Rural, forest landscape and coast of Normanby Island, Papua New Guinea A view of Menumenu mountain and points east from Pwapwata, in Kurada, Normanby Island (Milne Bay Province), Papua New Guinea

Between November 14 and 16, 2006, I took some of my last remaining rolls of film and my Pentax K1000 camera to capture the landscapes of Auhelawa on Normanby Island. One of the places I went was Pwapwata, a plateau above Sowala village, the site of the United Church station. Looking east from Pwapwata on this exceptionally clear day, I could see many of the coastal points that define the regions of this part of Normanby. The low, long slope whose peak is partly shrouded in clouds is the mountain Menumenu. The points further east is the peninsula Hegahegai, near Bunama Bay, site of the Methodist mission at the beginning of the twentieth century and now the circuit headquarters of the United Church. The islands in the background are Digalagala.

The Auhelawa language generally uses an absolute frame of reference to talk about movement in space, especially travel between villages and islands. That is, rather than using left and right, speakers use words to describe movement and location which are not relative to one person’s position. Specifically, words for moving in the vertical dimension–hae (going up) and dobi (going down)–are also used to denote going inland and going seaward respectively. Also, these words are used to refer to movement along the coast as well, which in this region is roughly an east-west axis. Eastward movement is up (hae) and westward movement is down (dobi) because, I was told, the sun rises (hae) in the east and sets (dobi) in the west.

In the area around Pwapwata, heading to the places seen in the picture, upward from oneself, is also called “going to Edasulusulu,” Edasulusulu is talked about as if it were a definite stretch of territory between here and Buitowolo point. There are other names for areas further east. But in fact, people several kilometres to the west will also say they are “going to Edasulusulu” even if they are going up (hae) from their home to Pwapwata. Edasulusulu is thus both a placename and a directional term in the sense that it denotes a near area relative to one’s own westerly perspective. Likewise, for people east of Pwapwata, when they head down the coast to Pwapwata, they say they are “going to Alogawa,” the same expression people around Pwapwata would say if they were heading west as well.

Interestingly, people in Auhelawa told me that Edasulusulu is composed of the words eda (road) and sulu (go down) in the languages spoken to the east of Auhelawa, Duau and Bunama. That is to say, for Auhelawa speakers, Edasulusulu is the area traversed by their neighbors in the east when they head down (sulu) to Auhelawa and points west. When they use this placename as a directional, they are then seeing themselves from the point of view of people in the east, who speak the Duau language. Although generally people use an absolute frame of reference for describing their travel between villages, the places chosen to serve as synedoches of these directions are biased in favor of one perspective.