In New Ireland Province, Papua New Guinea, there is a group of islands known as Lihir, which can be seen on a clear day with the naked eye from the northeast coast of ‘mainland’ New Ireland. The Lihir island group ismade up of four islands: Aniolam (by far the biggest in the group), Malie(consisting of the island of Malie plus two smaller islands, Sinambiet and Mando), Masahet and Mahur, in order from south to north.
Lir, or Lihirian as it is known in English, is classified as an Austronesian language. It is spoken throughout the island group, though there is a dialect difference between the large island of Aniolam, where the majority of the population live, and the three other islands (which are referred to locally under the collective name Ihot, meaning ‘stone place‘ in Lihirian, as the islands are very rocky). There are currently approximately 14,000 speakers of the Lihirian language (Bainton 2008b: 291), however, Lihirian is not the only language spoken in the island group. There has always been an interaction with neighbouring language groups – Lihir has never been an isolated place, being part of a network of exchange. However, the nature of the interactions with other groups of people has altered over the course of the 20th century, as Lihir has become increasingly engaged in commercial industries, such as copra plantations and, since 1995, gold mining (see, for example, Bainton 2008a; 2008b). The employment of workers from other parts of Papua New Guinea, and beyond, in these industries, has altered how languages are spoken on Lihir. Consequently, this multiplicity of language usage – and the social experience behind this multiplicity – has had an impact on Lihirian song forms.
This paper considers one Lihirian song genre known as tikol, essentially a form of storytelling in song. Performed in their ritual context around the time of the breadfruit season, tikol are identifiable by their textual structure and content. Each tikol is identified as such by the initial singing of the words ‘tikol tikol’ at the beginning of every song of this type. The word ‘tikol’ often also appears as the final word of the song. The tikol song text then details a story or anecdote of some kind, and is usually delivered in the present tense, which affords the songs a particular immediacy. Tikol can be sung either solo, or as a unison chorus, by either men or women. It is the melody, along with the particular rhythmic accompaniment, that is the primary defining musical element. As with most other Lihirian song genres, melodies are drawn from a pentatonic structure. Throughout this paper, musical descriptions will be provided alongside the textual analyses, to reveal what makes a tikol and the extent to which it can be varied.
The paper first examines locally recorded examples of tikol, focusing on the ability of the song form to encode both history and Lihirian standards of moral conduct. It then turns to an example of tikol that was created locally but later recorded commercially, and which incorporates Lihirian language with the Papua New Guinean lingua franca Tok Pisin, a language that facilitates communication between the many indigenous language groups in the country. Tok Pisin has its origins in a number of different languages, the most prominent being English, and it also incorporates elements of the vocabulary and structure of Austronesian languages (Dutton and Thomas 1985: iii). This chapter will highlight the sociolinguistic phenomenon of borrowing and codeswitching in language that is apparent in the examples, and reflect upon the consequences this language use may have (especially when combined with seemingly flexible song components) for the sustainability of Lihirian songs forms into the future.