Wednesday, June 1, 2011

And we begin again...

Another summer, another chance to escape Pacific-wards. Tomorrow I finish packing, scrub my apartment, and scan a few library books, then hop a train to New York for some Xi'an Famous Foods and tickets to Anything Goes. Thursday I fly Emirates Air to Singapore via Dubai. And that's where it gets fun.

View Asia Tenggara 2011 (1) in a larger map

I'm lucky enough to have a Singaporean friend, E-ching, whose family's house I can crash at for a night. Then the next morning I'm off to Phnom Penh, followed by Siem Reap to see Angkor Wat, Luang Prabang in northern Laos, a quick stop in Vientiane, a day in Kuala Lumpur, and finally to Indonesia. First up is Jogyakarta, to get my head back in Indoland, visit some friends from last year, and see the Borobudor temples. Then Malang, for two linguistics conferences and more catching up with last summer's friends. And finally, around June 27th, I'm off to Papua. Up until Malang it's vacation - may as well see some sights while I'm in the area, and I hear Laos has some killer baguettes. As the crow flies from Luang Prabang to Manokwari is actually awfully close to the distance from New York City to San Francisco, but whatever, close enough.

The whole point of this trip, of course, is the fieldwork in Papua. I'll be spending about six weeks in Manokwari, talking to speakers of Wandamen, spoken by about 5,000 people, and trying to figure out what makes it tick. Many many thanks to David Gil at the Max Planck Institute's field station in Jakarta and the linguists at the CELD in Manokwari for making it all possible.

Papua of course is the 'exotic' part. It's Indonesia's eastern frontier, where until awfully recently there were headhunters and cannibals, and they still prefer yams to rice and, in some areas, still rock the penis gourd as everyday dress. (Googling 'Papua penis gourds' gets you photos of West Papuan highlanders, Martha Stewart, and Mike Huckabee. Go figure.) There's just over a thousand languages spoken on the island of New Guinea, and around 275 on the half that belongs to Indonesia. (Fun fact: New Guinea the second largest island in the world, after Greenland. Obviously they're not counting Australia.) The geographical nomenclature is about as confusing as it possible could be. New Guinea is the entire island, which comprises the country of Papua New Guinea (former British/Australian colony) in the east and the Indonesian region of Papua or West Papua (former Dutch colony) in the west. The Indonesian side is made up of two provinces, Papua and West Papua. Yes, those are both also names for the whole Indonesian half. The whole thing used to be called Irian Jaya, and the province of West Papua was West Irian Jaya (or Irian Jaya Barat), but that's now obsolete. I'll use Papua or Indonesian Papua to refer to the whole region, and West Papua to mean the region I'm in. West Papua covers the Bird's Head (Vogelkopf) Peninsula; Papua is everything east of that to the PNG border.

Manokwari, the city where I'll be staying, is right on the back of the Vogelkopf on Cenderewasih Bay. It doesn't have headhunters or cannibals; it does have tree kangaroos and hopefully not too much malaria. I'm told the snorkeling is great, and there's a rainforest to hike in just outside the city. It's the regional capitol, so there's an airport. Population is roughly 100,000.

After Manokwari it's back to vacation to decompress a little before I come back to the States and analyze 6 weeks of data. I'm thinking scuba on Pulau Sipidan and oranghutan watching in Sabah and Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo), but that's still up in the air. Home to New Haven on August 21st.

Some Further Reading:
The best site out there on Manokwari:
New Guinea:
276 languages:
Papuan Spiders (a ways east of me, but still terrifying):
Penis Gourds:
A map with labels:,128.056641&spn=39.826648,86.572266&z=4

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