Brief overview of Woodland Island & the Muyuw people

During the 1830's, a ship passed by this beautiful unspoilt tropical island.  Her name; Woodlark.  Soon to follow, the French, then Italian Marists who made settlement on Woodlark Island only to leave 8 years later.  That is, those who survived the native Muyuw tribesmen and 'the fever'.  However, 1897 saw the first Wesleyan Methodist Mission successfully established which still exists on the island today as the Uniting Church.

The local Muyuw language is Austronesian and belongs to a family of languages known as Papuan Tip Cluster.  English has continued to be passed down and taught since the days of the first Methodist Missionaries. Pidgin is not spoken amongst Muyuw people mainly due to the proximity of the island to mainland New Gineau.

The island belongs to a region of 500 islands off the south east tip of the Papua New Gineau mainland known as Massim.  The making of large seagoing canoes, sleeping mats, wood carvings, yam taro tapioca and sago gardening, pig hunting and fishing are some of the common daily activities that form the Massim's distinctive island culture.

Subsistence farming is the island's livelihood. Trade has increased marginally since Colonialism due to ventures such as logging and mining on the island.    Land is commonly shuffled between sub-clans in relation to wealth and debt and death.  Pig Feasts are customary and also form a network of debts and credits to kin. The tradition of Kula (exchange and collection of treasures) exists amongst the Muyuw people which is also a symbol of wealth and status within the community.

Muyuw society is matrilineal where descent and succession of the clan is followed through female lines.  Adoption of children is extremely common and rather than the nuclear family structure we understand of  western societies, Muyuw clans provide a social security network for their clan members even if they no longer live on the island.  Community responsibilities and obligations to clan members is of upmost importance and takes priority over any other obligation.  Although no formal census has been conducted since 1990, the current population is estimated at approximately 6000 people.  The size of a village can vary, however the larger villages can number approximately 200 people.