Ta alina Suau, compiled by Chris Abel, Alotau 2013, 116 pp. Published privately. Review copy provided by Liz Abel
A LITTLE book with a big heart, Ta alina Suau, has been assiduously compiled by Chris Abel who designates it as “a dictionary and grammar and nostalgic appreciation of the Suau [soo-ow] language in Milne Bay Province PNG”.
The Abels have given so much to PNG over the last 123 years and this book is more than a grace note. Forty years in the making, it is a gift both to the Suau language group and the world at large where, sadly, many languages, very much like many species, are at risk.
Ta alina Suau (Let’s Speak Suau) is as much a reflection of the rich and committed life of the Abel family of Kwato as it is a useful work, although it is certainly also that.
Chris Abel explains that when his grandfather arrived in Papua in 1891 as a London Missionary Society pioneer, his base was at Suau.
It later moved to the beautiful Kwato Island, with which the Abels are most closely associated and where many of them are buried. This 2006 article relates something of my brief visit there.
The Suau language was also a trade language and was widely used across many of the islands of what is now Milne Bay, the pragmatic consideration that underpinned Charles Abel’s original decision to make it the language of Kwato.
After World War II, the language began to change and evolved into what is known today as ‘Kwato Suau’ – which has a vocabulary drawn from Suau and no less than seven other languages including English.
“The exercise has taken far longer than I initially envisaged,” writes Chris Abel in a Foreword, “because the project has turned out to be more complex and difficult than first imagined.
“With the passage of time and with the changes in the reasons for the project itself, it has become necessary to redefine the motives.”
And this redefinition, as it developed, took in elements of instruction, preservation and, perhaps most importantly, “a tribute to and expression of love for the language and an acknowledgement of the association with Suau by the Abel family over several generations.”
So, in just 116 pages, this book is many things.
It is what it professes to be – a dictionary and grammar of an important Papuan language – but it is also a history, a tribute and tangible expression of the heritage of a missionary family that have served the people of PNG so well for four generations so far.
Its latest shining star is Charles Abel, since 2007 the respected and proficient member for Alotau and now Minister for National Planning in the O’Neill Government.