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About Duna
  1. Language
  2. Geography
  3. People and Culture
  4. Publications
  5. Photos


The Duna language (ISO duc) is spoken by approximately 20,000 people living in the north-west corner of Southern Highlands (Hela) Province, Papua New Guinea. The indigenous self-designating term for the language and the people is Yuna. The language is classified as a member of the Duna-Bogaya family of the Trans New Guinea grouping (Wurm 1975; Ross 2005a). The only other member of the family is the highly endangered Bogaya language (also know as Pokaya/Bogaia/Pokoi, ISO boq).

Duna is a verb-final (typically SOV), mildly polysynthetic language. It is tonal, with word roots being specified for one of four contrastive pitch contours. Bound morphemes are suffixes or enclitics (with one exception). It has a range of complex predication types (e.g., verb serialisation, coverb constructions) and makes extensive use of chained dependent clauses preceding a final independent clause. Duna is part of a little-studied linguistic area, the only location in New Guinea (and, indeed, in the Pacific region) where a concentration of languages with complex grammaticised evidentiality (the marking of information source) is known to exist. The language has a rich system of epistemological morphology, comprising a detailed inventory of knowledge classifications. Duna evidential markers delineate at least four abstract categories of knowledge, two direct ('visual' and 'other sensory') and two indirect ('resultative' and 'notional'). Unusually, Duna evidentials further specify whether evidence is witnessed by a specific individual, or generally observable (e.g., by the addressee), reflecting a concern with exclusive versus potentially shared experience. As well as evidential morphemes, Duna has a more disparate group of bound epistemic markers that express complex stances towards one's own and others' knowledge, delineating fine shades of intersubjective meaning.



Duna lands extend from the headwaters of the Pori and Tumbudu Rivers in the south-east, through the river valleys to the Strickland River in the north-west, lying within the Koroba-Lake Kopiago district of the province. The territory covers an altitude range from about 400m at the grasslands bordering the Strickland River to over 3000m at peaks in the mountain ranges that mark the extent of Duna country to the south and north-east. The foundation is predominantly limestone karst, with the topsoil very thin to non-existent in some areas, and numerous caves, pinnacles, sinkholes, and underground waterways spread throughout the country. The average annual rainfall at Lake Kopiago is approximately 4500mm (Haley 2002:55; Marecek 1979:22). For Lake Kopiago in 1995, Haley (2002:55) records mean daytime and nighttime temperatures of 28 and 18.5 degrees centigrade, respectively. Rainfall and temperature records provide little evidence of an annual seasonal cycle in the Kopiago region, as they show an even distribution of figures throughout the year.

Within Duna territory, most people live in family groups in hamlets spread through the Pori and Tumbudu valleys and clustered in the low-lying wetland area around Lake Kopiago (the Kopiago Basin). Other settled areas include the Aluni Valley, the Strickland Gorge area, and locations at the headwaters of the Logaiyu, Urei, and Wanika Rivers in the eastern region. Residences and gardens are typically established between altitudes of 1200m and 1600m (Haley 2002:38).


People and Culture

The majority of Duna people in the Kopiago region are subsistence farmers. Sweet potato is the staple food and major garden cultivar (Robinson 1999). Domesticated pigs are a source of protein and fat, as well as being an important source of wealth, used for example in compensation and brideprice payments. A diet of gardened food and protein from domesticated animals is supplemented by store-bought food and by seasonal semi-cultivated tree crops (e.g., pandanus), other foraged forest foods (e.g., mushrooms), and, in small part, by hunted game.

The Duna homelands are divided into approximately ninety named territories (rindi 'land, earth', referred to in the literature as 'parishes'), bounded by waterways and landscape features. Co-resident parish groups comprise two or more different ima awa or 'clans' that share historical and/or geneaological connections with each other and with the original founders of the parish. Parish and clan identities are deeply significant at a personal and interpersonal level, and entail complex rights and responsibilities.

Duna have strong links – both cooperative and antagonistic – with several of their neighbouring culture/language groups, especially the Yeru, Bogaia and the Huli. The Bogaia, Yeru, Hewa, Ok, Huli, Ipili, Strickland Plains peoples (including the Febi), and at least some Papuan Plateau peoples further to the south (including speakers of Foe, Fasu, and languages of the Bosavi language family) are identified by the Duna as having a common primordial origin with them as the Hela ingini (sons of Hela), who came to life in the Strickland Gorge.

The Duna people had no direct contact with Europeans until the 1930s. Themes that people find especially emblematic of pre-contact time, in contrast to now, include: the rigorous separation of males and females; strictures concerning marrying age and birth-spacing; the widespread prevalence of game and other animals; the ordered practice of warfare and courting; the potency of ritual sacrifice; and the significance of the Duna 'bachelor cult', one of the most profoundly shaping influences of pre-contact life, whereby boys would be separated from female kin from an early age to be schooled into manhood.

Duna experiences of and responses to events following contact and to environmental pressures have been examined and illuminated from different perspectives by researchers in the disciplines of social anthropology, archaeology, and ethnomusicology. A dominant theme of such research is how people incorporate deeply disturbing change into a specifically Duna cosmology and cultural practice.




  • Author unknown. 2006. Organised phonology data: Duna (Yuna) language. Originally created: 2004-08-14.
  • Cochrane, Dennis and Nancy Cochrane. 1966. Duna essentials for translation. Manuscript submitted to the Grammar Department, SIL, PNG Branch.
  • Giles, Glenda. MS. Duna language lessons. Manuscript held at SIL PNG, Ukarumpa.
  • Giles, Glenda. MS. A guide to the pronunciation of Duna. Manuscript held at SIL PNG, Ukarumpa.
  • Giles, Glenda. 1972. Duna is not Greek, but how far can one go? The Bible Translator 23(4): 406-412.
  • Giles, Glenda. 1975. Finished and fluent—not synonymous. Read 10:4 [reprinted 2000, Read 35(1): 14-16].
  • Loughnane, Robyn and Lila San Roque. Forthcoming. Evidentiality in Highlands PNG. In Mark Donohue (ed.), Proceedings of the 1st Papuanists’ Workshop, 2006.
  • Rule, R. (compiler). 1966. A grammatical description of the Duna (Yuna) language. Manuscript held at SIL PNG, Ukarumpa.
  • San Roque, Lila. 2008. An introduction to Duna grammar. PhD dissertation, The Australian National University.
  • Voorhoeve, C. L. 1975. Central and Western Trans-New Guinea phylum languages. In Stephen A.Wurm (Ed.), New Guinea area languages and language study 1: Papuan languages and the New Guinea linguistic scene, pp. 345–459. Canberra: Pacific Linguistics.


Culture and history:

      For material produced before 1995, see:


    • Ballard, Chris. 1995. Bibliography of materials on the Huli, Duna and Ipili peoples. In Aletta Biersack (ed.).


  • Biersack, Aletta (ed.). 1995. Papuan borderlands: Huli, Duna and Ipili perspectives on the Papua New Guinea Highlands. Ann Arbor: The University of Michigan Press.
  • Goldman, Laurence and Chris Ballard. 1998. Fluid ontologies: Myth, ritual and philosophy in the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. Connecticut: Bergin and Garvey.
  • Haley, Nicole C. 2002. Ipakana yakaiya: Mapping landscapes, mapping lives. PhD dissertation, The Australian National University.
  • Haley, Nicole C. 2008. Sung adornment: Changing masculinities at Lake Kopiago, Papua New Guinea. The Australian Journal of Anthropology 19(2): 213-229.
  • Robinson, Rebecca. 1996. Big wet, big dry: The role of extreme periodic environmental stress in the development of the Kopiago agricultural system, Southern Highlands Province.
  • Stewart, Pamela. J. and Andrew Strathern. 2000. Naming Places: Duna evocations of landscape in Papua New Guinea. People and Culture in Oceania 16: 87-107.
  • Stewart, Pamela J. and Andrew Strathern. 2002. Remaking the world: Myth, mining, and ritual change among the Duna of Papua New Guinea. Washington D.C. and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.
  • Stewart, Pamela J. and Andrew Strathern. 2004. Empowering the past, confronting the future. The Duna people of Papua New Guinea. New York: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Stürzenhofecker, G. 1998. Times enmeshed: Gender, space and history among the Duna of Papua New Guinea. Stanford, California: Stanford University Press.



  • Chenoweth, Vida. 1969. An investigation of the singing style of the Dunas. Oceania 39(3): 218-230.
  • Gillespie, Kirsty. 2007. Laip senis: music and encounter in a Papua New Guinean community. In Oceanic music encounters: the print resource and the human resource. Essays in honour of Mervyn McLean. Auckland: University of Auckland.
  • Gillespie, K. 2007. Steep slopes: Song creativity, continuity and change for the Duna of Papua New Guinea. PhD dissertation, The Australian National University.
  • Gillespie, Kirsty. 2010. Giving women a voice: Christian songs and female expression at Kopiago, Papua New Guinea. Perfect Beat 11(1): 7-24.
  • Rumsey, Alan (ed.). Forthcoming. Sung stories from the Papua New Guinea Highlands: Studies in form, meaning, and sociocultural context.
  • Sollis, Michael. 2010. Tune-tone relationships in sung Duna pikono. Australian Journal of Linguistics 30: 67-80.
  • Stewart, Pamela J. and Andrew Strathern. 2002. Gender, song and sensibility: Folksongs and folktales in the highlands of New Guinea. Westport, Conn.: Praeger.
  • Stewart, Pamela J. and Andrew Strathern. 2005. Duna Pikono: A popular contemporary genre in the Papua New Guinea Highlands. In P. J. Stewart and A. Strathern (eds), Expressive genres and historical change: Indonesia, Papua New Guinea, and Taiwan, Chapter 3. London: Ashgate Publishing.


Duna language materials:

  • Author unknown. 1966. Yunaya haga giniu [Duna language literacy] 1-4. Ukarumpa: Summer Institute of Linguistics. 4 booklets 25, 25, 25, 29p.
  • Author unknown. 1987. Mbuga ndu [Book one], Mbuga yaba [Book two], Mbuga itupa [Book three]. Duna literacy primers. Wewak, PNG: Christian Books Melanesia Inc.
  • Duna New Testament. Ngodeya haga ayere ho. Prepared under the auspices of Christian Mission in Many Lands, 1976. Wewak: Christian Books Melanesia Inc.
  • Giles, G. nda. Hagamana mbuga ndu [Sermons book one]. Illustrated booklet obtained from Kopiago Catholic Mission, SHP, PNG.
  • Giles, G. nda. Hagamana mbuga idupane [Sermons book three]. Illustrated booklet obtained from Kopiago Catholic Mission, SHP, PNG.
  • Ipa Rale community members. 2010. Akura haka ramene [Night sounds]. Illustrated booklet.
  • Kopiago Elementary Teachers’ Workshop. 2009. Siki naki [Malaria]. Illustrated booklet adapted from Shell Book HL0006.
  • Kopiago Elementary Teachers’ Workshop. 2009. Siki taipoti, siki kolera [Typhoid and cholera]. Illustrated booklet adapted from Shell Book HL0005.
  • Kopiago Elementary Teachers’ Workshop. 2010. Ida akita kei [How many pigs?]. Illustrated booklet.
  • Kopiago Elementary Teachers’ Workshop. 2010. No lapapua ndu [I am a butterfly]. Illustrated booklet adapted from Shell Book.
  • Kopiago Elementary Teachers’ Workshop. 2010. No andia puti [I am a mother cat]. Illustrated booklet adapted from Shell Book.
  • Kopiago Elementary Teachers’ Workshop. 2010. No wena puka ndu [I am a big fish]. Illustrated booklet adapted from Shell Book.
  • Rewapi community members. 2005. Hina rinipeta korona [Cooking sweet potato]. Illustrated booklet.
  • Rewapi community members. 2005. Nu warena [Weaving bags]. Illustrated booklet.
  • Rewapi community members. 2005. Khiau suwana [Making fire]. Illustrated booklet.



Last checked 2015-11-03 by Mark Dingemanse
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Lila San Roque

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
PO Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
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