Rare Language Fact File: Chambri

Native to: East Sepik, Papua New Guinea

Number of native speakers: Approximately 800

Spoken by: The Chambri people

Learn some: Greet Chambri people in the morning by saying ‘yabke karembi’, and after lunch with ‘yabke kabantamp’.

Interesting facts:

  • The Chambri were historically war-like and had a reputation as hunters of people. However, they had good trade relations with their neighbouring tribes, such as the Iatmul, who would provide food in exchange for handmade tools. When the Iatmul started to use mass-produced tools, the Chambri were forced to flee their ancestral land, fearing they no longer had a use for the larger, also warlike Iatmul tribe. They returned in the early twentieth century after peace had been established.
  • European anthropologists speculated that women were dominant in Chambri society, as they had responsibility for fishing (the bulk of the Chambri diet) and trade. However, more detailed observation revealed that the sexes operated along strictly divided lines, but were more or less equal in standing – still a very unusual situation!
  • Marriage practices reflect this divide: arranged marriage is the norm, but there is no dowry tradition, as the Chambri believe this demeans women. Men arrange the marriages but potential brides have input into the decision, working closely with their male family members to make a good pairing. Siblings act as each other’s main support, negotiating power for the family within the tribe and providing parental input for extended family’s children.

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