Since I had extra time on Pohnpei, I decided to try to find Ngatikese speakers living in Kolonia (the main town). I already had made a few connections the previous days and one woman seemed really eager to help. I knew roughly where in town she lived and it only took Kristin and I a few minutes to find her. We chatted for a while and eventually I asked her if I could ask her some questions about Ngatikese and she seemed excited to help. It turns out she used to be a teacher in Sapwuahfik and in Kolonia for a total of about 40 years. I was able to record for about an hour with her and I got an initial word list of just over 200 words, some grammatical information and a few minutes of her describing the pear story. She said we can stop by whenever we want and I will probably stop by Friday or Saturday again. After listening to the recording I have several new questions from her. The downside about recording at her place is that there is a lot of background noise from her grandchildren, chickens, geckos, other birds, cars, neighbors playing bingo, and even construction work nearby. Luckily the recorder didn't pick up all the background noise, but it is going to be hard to find an ideal place to record here.
Today I met with the Ngatikese teacher at Ohmine Elementary school whom I met briefly yesterday. I told he him a little more about what I was doing and he drove me around town showing me where Ngatikese live. He also tried to find NMC speakers for me. Based on what he told me it seems only older men know it (~60+ years old) and that they only use it among themselves when playing cards or checkers. He said he knew several men in Sapwuahfik who still use it and that there it was also used with sailing. The younger men, especially those living in Pohnpei don't know it or use only a few phrases like greetings. I did, however, meet several Ngatikese speakers that I can follow up with. It was raining the entire time that he took me around so it was impossible to record anything anyway because of the noise from the tin roofs. For my very initial findings it seems that NMC is pretty endangered, unless the younger men don't admit to knowledge of it. Ngatikese, however, is widely spoken by Ngatikese on Pohnpei and Sapwuahfik, though some Ngatikese say that the way youth speak on Pohnpei is very heavily Pohnpeian influenced. I would love to explore these more.
Later that afternoon after I got home from that little adventure, I got a call from the CIA (the airline) who said my flight to Sapwuahfik tomorrow was canceled because there were not enough people flying back from Sapwuahfik. They book us instead on the next flight this Tuesday, 7/1. I expected that this might happen so if I can make this next flight things should be good and I would still have about 10 days in Sapwuahfik. After the news, Kristin and I still decided to go shopping for supplies since we had time and we went around to a few places to buy rice, canned meats, snacks, toilet paper, and a few other things. We are both pretty much ready now, if the flight works out.
Now that I have a few more days on Pohnpei, hopefully I can meet some of those Ngatikese again. There were a couple of them that seemed really interested. There were also some that seemed really confused by what I was doing or found it amusing. We'll see if anything happens. This experience is so typical of Pohnpei. You just have to go with the flow and expect that whatever you plan might not work and just do what you can.
Today I was supposed to meet up with a Ngatikese teacher at Ohmine Elementary School in town and then he was going to show me where Ngatikese live in Kolonia. I was able to meet him briefly today but he had a class or something that he had to do, so we rescheduled our meeting for Wednesday at 1pm. After the brief meeting I decided to go to the Telecom building and get a SIM card for my phone to make it easier for people to contact me while I'm here. My local number is (+691) 926-1452. After running a few more errands, I headed home for the day and worked on some more questions and lists of things to ask speakers when I eventually get to meet up with them.
That evening, I joined the Jesuits and the JVs for their weekly group reflection followed by wine and beer, chips and salsa, and a huge plate of tuna sashimi on the second storey porch that has a great view of the sunset over Sokehs Rock. The drinks on the porch were followed by a group dinner downstairs. After dinner, the JVs decided to go the movie theater since Tuesday is discount night. We went to the theater for the 9.30pm showing of the new XMen film and tickets were only $2.50 since it has been in theater for a while. The four of us took our seats in the theater and waited for a while (we were also the only ones in that theater). Eventually the woman who sold our tickets came in and explained that she made a mistake and that this theater was broken because the sound was not working properly so they would not be showing XMen this evening. She also said that we could leave (and not get a refund) or pay $2.50 more to see one of the two other full priced films (only three screens in the theater). I was going to press her on not getting a refund for something we paid for and did not get (I felt so American at that point), but the JVs decided to just pay the extra amount and see Edge of Tomorrow. The film was alright and I ran into one of my former students there as well.
After a fairly relaxing weekend of catching up with some friends, making new ones, and getting reacquainted with the island, I decided to start doing some prep work for my upcoming trip to Sapwuahfik. This morning I confirmed and paid for Kristin, one of the JVs who will be joining me, and my plane tickets to Sapwuahfik with Caroline Island Air (abbreviated CIA...what a great name for an airline!). The plane leaves at about 7.30/8am on Thursday and check-in starts at 7am. Sapwuahfik is just over 80 mi away from Pohnpei so the flight should only take about 45 min. It also looks like a full flight so hopefully it won't be delayed a few days due to a lack of passengers. I also confirmed the details for meeting tomorrow some Ngatikese speakers and possibly an older man who speaks NMC. If all works out well, I can start working with speakers tomorrow!
After taking care of those arrangements I showed Kristin what she will be doing to help (mainly helping with metadata and making sure the recorder is functioning properly). We might be doing a practice recording session tonight so that we can both get a feel of how it will work. After our brief training session we went shopping in town to get a few things that we need to bring with us to Sapwuahfik. We didn't have time to get everything, so we'll have to head out again tomorrow or possibly later tonight. Overall, it looks like things are coming along well and we should be prepared for our first session tomorrow.
Update: Right after I posted this entry I had a surprise visit by the Catholic deacon from Sapwuahfik and some of his relatives including two of my former students. I did not expect them to come over and I did not know that my students were Ngatikese. The family brought me a mwaramwar (lei) and a copy of a painting of the recently closed Village Hotel that a relative of theirs painted. We chatted for a while and they told me stories about Sapwuahfik and asked about my research. The deacon told me he had contacted people on the atoll via radio the other day and that things were set for my arrival. They were really excited to have me come and the family invited me to come over for dinner when I get back to Pohnpei in a couple weeks. They also told me that Sapwuahfik commemorated the massacre every year on July 12, which I will miss by two days, but that this will be the first year that the Ngatikese on Pohnpei will commemorate it as well. Hopefully I can join that. I am even more excited to go to Sapwuahfik, especially now that I can start putting faces to names.
Today I went to the airport again for some early goodbyes. Brian and a few other volunteers finished their service in Pohnpei and left to return to the US. Leaving Pohnpei is a big deal both for the volunteers and those close to them here. It is a custom in Pohnpei for everyone who is able to go to the airport to say goodbye to friends and family members who are leaving. For volunteers it means host family, co-workers, students, and other volunteers. For Brian and the others leaving, the small airport was packed with those saying their emotional farewells. It is amazing to see how one person had built relationships and impacted so many people in just a few years.
After the emotional goodbyes, I took the remaining JVs out to Arnold's restaurant for lunch. Afterward we got ice cream and walked back to their apartment across town. I hung out with them and three Peace Corps volunteers for the rest of the day. It was a great day minus having to say goodbye to some good friends. I'm really glad that I can hang out with the JVs and other volunteers here. It really makes it so much easier being back!
Today was my first full day on Pohnpei. My morning started out with a wonderful surprise: hot water! The house that I'm staying at installed solar panels and a hot water heater in the year that I have been gone. No more cold showers! Although, it doesn't quite feel like Pohnpei without cold showers! After that surprise, I had some great local bananas and instant coffee for breakfast, like I used to do all the time when I was teaching here. I then ventured out of the house and quickly ran into some friends and old co-workers. Can't get far in Kolonia without running into someone I know.
After walking around for a bit, I went to the JV's apartment and hung out there for a while. I had some more wonderful conversations with them and they invited me to join them on a hike to visit Lehnpaipohn waterfall in Kitti which I had never been to before. Kitti is the southernmost municipality in Pohnpei and is on the opposite side of the island as Kolonia. To get to the waterfall we had to drive about an hour to Kipar in Kitti. There we met up with some World Teach volunteers who live at the trail head to the waterfall. To reach the waterfall we had to hike through the jungle for about an hour. The trail for about half of the way was a muddy driveway, but eventually it became a very narrow, windy, slippery path through thick brush in the jungle. It was quite an enjoyable hike but I was extremely muddy afterward, especially since I hiked it in my slippers (flip flops), like most Pohnpeians do. The waterfall was very nice and had a lot of water flowing down it because of the recent rain. The pool at the bottom of the waterfall was also quite large for Pohnpei. It is also supposedly the deepest freshwater pool on the island (maybe 30 or 40ft deep). There is a nice spot to jump into the pool from the nearby cliff side since the pool is so deep, but the 40ft-ish drop was to much for me, so I just hiked down to water. Swimming in the water was very refreshing after the hike because the water is cool since it comes from the mountains. The current was quite strong because of the rain so I did not swim long, but we stayed there enjoying the view for a couple hours, then made the hour hike back. I uploaded three photos from the hike and would have uploaded more, but the internet is quite slow here (think fast dial-up internet).
In other news, I had uhpw 'drink coconut', mahi 'breadfruit', and local banana chips again, which I have been really missing. Now all I need is breadfruit chips, karat `a variety of banana' and fresh tuna sashimi to complete my list of favorite local foods. Maybe I can accomplish that tomorrow. I also made a few promising connections to the Ngatikese community on Pohnpei, which I will follow up with early next week.
Yesterday I arrived in Pohnpei around 2pm after about 4 hours of flying from Guam with a short stop in Chuuk. At the airport in Pohnpei, I was greeted by Brian, who I lived with ago year in Pohnpei and the three other current Jesuit Volunteers (JVs). It was great to see them there at the airport, since it always great to have a welcome party! One the way home we took a short detour and got local smoothies at a relatively new place. The smoothies were great way to be welcomed back with! We then went on to Jesuit House where I am staying (and where I used to live for a bit in 2013).
After getting to my room and meeting a few other friends and people I know at the house, two of the current JVs showed me around the school where I used to teach. We talked a lot about our teaching experiences and it was nice and kind of weird to see my old classroom again. At the school we also ran into the principal and I spent quite a while chatting and catching up with him. After that we walking around town a bit and shared stories from being a volunteers.
That evening the JVs had me over their place for dinner. Their apartment had radically changed since last year because they added an extra bedroom and repainted part of it. At dinner I also met some other volunteer friends whom I haven't seen in over a year. We chatted a lot and had a wonderful dinner of homemade pizza and wine.
One of the languages that I'm going to be researching this summer, Ngatik Men's Creole (NMC), has an interesting but sad history. Before, I go into that, I'll explain what a creole language is. Creoles are full-fledged languages that arise out of intense contact between two or more languages. They arise mostly when one language community has more social power over another. Creoles have often arisen as a result of colonialism, slavery, plantations, and other forms of social/physical dominance of one group or another. The first thing that forms is called a pidgin. This is a simple contact 'language' that has a very limited vocabulary and grammar and is not really a full-fledged language. Over time, if the contact persists a creole may develop. Creoles tend to have a mix of features from the languages in contact. Usually the content words for the creole (nouns, verbs and adjectives) will come from the language with more social prestige (often English, French, or Spanish). The function words (pronouns and other words that provide grammatical meaning) tend to come from the language of lower prestige (usually whatever the local language is). NMC is unusual in that the roles are switched and Ngatikese is the lexifier and English provides the function words.
How did this creole arise on Sapwuahfik? The answer is the 1837 Ngatik (old name for Sapwuahfik) Massacre. The massacre was led by C.H. Hart, a British trader based out of Sydney and captain of the ship, Lambton. Hart travelled the Pacific in search of tortoiseshell and landed in Sapwuahfik first in 1836. On his first visit he supposedly came across a large cache of tortoiseshell, but was forced to leave after one of his crew members started fighting a local. Approximately a year later, Hart returned to Sapwuahfik with extra armed men, including two canoes of Pohnpei warriors. Upon reaching the atoll, Hart and his men attacked and killed every adult male on the island (save one who was later killed several months later) and some women and children. Several of the female survivors, unable to deal with the overwhelming loss, killed their children and themselves a few days later. While Hart and his ship left the atoll soon after the massacre, though without the supposed tortoiseshell he was looking for, some of his crew members and a few Pohnpeians remained behind, thus beginning a new radical shift in the ethnic make-up of the atoll. Hart, however, returned later in 1837 bringing with him several Pohnpeian and white settlers to set up a for-profit tortoiseshell venture, which lasted several years. Hart’s rule of the atoll came to an end in 1839 when the British man-of-war HMS Larne landed on the island to investigate claims of the massacre. During this investigation, an unknown British naval officer assigned three of the surviving Sapwuahfik boys traditional Pohnpeian high titles to reestablish 'lawful' order on the atoll.
The period after Hart’s control over the island saw the revival of the population by several
immigrant groups. These immigrants came from all over the region, though mostly from Pohnpei,
Gilbert Islands (Kiribati), Mortlock Islands (Chuuk), and a few from Europe and the United States. A few decades later Protestant Christian missionaries from Hawai`i came to the atoll and converted most of the population. This too brought about another rapid change in the atoll's culture.
As a result of the massacre and the later conversion, much of the traditional Ngatikese culture has been lost and a new creole created. The Ngatikese language too most likely changed as well as a result of losing at least half of its speakers.
For more details about the massacre see Poyer, Lin. 1993. The Ngatik massacre: History and identity on a Micronesian atoll. Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press.
Before I leave for Pohnpei in a few days, I want to explain a bit more what kind of linguistic work I'll be doing and why it is important.
The type of linguistic fieldwork that I'll be doing falls under the category of language documentation. The purpose of language documentation is to create a 'documentation' of a language that in theory covers all aspects of the language, can be used for a variety of purposes later on, and can be accessible indefinitely in the future. That is a pretty lofty goal and one that requires a lot of time and work over many years. How do we make a documentation of a language? The simple answer is through audio and video recordings of people using the language in many different contexts. These recordings are the documentation and from them, linguists can eventually create grammars, dictionaries, and journal articles, but these are secondary to the recordings. To make the documentation long lasting and accessible, all the recordings are deposited in a language archive, which guarantees that they will be available online in perpetuity.
The primary goal of my time in Pohnpei is to collect as many audio recordings as possible. I hope to record (with the speakers' permission) conversations, stories, and other 'natural' speech events, as well as ellicited speech, where I ask the speaker questions such as how do you say this word in your language or what does this grammatical construction mean. I will also have some videos and drawings that I will show some speakers and then ask them what happened in each to elicit different grammatical constructions in a more naturalistic way.
After I have some recordings I will work with a speaker to start transcribing the recordings so I can start analyzing them. Transcribing recordings is a VERY time consuming process. 1 minute of a recording can take several hours to transcribe properly. I will only get a very small amount of the transcription done while I'm there.
In addition to making recordings, my secondary goal is to gather information about the number of speakers of Ngatik Men's Creole (NMC) and where they live in Pohnpei State. There is no good data about speaker numbers and their demographic and all that we have are rough estimates from the early 1980s. I will try to get more detailed data on this by conducting oral interviews about language use. If someone self-reports being a NMC I will mark down the GPS coordinates of where they live. Eventually I will be able to map where the language is used.
So why is this research important? On a large scale, some linguists say that perhaps 50% of the world's languages will be extinct by the end of this century! Language documentation strives to curb the reduction of the world's languages and to provide a good record of them if they do go extinct so future generations will be able to access them. Luckily, most Micronesian languages are pretty health and do not seem to be endangered. However, these languages have small speaker populations, all under 100,000 and some under 1,000 and with climate change and current large scale immigration to the United States, these language could become endangered in the coming decades. Ngatikese and NMC are the two least documented languages in Pohnpei State. Both of these languages have a very small speaker population (Sapwuahfik had a population of about 430 people as of the 2010 census) and with NMC purportedly used only by men, it could have even fewer speakers. To make things worse, there has been very little written about NMC and there are no details on the number of speakers since the early 1980s. As far as anyone knows, NMC could be critically endangered! It is my job to set this all straight and figure out what is going on with the language.