Gabriel Lomas

(An extract from The Huli Language of Papua New Guinea. A thesis submitted in fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in the School of English and Linguistics. MacQuarrie University, 1988., pp. 1-6.)

The Huli people live in the central mountains of the Papua New Guinea mainland, at a latitude of 6 below the equator and at a mean altitude of about 1500 metres above sea level. They number over 65,000 (Kloss & McConnel 1981), grouped in clans (hamigini) and subclans (hamigini emene) throughout the area shown in the map below.

Some of their origin myths speak of ancestral kinship ties with neighbouring language groups, while genealogies and oral traditions suggest that there has been some migratory movement within the area they regard as their own. They have probably been living in this area for 600 to 1000 years (Blong 1979), or possibly even longer, given that the Highlands of Papua New Guinea have been inhabited for at least 2,500 years (White & 0’Conne H1982: 176).

The present-day inhabitants of the land employ a system of shifting cultivation whereby virgin bush is cleared and the ground tilled as need arises, leaving old worn-out tracts of land to recuperate through natural re-afforestation. The secondary forests that then appear become available for clearing and recultivation within the space of two to four generations, although in the higher and less fertile regions the forests tend to degrade into grasslands rather than to return to their original state.

The restricted population movements induced by this cyclic pattern of agriculture are largely responsible for the fact that the Huli have no remembered contacts with language groups other than their immediate neighbours before 1935, when an Australian administration patrol led by Hides and O’Malley trekked into Huli country.

This first contact surprised both parties, since neither was aware of the other’s existence. Both were cautious, but initial relations were cordial, and the patrol made its way across the southern edge of Huli territory. Hides camped above a huge intermontane basin, and came to call it “Tarifuroro” when an old Huli who had come to visit them gestured towards the valley and said this (Hides 1939: 91). It seems likely now that what the Huli probably said was:

Tagali porogo
Tagali go-lS-SIMP PRES-DET
(to the) Tagali (river) I go
I’m going to the Tagali

but, whatever the case, this ‘name’, shortened for convenience to “Tari”, was eventually given to the largest administration centre to be set up in Huli country.

Unfortunately, the friendliness that marked the initial encounters between the Huli and the patrol did not last, and three Hulis – including one girl (Frankel 1986: 14) – had been shot dead before Hides and O’Malley moved on. When the next patrol, led by Taylor and Black, came through the area in 1938-39 it was allowed free passage, as was the party led by Smith, Clancy and Neville, which entered to set up a permanent administration centre and to commence work on an airstrip in 1951.

This airstrip and its adjoining settlement were called “Tari”, and the Australian administration went on to establish similar centres at Goloba (“Koroba”) in 1955 (Sinclair 1966), Magarima (“Margarima”) in about 1960, and Gumu (“Komo”) in about The first christian missionaries arrived in Lumulumu (the Huli name for “Tari”) in 1952.


During the period 1954-55, W.M.Rule produced an orthography and a preliminary pedagogical grammar of the language, the latter being revised around 1964. The policy of the missionary group to which Rule belongs is to limit the availability of its language materials to those within its own organization. However, part of Rule’s Huli grammar has been published by Oceania (Rule 1977) and is accessible in this form.

Among others who have contributed to the study of the Huli language by data collection and analysis are Berard Tomassetti, Timon Kaple, Myron Flax, Matthew Gross, Dominic McGuinness, Malachy McBride and Lawrence Pozzouli, all of the Order of Friars Minor Capuchin, and Rev. David Neis, Patrick Ruane and Kevin Flanagan.

G.C.J. Lomas produced a separate phonemic statement in 1969, and began production of a pedagogical grammar in 1974. He also produced a Huli-English dictionary and, in collaboration with Rev Malachy McBride, an English-Huli dictionary.

In about 1972 there was a general agreement among those working in linguistics and literacy to adopt Rule’s earlier orthographic statement, and the bulk of language materials produced since then, including the Huli New Testament, have used it. Between the years 1977-79, B. Cheetham visited the Huli country a number of times and made a study of formal and nonformal education systems. His circulated papers include one on prosodic vowels (Cheetham 1977).


R.M. Glasse has published a number of papers on Huli culture (Glasse 1959a, 1959b, 1965, 1968 and 1974), as well as a doctoral thesis (Glasse 1968). Although he was restricted to the vicinity of Lumulumu, his account remains the major and most significant one of Huli society.

Another anthropologist, P. Challands, conducted a demographic survey in the Tari basin in connection with a population control programme in the mid-l970s.

In 1975, B. Peters completed an honours thesis on Huli music (Peters 1975), and in the same year J. Pugh (-Kitigan) did likewise, her thesis being on the communicative function of music in Huli society (Pugh-Kitigan 1975). She pursued her studies to doctoral level and published further papers on Huli ethnomusicology (Pugh-rKitigan 1977, 1979 and 1984).

S.J. Frankel in 1976 researched the Huli attitude to sickness, completing a doctoral thesis in 1981 and publishing it in book form in 1986 (Frankel 1986).

L.R. Goldman also undertook anthropological studies among the Huli, and has published various accounts of Huli society (cfr Goldman 1979, 1980, 198£, 1986 and 1987).

With the exception of Challands, all those involved in ethnological studies of the Huli have either published their findings in journals or books, or have left written accounts of their work in thesis form. On the other hand, Rule alone of the linguists has published something of note on the language itself: the revision of his MA thesis (Rule :1977 ) , which appeared in 1977 (Rule 1977).

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