Usino - Orientation

Identification. The name "Usino" refers to the inhabitants of four lowland social and territorial units (parishes), each corresponding to a dialect of the Usino language. Although all speakers of the language are known to the Usino people as "Tariba," they distinguish between mountain and lowland speakers. This summary focuses on the lowlanders, who call themselves "Usino folovo" or "Usino men," because Usino is the name of the central village of the lowland region. Prior to contact, these parishes rarely united as a single sociopolitical unit and had no collective name for themselves, Despite intensive social and linguistic alliance.

Location. The Usino people live in Madang Province of Papua New Guinea in three major villages and seven hamlets, all of which are centered in the Ramu River Valley near Usino Patrol Post, just east of the Ramu River. To the west rise the Bismarck Mountains and to the east the Finisterre Mountains rise to about 1200 meters. The area is steamy tropical rain forest, characterized by rich biotic resources and two climatic seasons, a wet season from December to May and a dry season from May to November. Located 60 meters above sea level, the dense rain forest is crisscrossed by numerous streams and rivers utilized for canoe travel and fishing. Because yearly rainfall approximates 508 centimeters, these waterways flood, turning the rain forest into swamp during the wet season.

Demography. The land is sparsely populated with about 2.7 persons per square kilometer. In 1974, 250 Usino people resided in three centralized villages, but since then the Population has increased to about 400, owing in part to a rise in the birth rate and the return of wage laborers and their families.

Linguistic Affiliation. The term "Usino people" refers to inhabitants of a geographic region, near Usino village in the lowlands, rather than to a linguistic isolate. The Usino Language also encompasses groups in several mountain villages. It appears to be closely related to Sumau (or Garia) in the Finisterre Mountains and to Danaru and Urugina in the Upper Ramu Valley. These four languages comprise the Peka Family of the Rai Coast Stock of Non-Austronesian Languages. Most Usino people can understand at least one or two neighboring languages, and all except the oldest Usino women now speak Tok Pisin as well.

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