Pentecost - Orientation

Identification. Th e Sa, who are the focus of this summary, live on the southern part of Pentecost Island in northern Vanuatu. Pentecost was so called by the French explorer Louis Antoine de Bougainville, who sighted it on WhitSunday in 1768. "Sa" means "what" in the language spoken by the people, who themselves call the language "Lokit," which means "the inside of us all." The Sa have previously been called the Pornowol tribe, and the region has been known as South Raga as well as South Pentecost.

Location. Pentecost is an island 60 kilometers long by 12 kilometers wide, located at 15°30′ to 16° S and 168o30′ E. The landmass is predominantly basaltic, with a few limestone ridges formed by the uplifting of coral reefs. The eastern coast is precipitous, fringed by extensive coral reefs, and windward, with few safe anchorages. The western coast is flat and leeward, with coral reefs, extensive sandy beaches, and good anchorages. The central part of the island is mountainous and covered with dense primary rain forest. Many rivers and streams flow from the mountains to the coast, especially on the western side, and they are the primary sources of fresh water. Temperatures range between 22° and 30° C, and about 400 centimeters of rain falls in an average year. It is typically cooler and drier May-October and hotter and wetter November-April when tropical cyclones occur. Southern Pentecost experiences occasional falls of volcanic ash from Benbow Crater on nearby Ambrym Island.

Demography. In 1979 the population of Pentecost was 9,361, about 1,700 of whom were Sa speakers. Most Sa are resident locally, although young men in particular are involved in circular labor migration to the towns of Santo and Port Vila as well as plantations elsewhere. A few Sa have become permanent migrants to towns or other rural centers to work for churches, the government, or private companies or to pursue higher education.

Linguistic Affiliation. Sa is classified in the North and Central Vanuatu Group of Austronesian languages. Although it had no script prior to colonization, it has now been written down through the work of mission linguists and local cultural workers. Most speakers of Sa are also fluent in Bislama, the lingua franca of Vanuatu, and increasingly younger Sa attain verbal and written fluency in English or French, taught in church and state schools.

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