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


Kilivila, the language of the Trobriand Islanders, is one of 40 Austronesian languages spoken in the Milne Bay Province of Papua New Guinea. It is an agglutinative language and its general word order pattern is VOS. The Austronesian languages spoken in Milne Bay Province are grouped into 12 language families; one of them is labeled Kilivila. The Kilivila language family encompasses the languages Budibud (or Nada, with about 200 speakers), Muyuw (or Murua, with about 4,000 speakers) and Kilivila (or Kiriwina, Boyowa, with about 25,000 speakers); Kilivila is spoken on the islands Kiriwina, Vakuta, Kitava, Kaile'una, Kuiawa, Munuwata and Simsim. The languages Muyuw and Kilivila are each split into mutually understandable local dialects. Typologically, Kilivila is classified as a Western Melanesian Oceanic language belonging to the "Papuan-Tip-Cluster" group.



The Trobriand Islands, a group of about 20 islands and islets, are situated at the 151.04 degree of Eastern Longitude and 8.38 degree of Southern Latitude in Milne Bay Povince, Papua New Guinea. Kitava Island is an elevated coral island which rises to about 30 meters at a central ridge. The other islands and islets are low-lying flat coral atolls. All islands are coral formations composed of coralline limestone. Most of them are fringed by coral reefs. The islands Kitava, Kiriwina, Vakuta, Kaile'una, Muwa, Kuiawa, Munuwata, Tuma, and Simsim are populated. The islands are considered to be an important tropical rainforest eco-region.


People and Culture

The Trobriand Islanders have become famous, even outside of anthropology, because of the ethnographic masterpieces on their culture published by the famous anthropologist Bronislaw Kaspar Malinowski, who did field research there between 1916 and 1920. The Trobrianders belong to the ethnic group called "Northern Massim". They are gardeners, doing slash and burn cultivation of the bush; their most important crop is yams. Moreover, they are also famous for being excellent canoe builders, carvers, and navigators, especially in connection with the ritualized "Kula" trade, an exchange of shell valuables that covers a wide area of the Melanesian part of the Pacific. The society is matrilinear but virilocal.



For a full list of publications on Kilivila by Gunter Senft, please visit his publications page.



Last checked 2017-11-30 by Mark Dingemanse
Image right




Gunter Senft

Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
PO Box 310
6500 AH Nijmegen
The Netherlands