Ontong Java - Orientation



Identification. Ontong Java is a coral atoll in the Solomon Islands and is one of the so-called Polynesian outliers, a number of islands and atolls located outside of the Polynesian triangle that are inhabited by people who are Polynesian in their language and culture. The name "Ontong Java" was bestowed in 1643 by the Dutch explorer Abel Tasman, who apparently was reminded of Java. In 1791, Captain Hunter of the Waaksamhey'd named it "Lord Howe's Group." In official publications of the Solomon Islands Government it is listed as "Ontong Java," although some Solomon Islanders continue to refer to it by the name of "Lord Howe." Most of what is known about traditional life on Ontong Java is based on the anthropological research of Ernst Sarfert in 1910 and Ian Hogbin in 1927-1928. Much has changed since then and more recent information is derived from research by Timothy Bayliss-Smith and the author's conversations with Ontong Java people while doing research on neighboring islands.

Location. Ontong Java is located at 5°30′ S, 160° E. The atoll, one of the largest in the world, is 72 kilometers across at its greatest length and its width varies from 11 to 26 kilometers. It has 23 passages into the lagoon and more than 100 islets. The climate is tropical.

Demography. Ontong Java suffered a severe population decline in the early twentieth century. Some estimates place its nineteenth-century population as high as 5,000 inhabitants, but it is more likely that it was about 2,000. It dropped to fewer than 600 in the 1930s. Since then the population has stabilized and begun increasing; it had reached at least 1,400 in 1986. In addition, in recent years, people have migrated away from the atoll and reside in other parts of the Solomon Islands.

Linguistic Affiliation. Linguists place the language within the Samoic-Outlier Group of Polynesian languages in the Oceanic Branch of Austronesian languages.

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