Dobu - Orientation

Identification. Dobu (Goulvain Island on the earliest maps) is a small island (3.2 by 4.8 kilometers), an extinct volcano. It is also the name of the language of its inhabitants and, more generally, of those speakers of the same language in neighboring areas. The anthropologist Bronislaw Malinowski described Dobuans as a "tribe," implying a linguistic, cultural, and even political entity, but this wider sense of "Dobuan" was largely a construct of the first missionaries.

Location. Dobu Island is situated in Dawson Strait (9.45° S and 150.50° E), which separates the large mountainous islands of Fergusson and Normanby in the D'Entrecasteaux Archipelago of Milne Bay Province, Papua New Guinea. Dobu speakers occupy southeastern Fergusson, northern Normanby, and the offshore islands of Dobu, Sanaroa, and Tewara. The natural vegetation is lowland rain forest, though much of the settled area is covered with secondary forest or grassland. The region is tropical with two main seasons: the southeasterly winds dominate the year (May to November), while the northwest monsoon (December to April) brings heavy squalls. Average annual rainfall is about 254 centimeters, but droughts are not infrequent.

Demography. At the last census (1980) there were about 10,000 people in the Dobu-speaking area. They are centered on the island of Dobu with a population today of about 900 (though missionary William Bromilow estimated there were 2,000 in 1891). The tiny island of Tewara, to the north of Dobu, had a population of only 40 when anthropologist Reo Fortune worked there in 1928. At that time the Dobuan Population (along with many others in the Massim) had been reduced by a half.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Dobu language, comprising numerous local dialects, is one of forty or more Austronesian languages belonging to the so-called Milne Bay Family of the Massim. Dobu's closest affiliations are with other languages of the D'Entrecasteaux. The Edugaura dialect of Dobu Island was adopted as a lingua franca by the Wesleyan Mission and is spoken throughout the central Massim and beyond.

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