Kewa - Orientation

Identification. The Kewa live in the Southern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea and speak three major, mutually intelligible dialects. The name "Kewa" is not indigenous, in that areas are known only by the names of the clans that occupy them and not by more generic terms. It means, literally, "a stranger," and refers to people generally living south of Ialibu, the main center from which the first census was taken. The same name, with similar meanings, is found in other parts of the Southern Highlands Province. The people refer to themselves as those who speak the adaa agaa(le), "the large/important language."

Location. The Kewa cultural area is located between 6° 15′ and 6°40′ N and 143°7′ and 144°1′ E. One major river network, the Mendi-Erave and its tributaries, drains the whole Kewa area. Two prominent mountains, Giluwe (4,400 meters) and Ialibu (3,300 meters), lie to the north and northeast of the area. The area is part of the central cordillera, which is a complex system of ranges and broad upland valleys with Forest, wild cane, and grasslands. There are many limestone escarpments as well as strike ridges composed of sedimentary rocks. The Kagua (1,500 meters) and Erave (1,300 meters) areas have extensive plateaus. The average yearly rainfall in the Kagua area (the central part of Kewa) is 310 centimeters and the temperature is 17-26° C during the day and 9-17° C at night. There is no marked wet-dry season, but June-August and December are usually the driest months.

Demography. As of 1989 the estimated population was 63,600 with a density from 15-40 persons per square kilometer, although in some areas it is much less. The population is growing at the rate of 2.7 percent per year, with a fluctuating resident population due to migration out to towns and plantations. In the 18-40 age bracket, 35-40 percent of the People are nonresident in their village or parish. The major towns in the Kewa area are Kagua and Erave, with Mendi and Ialibu on the northern border. Only Mendi has more than 1,000 permanent residents.

linguistic Affiliation. Kewa is part of the Mendi-Kewa Subgroup of the Engan (West-Central) Family of languages. The Engan Family is, in turn, a part of a large group of Highlands languages (more than 60), which are in turn a segment of a much larger chain of languages that crosses Papua New Guinea and Irian Jaya. These languages are remotely related and are called Papuan to distinguish them from the Austronesian languages. Kewa also has some relationship, both culturally and linguistically, with groups to the south and west towards Lake Kutubu.

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