Lesu - Orientation

Identification. Lesu is a village on the east coast of the island of New Ireland, Papua New Guinea. Lesu also refers to the people who live in the village. The Lesu are one of the nine main indigenous ethnolinguistic groups of New Ireland. Other groups include the Nokon, Mandak, Usen Barok, Nusu, and Lavongai. There is no social cohesion among these groups and, prior to European dominance, various groups as well as villages within groups were often at war with one another. Contact between villages is confined mainly to joint attendance at ceremonies. This summary describes Lesu as it existed in the late 1920s. More recent information is generally unavailable, although it can be assumed that Lesu has been largely Westernized and there is reason to believe that the Lesu language is no longer spoken.

Location. Lesu village runs for about 5 kilometers along the northeast coast of New Ireland at 2° 30′ S and 151° E. The environment is tropical with life oriented both to the sea and to the interior with palm trees, bamboo groves, taro gardens, and heavy undergrowth.

Demography. The precontact population of Lesu is unknown. The Lesu experienced severe depopulation while under German control from 1884 to 1915 due to recruitment of men and women as laborers on copra plantations on and off the island and because of the spread of diseases, especially tuberculosis. In 1930 there were 232 people in Lesu. Current estimates of 1,100 speakers of the Notsi language include Lesu and some of their neighbors.

Linguistic Affiliation. Lesu villagers speak Notsi, a member of the Northern New Ireland Subgroup and New Ireland-Tolai Group of Austronesian languages.

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