Language backgroundUruava was one of three languages in the Mono-Uruavan subgroup of the Northwest Solomonic subgroup of Oceanic, and was spoken in the village of Arawa, near present day Kieta on the east coast of Bougainville. From a linguistic point of view, Uruava is one of the most interesting and unusual languages in Northwest Solomonic. Unfortunately it is almost certainly extinct, or at best has one very elderly speaker. The Australian Government anthropologist, E.W.P. Chinnery, took a census of the village in late 1929 or early 1930 and identified a total population of 98 individuals. In 1938-1939 the American anthropologist Douglas Oliver identified the language as spoken by a 'handful' of people. By 1963, when an SIL survey team visited the area, only five elderly speakers were left, and the team was able to complete only a quarter of their survey word list. In 1973, the American linguist Peter Lincoln found no native speakers alive. My own informants tell me that the elderly chief of Arawa and paramount chief of that area, Rafael Jaintong, speaks the language, but it is not clear whether he is a first or second language speaker.
Uruava was known to its speakers as Poraka, and is known to people on Bougainville today by that name. It is not clear where the name Uruava came from.
Two very short songs texts exist that appear to be in Uruava:
Frizzi, Ernst (1914) Ein Beitrag zur Ethnologie von Bougainville und Buka. Baessler-Archiv Beiheft VI. Leipzig/Berlin: Druck und Verlag von B.G. Teubner. (p52)
Unfortunately the texts do not come with translations. They are identified by Frizzi as Lieder der Alu (Uruawe). Alu is the region of the Shortland Islands from which the Uruava speakers probably came to Bougainville, probably in the early 19th century.
A dictionary of Uruava (Palmer, Bill (2007) Uruava (Poraka) dictionary) is available here.
There is no reference grammar of Uruava. However, a short sketch grammar of the language exists.
Rausch, Peter (1912) 'Die Sprache von Südost-Bougainville, Deutsche Salomoninseln.' Section C: 'Die Uruava-Sprache.' Anthropos 7:974-982.
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© Bill Palmer 2007