Lak - Orientation

Identification. Lak is the name of a coastal Papua New Guinea population and encompasses two groups that are no longer distinct: inland dwellers who relocated to the coast at the time of Western contact (c. 1900) and an original coastal-dwelling group. The name has been adopted by the New Ireland provincial government and designates an electorate composed almost exclusively of Lak speakers. The word "Lak" corresponds to the English word "hey" and is commonly used as a greeting.

Location. The Lak reside on the southernmost eastern coast of New Ireland, inhabiting a strip of land that rarely extends more than a quarter of a mile inland before steep foothills make settlements and gardening untenable. Siar village, at the center of the Lak electorate, lies roughly at 153° E, 4°30′ S. The northern border of the Lak area is marked roughly by the Mimias River and the beginning of the Susurunga region. Included in this region are two outlying islands with significant settlements, Lambom and Lamassa. The region is largely tropical rain forest and lies just below the equator. The rainy season is generally between June and September, the period of taubar, or the southeast monsoon. This period stands in contrast to labur, the months in which the northwest wind is strongest and rain may be as infrequent as once every twenty days. This alternation reverses the pattern typical of northern New Ireland and the neighboring Gazelle Peninsula of New Britain.

Demography. There are no reliable estimates of the precontact population. Today, there are roughly 1,700 Lak speakers. While the population is currently expanding, this figure represents the effects of depopulation brought on by world war and disease in the 1940s and 1950s.

Linguistic Affiliation. Lak is a member of the Patpatar-Tolai Subgroup of Austronesian languages. There is no great dialectal variation across the region. Use of the vernacular is strong, even though all but the most elderly women speak Melanesian pidgin (Tok Pisin) fluently. Formal linguistic study of Lak has yet to be undertaken.

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