UPNG Seminar 22nd July 2013: Documenting Arapesh Language and Culture: A Century of Relationships


I guess you can say that the relationships surrounding my fathers’ Arapesh language began around the time Margaret Mead came to Wewak in the 1930’s, upon which Mead wrote several influential anthropological books Many years later linguist Lise Dobrin picked up from some of Margaret Meads work, and Lise’s interest in the ‘noun classes‘ of my Arapesh language 16 years ago lead not only to how she found her husband Ira, but to her becoming a part of the Wautogik Village family, from where my father’s people are from.

Today our Arapesh language is on its last legs and my generation do not know how to speak it except for a few greetings and kinship names. Our grandparents were the last true fluent speakers and in my father’s rush to have us educated and to grow up speaking English in the home, he somehow forgot to teach us Arapesh as part of our lives. To make matters worse the majority of our village population now live in towns and cities around PNG, so its become important to us that Lise can speak Arapesh fluently and that she is working on a digital Lexicon of the language.

I was fortunate to have paid her a visit at the University of Virginia last year where we discussed various ways forward in terms of bringing her study and work back to us children of Arapesh and most importantly how we can use it to relearn the language. The pathway to relearning Arapesh is not exactly clear to us right now, because as always the best way to learn a language is from people speaking and not books and audio visual guides. So the least we are hoping for right now is being able to at least record it and store it in some multimedia format that’s easily accessible to my generation of Arapesh people so that if we want to learn it, the tools are there to start.

So in continuing this work, Lise and her husband Ira, along with their two children Elliot and Hannah are currently in PNG to spend some time in my village Wautogik. She’ll be here till early August before she heads off to see my cousin Vergil in New Zealand then she returns to the US. Our family is holding a mumu/meeting of sorts this weekend to continue our discussions on her work but if you are interested in listening to her and her husband talk about their work, join us at UPNG this Monday, details below:


MELANESIAN AND PACIFIC STUDIES CENTER A research centre from the School of Humanities and Social Sciences, University of Papua New Guinea

Invites you to the presentation of LISE M. DOBRIN, Associate Professor of Anthropology, IRA ROBERT BASHKOW, Associate Professor of Anthropology

“Documenting Arapesh Language and Culture: A Century of Relationships”

Abstract: How do outside researchers come to know another culture? How do the individuals and personal relationships involved help shape the documentary record? We will explore these questions using the history and ongoing study of the Arapesh language and culture from the Sepik region of Papua New Guinea.

We will consider the implications for people interested in the preservation of cultures and languages in Papua New Guinea.

Dr. Dobrin is an anthropological linguist who did fieldwork in Wautogik Village, East Sepik Province, in 1997-1999. She curates the Arapesh Grammar and Digital Language Archive (www.arapesh.org). She directs the Linguistics Program at the University of Virginia, USA.

Dr. Bashkow teaches Cultural Anthropology and directs the PhD program in Anthropology at the University of Virginia. He specializes in the history of anthropology, race studies, and development studies. He has written a book on Orokaiva culture,  The Meaning of Whitemen: Race and Modernity in the Orokaiva Cultural World.

Venue: MLT – Time: Monday 22nd – July 2013, 5-7 pm



2 thoughts on “UPNG Seminar 22nd July 2013: Documenting Arapesh Language and Culture: A Century of Relationships

  1. That’s great work documenting Arapesh, and congrats masalai blog @ twitter. The late Otto. I.M.S Nekitel used to be associated with aspects of Abu’-Arapesh. A fascinating language.I wish we could do the same for all concerned languages en-mass.

    1. Thank you Steve, the hope is that if we can at least get our systems and practices in order throughout this project to make it sustainable, then hopefully we will be able to share our experiences so that we can maybe be of assistance to other languages in PNG.

      So I will be continuously be updating on this blog about our project as we grow with it.

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