Mekeo - Orientation

Identification. The Mekeo peoples live in village communities on the coastal plain of southeast Papua New Guinea. Although they divided themselves traditionally into four distinct tribes, the people share a language, a culture, and a pattern of social organization that vary only slightly from tribe to tribe.

Location. The Mekeo region lies between 7° 15′ and 8°45′ S and 146°20′ and 146°45′ E, 100 kilometers to the Northwest of the capital city, Port Moresby. It consists of nearly 400 square kilometers of low-lying fluvial plain with varied grassland, forest, riverine, and swamp habitats. Villages are situated along the meandering tributaries of the Angabanga and Biaru rivers. There are two seasons: a "wet," during the Northwest monsoon from December until April; and a "dry," from May through November. Annual rainfall averages between 100 and 180 centimeters, and temperatures fluctuate Between 20° and 30° C.

Demography. Very rough estimates of the precontact population range from 10,000 to 20,000. Probably 80 to 90 percent of the population died from epidemic diseases during the first fifty years of contact. In 1980, the population was 8,603. Densest concentrations exist in the central villages of Veifa'a, Aipiana, and Inawi, with over 1,000 persons each. Other villages range between 150 and 900 persons. All Communities today are administered as part of the Kairuku Subprovince headquartered at Bereina township (population 577). Roughly one-fifth of ethnic Mekeo now live in Port Moresby or the other towns and cities of Papua New Guinea, supported by wage or other cash income.

linguistic Affiliation. There are three dialects of Mekeo, which belongs to the Central Family of the Western Subgroup of Austronesian languages.

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