Rossel Island - Orientation

Identification. The Rossel Islanders live on the eastern-most island of the Louisiade Archipelago in the Massim Culture region (Milne Bay Province) at the east end of New Guinea. They speak "Yelatnye," meaning "language of Yela," and their name for themselves is "Yelatpi," meaning "Rossel people."

Location. Rossel Island is located at about 11 ° S and 154° E. The island is 34 kilometers long and 14 kilometers across, being approximately 290 square kilometers in area. It is very mountainous, with the highest peak, Mount Rossel (also known locally as "Mbgö"), reaching 800 meters. The coast is highly indented and mainly fringed by mangrove swamp. The island is covered in tropical rain forest. It is surrounded by a coral reef extending 12 kilometers east and 40 kilometers west of the island forming two lagoons. The distance from Rossel to the nearest westward island of Sudest (Vanatinai) is 33 kilometers. The trade wind blows from the southeast from May to October, the more irregular northwest monsoon from January to March, both bringing rain.

Demography. In 1979 the population of Rossel Island was about 3,000 persons, with 800 being away from the island working or studying. The population density averages 8 Persons per square kilometer and the population is growing at the rate of 3 percent per year. Before 1950 it was declining.

Linguistic Affiliation. Yelatnye is a Non-Austronesian language whose affiliation to other "Papuan" languages of New Guinea and Melanesian islands has not yet been established. Rossel Islanders are the only people in the region who speak a Non-Austronesian language. The number of cognates with the language of the nearest island, Sudest, is only 6 percent. Yelatnye has a very complex phonology and grammar and is regarded as extremely difficult by outsiders.

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