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Documenting Kais: an endangered and less-known Trans-New Guinea languages of South Bird’s Head of New Guinea


Language Kais (ISO639-3:kzm)
Depositor Yusuf Sawaki
Affiliation Center for Endangered Languages Documentation, University of Papua, Manokwari, West Papua, Indonesia
Location Indonesia
Collection ID 0645
Grant ID MDP0372
Funding Body ELDP
Collection Status Collection online
Landing Page Handle


Summary of the collection

Konda and Kais among other languages of south Bird’s Head region are unique as they are classified as Trans-New Guinea languages that are far away from the majority of Trans New Guinea languages in the mainland New Guinea. Both languages have less than 1,000 speakers. They are undescribed and are threatened and endangered as young speakers prefer to speak Papuan Malay and Bahasa Indonesia on a daily basis rather than their native languages, due to social, economic and political factors. In daily life, the living of most speakers in the villages still depend on sago plants and many traditional stories related to sago, including the presence of their ancestors in the region. Thus, documenting stories around sago forest is essential.

Konda and Kais villages locate in the lowland of south Bird’s Head. Topographically, the lowland of south Bird’s Head is mainly wetland comprising of river basins and swampy area. Most rivers flow down to the south coast to Berau Bay. This makes the south coast wet and good for wetland vegetation such as sago and mangrove. The main rivers in this area are Metemani, Kais, Waromge rivers, and other small streams. This ecological environment shapes the traditional knowledge of the people in this region, who have rich traditional knowledge of many species of sago and mangroves. Specially, for people of this region, sago is believed to be related to the presence of their ancestors in this area, as the story of Emeyode clan of Kokoda people to the east of Konda and Kais (Ronsumbre, 2014). We believe that Konda and Kais people also have rich traditional knowledge and traditional stories about the relationship between people and their sago ecological environment. Therefore, one way of producing comprehensive language documentation is also to document their traditional stories related to sago plants.

Konda and Kais speakers are surrounded by West Papuan languages of the Bird’s Head region to the north that reflect an intensive language contact with Austronesian languages, which is the reason why the West Papuan languages demonstrate some Austronesian features such as SVO word order and prepositions. While, South Bird’s Head languages still maintain Trans-New Guinea features such as SOV word order and postpositions.

Linguistically, south Bird’s Head languages and West Papua languages are distinct in terms of linguistic affiliation, but culturally, they all form the similar Austronesian cultural features as Domberai cultural area characterized by traditional linkage of Kain Timor (Timor Textile) culture and Raja (king) in the traditional kingdom, together with West Papuan language communities. These cultural traits are totally different from other Trans-New Guinea communities.

As mentioned, Konda and Kais are not well described. There are no linguistic descriptions of any kinds about these two languages. The only language in this area that has been described is Inanwatan (de Vries 1996, 1998, 2002, 2006).

This collection is linked to the collection “Documenting Konda: an endangered and less-known Trans-New Guinea languages of South Bird’s Head of New Guinea“.


Group represented

The collection created within this project focuses on Kais and Konda speakers in Konda village and Kais villages in the south coast of the Bird’s Head region of New Guinea. They are natives; the regions and their languages still retain the characteristics of Trans New Guinea languages that are predicted to be lost in the Bird’s Head region, as languages of the Bird’s Head region developed new linguistic characteristics of Austronesian-like as a result of an intensive contact with Austronesian for centuries. Konda and Kais are considered small languages in terms of number of their speakers. As mentioned, they have less than 1,000 speakers. Most of them still live in the villages but some speakers have been migrating to big cities around West Papua provinces such as Teminabuan, Sorong, Manokwari and Bintuni. The young generation of these communities tend to speak Papuan Malay and Bahasa Indonesia and are increasingly losing competence in their native languages.

Observation to Konda and Kais speakers living in Teminabuan and Sorong shows that the older generation can still speak their languages on the daily basis. In contrast, younger speakers in these places do not have the same competence as their older generation. The older generation do not use the languages to communicate with the younger generation. They prefer to use Papuan Malay to speak to their children. Further, for many cultural activities found in their homeland, Konda and Kais are not practiced in new places such as Teminabuan and Sorong. Thus, many people from the younger generation lost the sensitivity to their own culture. The language and cultural gaps between older generation and younger generation give us the idea of documenting their language and culture. As mentioned, Konda and Kais have not been documented and described yet. There is no enough linguistic and cultural information available anywhere. Thus, it is an urgent need to document and described their languages.


Language information

Konda and Kais are two Trans-New Guinea languages located in the southern region of the Bird’s Head of New Guinea. Together with 8 other languages, they form what is so-called Trans-New Guinea of South Bird’s Head group. This group is isolated further west adjacent to Papuan languages of West Papuan Phylum and is far away from the majority of Trans-New Guinea languages that mainly occupy the mainland of New Guinea. Konda and Kais are considered small languages in terms of number of native speakers and the endangerment status are threatened and becoming endangered as shifting to Papuan Malay and Indonesian is massively occurring (see Ethnologue, online version).

Konda [knd] has 500 speakers occupying 1 village at the lower Waromge river, about 3 hours by boat or 1 hour by car south of Teminabuan, the capital of South Sorong regency, West Papua Province, Indonesia. The alternate names of Konda are Ogit, Yabin, Yabin-Konda. There is only one dialect spoken by Konda speakers at Konda village. There is no linguistic information available for the language.

Kais [kzm] has 700 speakers spreading out in 8 villages along the Kais river, about 6 hours by boat and 4 hours by car of Teminabuan, the capital of South Sorong Regency, West Papua province, neighboring to Konda speaking community to the west. The alternate names of Kais are Aiso, Atori, Kampung Baru, Mintamani. There is also no linguistic information about the language, including number of dialects spoken among Kais speakers in different villages.

Among language groups in the Bird’s Head region of New Guinea, this group has not been described and documented yet. There is not enough linguistic information available. The information available in Ethnologue: Languages of the World is only about the language classification. Some additional linguistic information about the region is available in Miedema and Reesink (2004).

Berry and Berry (1987) in Reesink (2004) classify the languages of South Bird’s Head of New Guinea into three main subfamilies, i.e. Yabin family (including Konda and Yahadian), Suabo/Inanwatan (Inanwatan and Duriankere), and east south Bird’s Head (Kokoda, Kemberano and Dombano/Arandai). These 3 subfamilies comprise 10 languages. However, out of 10 languages of this group, Inanwatan (de Vries 1996, 1998, 2002, 2006), also known as Suabo (SIL, in Ethnologue, online version), is the only language that has been studied quite intensively by Lourens de Vries (1996, 1998, 2002, 2006). Thus, the linguistic features of this south Bird’s Head group mainly refers to Inanwatan. Describing more languages in this group is necessary in strengthening the claim of south Bird’s head group as Trans-New Guinea languages. To start with this project, we will mainly depend on references from Inanwatan language in order to analyse Konda and Kais.


Collection contents

The proposed documentation project aims to produce the following outcomes:

  • General documentation of languages covering as broad sociocultural contexts as possible, from daily conversation, to cultural materials, including traditional songs, stories, customary ceremonies, dialogues, monologues and games. For specific purposes, the proposed project focuses on the sago plants and traditional stories related to sago.

At least, almost 40% (55 hours) of a total of 146 hours recordings for each language will be transcribed, translated and annotated in three years’ time. All recordings (audio and video) will be supported by metadata that will include information about date, time, speakers, recorder, people present, geographical context, cultural context and topics of recordings. All video and audio recordings will be supplemented by photos and written notes relating to the audio-visual documents.

  • Formal descriptions of each language will include the production of a sketch grammar.
  • Sociocultural description of each language community will be represented in an anthropological sketch of each language speaking community. This will include information about ethnography, religion, traditional knowledge, leadership systems and other related cultural information.
  • Community materials of each language community will cover their knowledge of sago and sago forest and sociocultural functions of sago. This will be represented in a production of ethnobotanical picture books that can be easily used for educational purposes. This will be a community-oriented initiative.
  • Other academic papers presenting linguistic analysis, anthropological analysis/description and botanical description based on data collected.


Acknowledgement and citation

Users of any part of the collection should acknowledge Yusuf Sawaki as the principle investigator, CELD team as the data collector and the researcher. Users should also acknowledge the language consultants by representive name(s). Users should also acknowledge the Endangered Languages Documentation Programme (ELDP) as the funder of the project. Individual speakers whose words and/or images are used should be acknowledged by representive name(s). All information on contributors is available.

To refer to any data from the collection, please cite as follows:

Sawaki, Yusuf. 2022. Documenting Kais: an endangered and less-known Trans-New Guinea languages of South Bird’s Head of New Guinea. Endangered Languages Archive. Handle: Accessed on [insert date here].

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