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A documentation of North Ambrym, A language of Vanuatu

A documentation of North Ambrym, A language of Vanuatu

Language: North Ambrym [mmg]

Depositor: Mike Franjieh

Location: Vanuatu

Summary of deposit

This is a collection of material on the language of North Ambrym, Vanuatu. North Ambrym is spoken in the northern tip of the island of Ambrym, located in the centre of the Vanuatu archipelago. Vanuatu is the most linguistically dense place in the world with over a hundred languages and a population of only around a quarter of a million people. There are only around 3000 speakers of North Ambrym. This collection represents the initial documentation phase. The next phase is to introduce a vernacular education programme in 2013 which will be used in primary education on the island.

Texts of several different genres were collected between 17/3/2010 and 15/11/2011 and included traditional narratives, life experiences, expositions, songs, cultural commentaries, meetings, oral histories, and sand drawings.

One of the highlights of this collection are the recordings of sand drawing. Sand drawing is a unique art form found in central and north Vanuatu. Ash from the fire is scattered on the ground. Grid lines are then drawn on the ground and the artist traces lines and curves through the grid. The results are intricate geometric patterns that are abstract representations of material objects and the natural world. They can also represent folk stories and custom beliefs. Sometimes the artist draws part of the pattern, tells the story, and then changes the picture to finish the story, such as in the 'twins' drawing or the 'dove breaks the wild cane' drawing. Videos of these drawings are viewable below.



Tengwelie

This sand drawing tells the story of a man and his wife. The husband locks his wife at home while he goes to another island. His brother, Tengwelie, goes in and has intercourse with his wife. He sees a tattoo on her (the sand drawing) and goes to the beach and draws it in the sand. The husband returns and sees the mark in the sand and realises someone has been with his wife. He finds out it is his brother and tricks him into going to the garden where he kills him and buries him with some bananas. He returns with his wife five days later and digs up the bananas and the body and forces his wife to eat it all up. She eats it and runs away and tricks her husband into thinking she has killed herself by jumping into the sea and drowning. Her husband follows suit and jumps and drowns. The woman vomits up Tengwelie and brings him back to life.






Rom mask

A sand drawing depicting the creation of the Rom mask, a mask used in the Rom secret society. The sand drawing appears first, then the story. Two women sit behind two banyan trees and make a Rom mask, they both come out and show it to each other and then their husband. Their husband then takes it away from them and dances with it and thus the Rom dance is born.






The dove breaks the wild cane

A sand drawing depicting a green winged dove trying to carry some wild cane. The wild cane is too heavy and the bird drops some and tries to carry it again, but it is still too heavy. Again it drops some and tries again, this time it is light enough to carry. The sand drawing is drawn first and then the story is told after, but during the story parts of the drawing are rubbed out to show the dropping of the wild cane.






Murr rock

This drawing represents a rock found off the coast of the northern tip of Ambrym island, near Olal village. The drawing also shows two fishes underneath the rock, however no explanation is given as to their significance.






breadfruit

This is one of the more basic drawings and it shows a breadfruit. The breadfruit also depicts a person's face, showing the different layers of interpretations that sand drawings have.






Canoe

This drawing shows a canoe and outrigger






The bald man of Wunu

The Bald man from Wunu village was walking through the jungle on his way to another village. He found out that some people were waiting to ambush and kill him. He took a leaf and covered his head and walked past them. The ambushers did not recognise him and he returned home safely. The drawing clearly depicts the figure of a man with a leaf covering his head.






Butterfly

This is a drawing of a butterfly.






Twins

This is a story about twins, one of the twins comes along and starts to draw on the ground but doesn't finish the picture. The other twin comes and finishes the picture.





Group represented

North Ambrym

Deposit contents

The archived files are in ELAN format with MEPG-2 video and WAV audio, recorded with Rode NTG-2 and Rode NT4 microphones.

Other information

Mike Franjieh gave an interview to SOAS Radio as part of the Endangered Languages Podcasts series on Wed, 02 May 2012, available to stream from the SOAS radio page.

He also features in ABC Radio National's Lingua Franca program of 17 Nov 2012 (podcast downloadable).
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