’)

9k. Sens-pas-king i bin tok gri sey, i go bap king i het.
9e. Wiser-than-king agreed to cut the King’s hair.
9p. Save-winim-king i tok olsem, orait, bai mi katim gras bilong het bilong king.

(K bap ‘[to] barber’)

10k. I bigin kot-am, bot ha i di kot-am, i di soso trowe simol kon fo fawu, we i de fo king i domot.
10e. But as he was cutting he was also continually throwing down a little corn for the chickens in the King’s courtyard.
10p. Tasol taim em i kirap long katim, em i tromwe liklik kon wantaim long ol paul i stap arasait long haus bilong King.

(K soso ‘only, just’; K domot ‘front yard’ lit. ‘door-mouth’)

11k. King i aks i sey, ha yu di soso trowe kon?
11e. The King asked him, “Why are you always throwing down corn?”
11p. King i askim em olsem, bilong wanem yu tromwe kon i stap?

(P bilong wanem ‘why’ lit. ‘for what’)

12k. Boi ansa i sey, na lo fo gif chop fo fawu?
12e. The lad answered, “Is there a law against feeding chickens?”
12p. Boi i bekim tok olsem, i gat lo long givim kaikai long ol paul?

(P ol plural marker < E all)

13k. Simol tam i don pinis i wok.
13e. Soon he finished his task.
13p. Liklik taim, em i pinisim wok bilong en.

14k. King i het don nyanga bat.
14e. The King’s head looked very fine.
14p. Het bilong king i naispela nogut tru.

(K nyanga ‘handsome’; K bat, P nogut ‘bad, very’)

15k. King i bigin hala, sey, na wati!
15e. The King (then) began to shout, “What’s going on here?”
15p. King i kirap long singaut, olsem wanem?

16k. Simol wowo pikin klin het fo bik-man?
16e. “Can a good-for-nothing youngster cut (shave) the hair of an elder?”
16p. Liklik pikinini nating i katim gras bilong het bilong bikpela man?

(K wowo ‘useless, dirty’; P nating ‘useless’ < E nothing)

17k. Mek yu put bak ma biabia wan-tam!
17e. Put the hair back in place immediately!”
17p. Givim bek gras bilong het bilong mi kwiktaim!

18k. A go kil yu ifi yu no put-am!
18e. “I’ll kill you if you don’t put them back!”
18p. Bai mi kilim yu i dai sapos yu no bekim!

(P sapos ‘if’ < E suppose; kilim ‘hit, beat’, kilim i dai ‘kill’)

19k. Sens-pas-king tok sey, no kes.
19e. Wiser-than-king replied, “It doesn’t matter.”
19p. Save-winim-king i tok olsem, Nogat samting.

20k. A gri. A bi daso sey, mek yu gif bak ma kon bifo a go fiks yu biabia agen.
20e. “I will gladly put your hair back, if you return the corn I fed to your chickens.”
20p. Orait. Tasol mi tok, yu bekim kon bilong mi pestaim, orait, bai mi bekim gras bilong het bilong yu.

(K daso, P tasol ‘only, but’ < E that’s all; P pestaim ‘first’ < E first time)

21k. King i no sabi wati fo tok.
21e. The King was speechless.
21p. King i no save bekim tok ya.

22k. i mof don lok.
22e. He was dumbfounded.
22p. Maus bilong en i pas pinis.

(K lok ‘locked’; P pas ‘fast(ened)’)

23k. Sens-pas-king i di go daso. Man no fit fan i kes fo dis wan.
23e. Wiser-than-king went on his way and no one was able to find fault with him.
23p. Save-winim-king i wokabaut i go. Ol i no inap kotim em long dispela.

(K no fit, P no inap ‘not able < E fit, enough; kotim ‘take s.o. to court’)

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Varieties of Kamtok (vs. Tok Pisin)

From West African Pidgin-English: A Descriptive Linguistic Analysis with Texts and Glossary from the Cameroon Area, by Gilbert Donald Schneider (Athens, Ohio, 1966), pp. 226-229. Each English phrase is translated into three versions: a. anglicized Kamtok, b. “broad” Kamtok, and c. Tok Pisin of Papua New Guinea (the last being my translations). All varieties here are likely to be somewhat rural and old-fashioned.

ORTHOGRAPHY: Schneider writes the 7 vowels of Kamtok /a, ɛ, e, i, ɔ, o, u/ as a, e, ey, i, o, ow, u. Another source writes them a, eh, e, i, oh, o, u.

1. He married trouble.
a. hi don mari trobu.
b. i don mari trobu.
c. em i maritim trabel.

2. I stay in this town.
a. ay di silip fo dis tawn.
b. a di silip fo dis tong.
c. mi stap long dispela taun.

3. Do you have children?
a. yu get pikin?
b. yu get pikin?
c. i gat pikinini bilong yu?

4. They are pleased with my work.
a. dem di glad fo may wok.
b. dem di glat fo ma wok.
c. ol i laikim wok bilong mi.

5. My strength’s gone.
a. may strong hi don finish.
b. ma trong i don finis.
c. strong bilong mi i go pinis. / mi no strong moa.

6. Our Bible is on the table.
a. wi baybl dey fo tebl.
b. wi bau dey fo tebu.
c. Baibel bilong yumi/mipela i stap long tebol. (‘ours incl. you’/’ours excl. you’)

7. Pineapple is good food.
a. panapl na swit chop.
b. panabu na shwit chop.
c. ananas i switpela kaikai.

8. They’re having a meeting about coffee tomorrow.
a. dem get miting fo kofi tumaro.
b. dem get miting fo kofi tumaro.
c. ol i gat (wanpela) miting bilong kofi tumora.

9. Pardon me.
a. eskiys mi witi dis wan.
b. chus mi fo dis wan.
c. sori ya long dispela. (?)

10. This guava isn’t sweet.
a. dis gwava now di swit.
b. dis gwava now di shwit
c. dispela yambo i no swit.

11. Your oil isn’t good.
a. dat yu oyl now gud.
b. dat wuna oya now fan.
c. wel bilong yu i no gutpela.

12. He’s not speaking the truth.
a. hi now di tok tru.
b. i now di tok tru.
c. em i no tok stret.

13. I can’t sit on that chair.
a. ay now fit sidawn fo dat chea.
b. a now fit sidong fo dat chia.
c. mi no inap sindaun long dispela sia ya.

14. Come and scratch my back.
a. kom skrach mi fo bak.
b. kom kras mi fo bak.
c. kam skrapim baksait bilong mi.

15. We’re going to the town.
a. wi di kamawt go fo tawn.
b. wi di komot go fo tong.
c. mipela i go long taun i stap. (‘we’re on the way to town’)

16. Throw it on the ground.
a. meyk yu trowwey fo grawn.
b. meyk yu trowwey fo grong.
c. tromwe i stap long graun.

17. It has a strong odor.
a. hi di smel plenti.
b. i di simel plenti.
c. i gat strongpela smel (bilong en)

18. Who broke my pot?
a. wichman don browk may pot?
b. husman don browk ma pot?
c. husat i brukim sospen bilong mi?

19. My brother’s in the house.
a. may broda dey fo haws.
b. ma broda dey fo has.
c. Brata bilong mi i stap (insait) long haus.

20. Go and sit down outside.
a. meyk yu gow sidawn fo awtsay.
b. meyk wuna gow sidong fo ausai.
c. go sindaun long arasait / ausait long haus.

21.Who owns that oil?
a. na wichman get dat oyl?
b. na husman get dat oya?
c. dispela wel ya i bilong husat/wanem man?

22. Come and give me another one.
a. kom giv mi oda wan.
b. kom gif mi ada wan.
c. kam givim/bringim mi wanpela moa / narapela (‘more of same’ / ‘different’).
(More polite is: Wanpela moa i kam!)

23. They have many possessions.
a. dem get plenti kagow.
b. dem get plenti kagow.
c. ol i gat planti samting.

24. The medicine causes itching.
a. dat medisin di skrach.
b. dat metsin di kras.
c. dispela marasin i mekim skin i sikrap.

25. Who rang the bell?
a. wichman don ring bel?
b. husman don ring bel?
c. husat i pulim/paitim belo? (‘pull/strike’)

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Filed under anglosphere, Cameroon, language, Papua New Guinea