Ningerum - Orientation

Identification. "Ningerum" is the name for the people living to the northeast of Ningerum Station (Kiunga District of Western Province, Papua New Guinea). They are one of the ethnic groups whose customary lands straddled the international border that separates Papua New Guinea from Irian Jaya. At contact with Westerners they had no common name for themselves; individual groups identified themselves according to their local clan names. The name of Ningerum appears to have been adopted in the 1950s by Dutch colonial administrators from the Muyu name (Ninggiroem or Ninggirum) for these closely related peoples who speak mutually intelligible dialects of the same language.

Location. The Ningerum inhabit the rain-forested ridge country that forms the southern foothills of the Star Mountains. Their territory lies primarily between the Ok Tedi (or Alice) River and the Ok Birim at 140°45′ to 141°20′ E and 5°15′ to 5°35′ S. The Ok Mani (just south of the Ok Tedi copper mine) and the rugged country south of the Ok Kawol are the customary northern limits of their territory. Except when under cultivation, this interior lowlands region is everywhere covered by dense rain forest. Elevation varies from about 100 meters in the south to over 1,000 meters at the summits of the highest hills in the north. The majority of the territory, however, is under 500 meters and consists of ridges running north to south, divided by steep, V-shaped valleys formed by many rivers and streams. Swampy areas are found in most of the valleys, especially in the south where the Terrain is less rugged. The main walking tracks follow the major ridge tops and spurs. The climate is humid and tropical, characterized by very heavy rainfall (in excess of 250 centimeters annually) and warm temperatures (with a range of 20° C to 33° C in the south but somewhat cooler in the north). There are pronounced wet and dry seasons.

Demography. There are about 4,500 Ningerum people today. Over 3,300 live in Kiunga District (Papua New Guinea) and it is estimated that over 1,000 live in Kecamatan Mindiptana (Irian Jaya). Smaller numbers have migrated to Daru, Port Moresby, Merauke, and other urban centers. Population density ranges from 7 persons per square kilometer in the south of their territory to less than 2 in the north. At the time of Western contact, the population may have reached 6,000, but the region suffered population decline following numerous influenza epidemics in the 1950s and 1960s.

Linguistic Affiliation. Ningerum, with at least four dialects, is classified as a member of the Lowland Ok Subfamily of the Ok Family of Non-Austronesian languages. Its closest links are with the languages spoken by the Muyu and Yonggom peoples (North and South Kati languages), although these languages are unintelligible to monolingual Ningerum speakers. Besides phonological and traditional vocabulary differences in these dialects, the contemporary linguistic pattern is influenced by recent borrowings from the three contact languages (Motu, Tok Pisin, and Malay) that are used in the southern, northern, and western parts of Ningerum, respectively.

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