Making friends in the Louisiades: learning Misima dialect

Connecting with people in the places we visit, learning about our similarities and differences, is something I truly enjoy. Demonstrating interest by knowing some of their language is a great way to start.

Abel George tutors us

This is complicated by the vast number of languages we faced, first in Papua New Guinea and now here in Indonesia. Tok Pisin (pidgin) and English are actually the two official PNG languages, but everyone speaks a local dialect (and often several other neighboring dialects). The range of that dialect may be limited to a speck of an island, a valley, or even a village. They are strikingly different- truly mutually unintelligible, as opposed to tweaks on a single language. Seems daunting!

It turns out that there is a dominant local dialect in much of the Louisiades that simplifies the process- Misima, the largest island, covers many of the islands at the eastern end. Tok Pisin isn’t used much in this area- unless they’ve had education beyond primary years, most people aren’t exposed to it much. But many people speak Misima dialect, even if they aren’t in the relatively large area it encompasses.


I had excellent tutors when we arrived in Papua New Guinea: Bela and Derek on s/v Pandana have spent years cruising the area, and Bela is enthusiastically conversant in Misima dialect. Thanks to her enthusiasm and the smiling help of Rubin and his fishermen brothers, I had a few basic words and phrases to grow over the coming weeks.

I believe taking the time is really, really worthwhile. Here’s a collection of what I learned and found helpful. It’s not based on anything but my own pathetic transliteration. There is probably pidgin mixed in. But for making friends in the Louisiades, it will help to crack smiles, open doors, and put you on trusted ground.

Misima Dialect words and phrases

good morning melaluga waiwaisana from dawn to midmorning
good day (really, 10-3) alalati waiwasana this is used during the hot part of the day
good afternoon kokoyave waiwaisana from about 3pm until nightfall
good evening bulin waiwai sana bulin literally means ‘star’
goodbye kai yun
thank you ateu owa literally, heart person. Sweet.
what’s your name? halam ek? both the ‘h’ and the ‘k’ are nearly silent
my name is (name) alau (name)
his/ner name is (name) alula na (name)
what are you doing? hau na ku gigi nor? use this when speaking to several people
what are you doing? hau na u gigi nor? use this when speaking to just one person
just living hau minamina this is the common response
how are you? ham nam gai wa?
I’m good am nam wai si this is the common response
where are you going? gao na na?
I’ll be back a na ki te wa this is the common response
good wai si also, i wai si: it’s good.
very good wai si hot also used for delicious
bad inak
bad man inak kina
trading pem penpewa
you give u pem
I give ya pewa
sister/brother taliu not literally a relative- common reference
sister/brother  gan for an elder/respectful
what do you want? hau na nu wam?
I want (item) nu wam (item)
do you have… tab…
Do you have bananas? tab suva?
he/she/it he
they i
sail / sailing kuki
sail to Misima kuki Misima
let’s sail ta kuki
cooking liga liga
washing (body) hig hig
washing (dishes) ul ul
don’t! bahi wa!
don’t do it bahi wa nu gi nor.
come here unem
get down ulau
swim gayu
building a house himi tao tao
sit down mi si yo
garden eyowa
basket eyoga
knife kai ni give me the knife: kai ni pem. VERY useful, see prior post!
water wara
rain ke he i lau
water wara
baby wawaya
old man tonowak
man tau
woman yova
people gamagal
canoe waga this generically refers to different boat types
medicine sawa sawal
modern medicine dim dim wali sawa sawal
drinking coconut matu
coconut bwaku
betelnut lele
clothes kaliko
banana suva

3 Responses

  1. I am fascinated with the Louisiade Archipelago and loved hearing your story about your time there. Just to add to your blog about the Misima dialect, there’s a small dictionary online. [].

    1. Greg, that sounds really great! I can’t wait to check it out. We have poor internet access at the moment and I can’t seem to download it… yet. Thank you for sharing this!

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