​Indigenous language almost extinct

An indigenous language will become extinct if no efforts are done to preserve it.

This is true for the Makolkol, a group of people located towards the Nakanai Ranges between Open Bay, Pomio and West New Britain.

The original Makolkol are Baining people, the indigenous inhabitants of East New Britain, However, they were thought to be extinct and thus, were never included as part of the Baining tribe.

Meet William Labu, an elder of the Makolkol and one of five pure blood, original Makolkol people.

Stories around these areas tell of how fearsome and warlike the Makolkol people were, and how they preyed on villages. It was said that they had an amazing skill of concealing themselves and were akin to giants.

Even during the intrusion of World War II, they were still a feared people. Even online journals post instances of the Makolkol people and their feats.

Coming back to the 21st century; Labu stands a proud man, about 186 centimetres tall with a deep, dark brown complexion.

His ramrod muscular body, sharp mind and clear focus makes it difficult to place his age but he says his mother gave birth to him immediately after WWII.

He however, does not elaborate whether it was after the war began or ended, his thoughts having moved on as he regales how he spent his childhood and as a young man eating nutritious seaweed and travelling to collect salt, which probably explains his compact built.

His revelry quickly sobers as he explains of the 10 to 11 families that comprise the Makolkol now, there are only five people who are pure blood Baining. He says this is due to intermarriage over the years, which has eroded the speaking of the original language.

The Makolkol original language was similar to the Simbali and Mali dialects, and can be understood by the Uramat and Kairak clans; four of the five recognised clans that comprise the Baining tribe.

For instance, mam, meaning father, and nan, meaning mother, is also spoken by the Simbali, Mali, Uramat and Kairak people.

Executive officer of the Qaqet [Baining] Stewardship Council, Boniface Setavo, was excited by these revelations. He says the Council will reach out to the Makolkol people and include them in major decision makings regarding the affairs of the Baining people.

This means the Council will formally recognise the Makolkol people as part of the Baining tribe.

Setavo says it is very concerning that their language is slowly becoming extinct, and the Council will ensure it is preserved.

Speaking in Tok Pisin, Labu says the Makolkol are Baining, and refer to themselves as Baining. He confirms another story told that the Makolkol broke away from the Simbali people following a dispute by two women at a watering hole over bamboos used to fetch drinking water.

The split resulted in the creation of the Makolkol people, who then settled towards the Nakanai Ranges.

The Council now is seeking to include them in a working map that demarcates clan boundary lines in a lead-up towards gaining a Baining electorate soon.

Labu says he is happy that his people are recognised as a sixth clan of the Baining tribe.

He says the land boundary lines, and being included in this anticipated Baining district, will also ensure they are not being pushed out from where they are now due to what he describes as land grabbers from outside his area.

(From left: William Labu, elder of Makolkol, speaking to Uramat Clan secretary Kepas Sion.)

Joshua Arlo