The Oceanic Subgroup and Proto-Oceanic Culture

The linguistic evidence indicates that there was just a single early movement of Austronesian speakers into northwest Melanesia that left linguistic traces.

The need to recognize what we now call the Oceanic subgroup of Austronesian was first expressed by the Dutch linguist Hendrik Kern (1886) in a discussion of the relationships of Fijian to several Indonesian and Polynesian languages, but the foundations of modern Oceanic comparative work were not truly laid until the 1930s, when the German linguist, Otto Dempwolff, published his major work (1934, 1937, 1938) on the Austronesian family. In the second volume of this work Dempwolff reconstructed a sound system for the immediate common ancestor of the Polynesian languages and a sample of eighty-two “Melanesian” languages and found that all the languages in his sample reflect a set of sound changes to the Proto-Malayo-Polynesian (“Uraustronesisch”) system he had reconstructed earlier. The quantity of these shared phonological innovations led Dempwolff to conclude that the “Melanesian” and Polynesian languages form a subgroup apart from the Austronesian languages to the west, in the Indo-Malaysian archipelago. Dempwolff labelled the interstage language ancestral to this subgroup “Urmelanesisch”. Another German scholar, Wilhelm Milke, coined the more appropriate “Proto-Ozeanisch” in 1961, and since then “Proto-Oceanic” has been used. Even though some of Dempwolff’s putative phonological innovations have been eliminated as a result of subsequent research, the evidence for Oceanic has on the whole been strengthened and the precision of our phonological, grammatical and lexical reconstructions has improved.[6]

The region covered by “Oceania” in this context is the Pacific east of a line drawn from north to south and dividing Chamorro (Mariana Islands) and Belau (formerly Palau) from the rest of Micronesia and crossing the north coast of Irian Jaya at 138°E longitude. This means that the seam between Oceanic and its closest Austronesian relatives is in the west of New Guinea between the Bird’s Head and the Sarmi Coast. The Oceanic subgroup includes the Austronesian languages of all of Melanesia except the extreme west of New Guinea, all of Polynesia and most of Micronesia (see Map 1). Apart from languages brought by colonialism, languages of Oceania which are not Austronesian are found only in New Guinea and nearby archipelagoes. These are the so-called non-Austronesian or “Papuan” languages of many of the peoples of New Guinea and some island peoples as far east as Savo in the Solomon Islands (and a probable outlier area in the Reef Islands).

Reconstructed Oceanic terminologies give insight into the culture of POc speakers and of the speakers of various interstage languages.[7] It is clear that POc speakers preserved a very high proportion of Proto-Malayo-Polynesian and Proto-Eastern Malayo-Polynesian terms for a range of important cultural domains. The inference must be drawn that there was continuity in many components of the way of life of Austronesian speakers from a Proto-Malayo-Polynesian dispersal centre in Island Southeast Asia to the POc dispersal centre in northwest Melanesia, over a period of uncertain duration, perhaps 1000 years. The lexical reconstructions point to what archaeologists (e.g. Bellwood 1989) refer to as initial “founder settlement” of northwest Melanesia by Austronesian speakers.

Elaborate terminologies for seafaring and fishing and for horticulture and pottery indicate that the economy of POc speakers was based on both the sea and the land, and that some people or some local groups were specialist fishermen, farmers or potters (Pawley 1981; Pawley and Green 1984). Table 2, for example, lists reconstructed POc terms for canoe parts, seafaring and the sea (mostly from Pawley and Pawley 1994). Terms can also be reconstructed for various winds (Ross 1994d) and for numerous fish and sea creatures (Walter 1989; Pawley 1993). Table 3 shows the reconstructed forms for the growth stages of the coconut and for parts of the coconut, whilst Table 4 gives terms for food plants other than the coconut as well as some other horticultural terms (terms in both tables are from French-Wright 1983 and Ross 1993). Lichtenberk (1994) has reconstructed terms associated with food preparation (e.g. *tabiRa ‘wooden dish’, *qumun ‘stone oven’) and Ross (1994c) terms for pots and pottery; some of these are listed in Table 5. We can also reconstruct the names of various land animals (*boRok ‘domesticated pig’, *bawe probably ‘wild pig’, *kadroRa ‘cuscus’, *mwaj[oa] ‘bandicoot, marsupial rat’, *kasuari ‘cassowary’). Reconstructed terminologies can also illuminate social organization, exemplified by the kinship terminology of Table 6 (based on Milke 1958; Chowning 1991): it is noteworthy that there is a gap in the system at ‘father’s sister’ and that only two affinal terms have so far been reconstructed.

Map 1: Boundaries of the Oceanic subgroup of Austronesian languages.

Map 1: Boundaries of the Oceanic subgroup of Austronesian languages.

Table 2. Reconstructed Proto-Oceanic terms for canoe parts and seafaring.(a)

Types of vessel:

 

*waga

large sailing canoe; outrigger canoe (generic)

*katiR

small outrigger canoe (?) or canoe hull

Parts of a canoe:

 

*baban, *bapan

plank; canoe plank or strake

*soka(r)

thwart; collar-beam in house

*(q)oRa

strake, probably topstrake (washstrake)

*pataR

platform of any kind, inc. one erected on outrigger framework

*saman

outrigger float

*kiajo

outrigger boom

*patoto

connective sticks attaching float

*kata(q)e, kate(q)a(b)

free side of canoe, opposite the outrigger

*layaR

Sail

*qeba

mat; matting sail

*jila

boom or yard of (triangular) sail

*muri-

rear, stern; back of any object

*muqa-

front, bow of boat; front of any object

*isu-

nose; projecting headboard of prow(c)

*ŋuju-

snout; projecting headboard of prow(c)

Canoe accessories:

 

*pose

(canoe) paddle

*paluca

to paddle

*lima(s), nima(s)

bailer

*asu

scoop or ladle out; ladle, bailer

*laŋon

rollers

*laŋon-i

place rollers under a boat

*ujan, *lujan

to load (a boat); cargo, freight

*quliŋ

to steer; rudder

*jau(q)

be anchored or moored, be stationary

Canoe making:

 

*kiRam

adze/axe

*taRaq

adze

*taRaq-i

to adze, carve

Notes

(a) In this and the following tables reconstructions are given in the orthography of Ross (1988), with the addition of the phoneme *pw . Conventions in proto-forms are:

(x) it cannot be determined whether x was present;

(x, y), xx/yy either x or y;

[x] the item is reconstructible in two forms, one with and one without x;

[x, y] the item is reconstructible in two forms, one with x and one with y;

xx, yy both x and y.

-xx xx is always suffixed (in most cases by an inalienable possessor suffix).

(b) The parentheses indicate that the *-q- is not reflected in our data, but is required by the rules governing the canonic form of POc words.

(c) Often with ornately carved figurehead.

Table 3. Reconstructed Proto-Oceanic forms associated with coconut culture.

The coconut and its stages of growth:

*niuR

coconut (generic); growth stage: ripe, brown but not fallen yet

*(q)abwaji

growth stage: fruit bud

*kubo/*kubwa

growth stage: young, green

*karu

growth stage: green, drinkable

*matuqu

growth stage: ripe, brown but not fallen yet

*maRaŋo, *goRu

growth stage: dry and ready to fall

*tabwa

growth stage: sprouted

Parts of the coconut palm and of the coconut:

*polo

coconut water

*bwilo, lasa

coconut shell used as liquid container or cup

*paraq

coconut embryo

*puto-

spongy centre of a sprouting coconut

*punut, *penut

coconut husk, fibres on coconut husk

*kojom[-i]

to husk a coconut

*[pa]paq[a-]

frond of a palm

*palapa(q)

palm branch

*suluq

dry coconut leaf torch

*Runut, *nuRut

sheath around base of coconut frond, used as a strainer

Table 4. Reconstructed Proto-Oceanic terms for horticulture and food plants (other than coconuts)

Tubers and their culture:

*mwapo(q)

taro (possibly all Araceae)

*talo(s)

taro, Colocasia esculenta

*piRaq

giant taro, elephant ear taro, Alocasia macrorrhiza

*bulaka

swamp taro, Cyrtosperma chamissonis

*kamwa

k.o. wild taro (?)

*qupi

greater yam, Dioscorea alata; yam (generic)

*pwatik

potato yam, aerial yam, Dioscorea bulbifera

*(s,j)uli(q)

banana or taro sucker, slip, cutting, shoot (i.e. propagation material)

*wasi(n)

taro stem (used for planting)

*bwaŋo

new leaves or shoots, or taro tops for planting

*up(e,a)

taro seedling

*pasoq[-i]

to plant (tubers)

*kotiŋ

to cut off taro tops

Bananas:

 

*pudi

banana, Musa cultivars

*joRaga

banana, Australimusa group

*sakup

k.o. cooking banana: long with white flesh (presumably Eumusa group)

Other food plants:

*topu

sugar cane, Saccharum officinarum

*pijo

a kind of edible wild cane or a reed, Saccharum spontaneum

*[ka]timun

cucurbit (generic); cucumber, Cucumis sativus

*laqia

ginger, Zingiber officinale

*yaŋo

turmeric, Curcuma longa

*kuluR

breadfruit, Artocarpus altilis

*baReqo

breadfruit fruit (?)

*padran

pandanus (generic); coastal pandanus, Pandanus tectorius

*kiRe

coastal pandanus, Pandanus tectorius

*pakum

Pandanus dubius

*ima

k.o. pandanus with useful leaves

*Rabia

sago, Metroxylon spp., mainly Metroxylon sagu

*sag(u)

sago starch

*qatop

sago fronds, thatch

*talise

Java almond, Indian almond, Terminalia catappa

*qipi

Tahitian chestnut, Pacific chestnut, Inocarpus fagifer

*[ka]ŋaRi

canarium almond, Canarium spp.

*molis

citrus fruit or citrus-like fruit

*pau(q)*

mango, probably Mangifera indica

*wai, *waiwai

mango (generic)

*kapika

Malay apple and rose apple, Eugenia spp.

*ñonum

Morinda citrifolia

*tawan

Pometia pinnata

*wasa

edible greens, Abelmoschus manihot

*m(w)asoku

wild cinnamon, Cinnamomum spp.

*quRis

Polynesian plum, hog plum, Tahitian apple, Spondias cytherea

*ñatu(q)

k.o. tree with avocado-like fruit and hard wood, Burckella obovata

*raqu(p)

New Guinea walnut, Dracontomelon dao

*buaq

areca palm, Areca catechu

Gardening practices:

*quma

garden

*tanoq

soil, earth

*poki

to clear ground for planting

*sara

to dig a hole

*tanum[-i]

to plant

Some prehistorians evidently find the methods of historical linguistics so arcane or the idea of such detailed lexical reconstructions so incredible, that they prefer to ignore or discount the reconstructions as irrelevant to prehistory. This attitude is no more excusable than that of a linguist who would ignore C14 dates for artefact assemblages because he does not understand how such dates are arrived at or who would discount the relative dating of assemblages in any archaeological site on the suspicion that worms, humans or earthquakes have disturbed the layers.

Table 5. Reconstructed Proto-Oceanic terms associated with pots and pottery.

Types of vessel:

 

*kuron

cooking pot, pot (generic)

*palaŋa

frying pan

*bwaŋa

k.o. large pot

Parts of vessel:

 

*tupa((n, ŋ))

lid, cover

*joŋa(n, ŋ)

plug, bung, stopper

*mwati

herringbone pattern

Pottery manufacture:

 

*raRo(q)

clay

*buli

mould (clay etc.)

*tapi

paddle for beating clay into shape

*pilit

coil around, encircle; add strip of clay around top of pot

Pottery use:

 

*tunu

roast in the fire, fire (pot)

*nasu

cook by boiling

*napu

steam, boil

*rapu

fireplace

Table 6. Reconstructed Proto-Oceanic kinship terms.

Consanguineal terms:

 

*t[i,u]bu-

grandparent, grandchild

*makubu

grandchild

*tama-

father, father’s brother

*tina-

mother, mother’s sister

*matuqa

mother’s brother

*(qa)lawa

mother’s brother, sister’s child

*natu-

child, same-sex sibling’s child

*tuqaka-

older same-sex sibling

*taci-

younger same-sex sibling

*mwaqane

brother (woman speaking)

*(pa)pine

sister (man speaking)

Affinal terms:

 

*qasawa-

spouse

*qipaR

spouse’s opposite-sex sibling

Note: The problem of reconstructing two terms for ‘mother’s brother’ is discussed by Chowning (1991:65).