by Lena Karvovskaya and Soraya Hosni

The DoBeS Project “Languages of Southwest Ambrym” is happy to invite you to an exhibit in the newly opened exhibition-center Humboldt-Box in the heart of Berlin. The exhibit “Sprachdokumentation auf Südwest-Ambrym” (Flyer with more information) will be open to the public from 1st of July till 31st of December 2011.

The project team members wanted the installation to present the different ways in which culture, language and knowledge are transmitted within written (books and recordings) and oral societies (sand drawing and story telling). The highlights of the installation are sandroings: a unique form of art practiced in Vanuatu. An example of such a performance is shown in a short film “The Liliwi masks story” projected on the ground. The film shows an elder man drawing complex geometric figures onto the sand with a continuous one finger movement so that it will end up forming a specific picture. The drawing is followed by a story or a description. This is a sandroing performance. The Liliwi masks story has a sand drawing to illustrate the narrative.

A typical sandroing

The exhibit shows an original Sandroing left by Abel Taho as he was our guest in Berlin from Ambrym. Visitors can also try themselves to make the performance, all you need to do is to follow the instructions which a young girl on the video is giving you: Joelyne teaches German children how to draw a breadfruit. Additionally you can watch a film on the process of linguistic fieldwork at the installation. One can see how the recordings are being transcribed and translated and how a dictionary is being composed. There is also a beautiful illustration for the dictionary done by local artist Joebang Maaseng.

For those who want to see and hear more about the “Languages of Southwest Ambrym”, there is a video channel on Youtube, where Soraya Hosni shares her works. At the moment it contains the film about language documentation, the video of the Liliwi sandroing performance and two films which give you instructions on how to make a sandroing yourself. The channel will be regularly updated with new films.

Visitors at the Ambrym exhibition

The project “Languages of Southwest Ambrym” is also presented to the broader public through “Science movies”, the videoblog of the Volkswagen foundation. “Wer spricht noch Daakaka?” is a series of 10 shorts, filmed by Susanne Fuchs and Soraya Hosni, in which we follow them on their journey from Berlin to Ambrym. We learn about daily life in the island, from preparing meals and basic hygiene to how houses are built or marriages are celebrated. We can admire the unique volcanic landscape and tropical vegetation but we can also learn about how the “Languages of Southwest Ambrym” team conduct linguistic and ethnographic fieldwork and collaborate with local leaders, schools and children to make the best out of the research and contribute to the survival of the Ambrym language and culture for future generations.

The Project “Languages of Southwest Ambrym” has started in August 2009. It investigates three language varieties spoken on Ambrym, a volcanic island in the northern part of Vanuatu: Daakaka, Daakiye and Dal kalaen. The goal of the project is documentation of linguistic and cultural heritage of the people of Ambrym. During extensive fieldwork sessions the team members make recordings of custom stories and cultural practices. Among others the project has created a collection of sandroings. Each drawing has been documented together with the language performance.

The team members are: Prof. Dr. Manfred Krifka, Soraya Hosni, Kilu von Prince, Dr. Susanne Fuchs and Lena Karvovskaya (student assistant). To learn more about the Project “Languages of Southwest Ambrym” visit the official websites at the MPI or at the ZAS.