Melpa - Orientation

Identification. The Melpa people live in the Western Highlands Province of the independent state of Papua New Guinea. They are a homogeneous ethnolinguistic group, bounded on the west by the Enga and on the east by the Wahgi peoples.

Location. The Melpa live in a location which is approximately between 144° to 145° E and 5° to 6° S. Geographically, their area consists of montane valleys and mountain slopes, varying between 400 and 2,100 meters above sea level. The bulk of the population lives at altitudes between 1,500 and 1,800 meters above sea level. The climate is marked by a relatively wet period from October to March and dry from April to September. Temperatures vary from seasonal lows of 4° C or less to highs of 27° C or more. Annual rainfall is in excess of 250 centimeters. In the dry season there may be periods of drought and nocturnal frost. Otherwise, the climate is benign and the planting of crops continues year-round.

Demography. The 60,000 or more Melpa speakers occupy the areas south and north of the modern township of Mount Hagen. Population density varies with ecology, but exceeds 134 persons per square kilometer in parts of the Wahgi Valley and Ogelbeng Plain just outside of the town, tapering to fewer than 19 persons per square kilometer in the northern parts known indigenously as "Kopon" (Dei Council). Annual growth of the population since colonial times is calculated at slightly over 2 percent per annum.

Linguistic Affiliation. The Melpa language is spoken by more than 60,000 persons. It belongs to the East New Guinea Highlands Stock of Non-Austronesian languages and to the Central Family within that stock. The nearest related languages are spoken in the Nebilyer Valley, Tambul, and Ialibu south of the Melpa area. To the east the Wahgi and Chimbu languages and to the north the Maring, Narak, and Kandawo languages also belong to the same family.

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