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Raga basics

Good day
Rantavuha / Rani

Good night
Bontavuha / Bongi

How's things?
Kun hanigi?

OK / It's just fine
Nu tavuha ngano

Thank you




What's your name?
Ihamwa be ihei?

My name is...
Ihaku be...

I am from...
Inau ata... / Inau nin...

Where are you going?
Go men van hala behe?

Where have you come from?
Gon mai hala behe?

Come here!
Mai teti!

Go away!
Van dagai!

I would like...
Nam doron...

one, two, three
tea / gaituvwa,
rua / gairua,
tolu / gaitolu

It's finished
Nu nogo

He speaks our language!
Mwa av la nonda!


I don't know
Nam lenga

Raga (Hano) language

Raga is the language of North Pentecost. Its area extends from the northern tip of the island to Singmwel in the west and Renbura in the east, and includes the major villages of Laone, An’goro, Abwatuntora, Atavtabangga, Loltong, Latano and Nambwarangiut. As a result of emigration from Pentecost, a number of Raga speakers also live on neighbouring Maewo Island, and there are signficant communities of Raga speakers in Vanuatu’s towns. In the year 2000, Raga had an estimated 6,500 speakers, making it the seventh largest of Vanuatu’s hundred or so vernacular languages, and Pentecost’s second largest (after Apma).

Today Raga has just a single dialect, with only very minor regional variation in the way the language is spoken. Modern Raga was originally the dialect of the far north, but spread southwards in the last century, overrunning another dialect, Nggasai, which is now extinct.

The first accounts of Raga emerged from the work of missionaries in the late 19th century. John Coleridge Patteson, the first Anglican Bishop of Melanesia, made notes on the language at Vunmarama in North Pentecost. His material formed the basis of a description of Raga published by H. von der Gabelentz in Die melanesischen Sprachen (1873). Thomas Ulgau, a teacher from Mota Island, was landed at Bwatvenua in North Pentecost in 1878 and produced a prayer book in the local language, which was published in 1882 by the Melanesian Mission. R H Codrington, who taught at the Melanesian Mission school on Norfolk Island, included a description of Raga in his book The Melanesian Languages (1885), based on Ulgau's prayer book and on notes made from his own students. A more recent summary of Raga grammar was included by Terry Crowley in The Oceanic Languages (2002). David Walsh and other linguists have published short papers dealing with various aspects of Raga, and Hannah Bogiri of the University of the South Pacific is currently producing a PhD thesis on the language, but no comprehensive description of Raga has yet been published.

The Vanuatu National Library contains an impressive Raga-English dictionary written by 'Miss Hardacre', who worked with the Melanesian Mission at Lamalanga on North Pentecost in around 1910-1920. Incredibly, nearly a century later Miss Hardacre’s dictionary remains the most extensive publicly-available source of information on the language, although inevitably it is now somewhat dated. A shorter Vocabulary of Raga Language with Bislama and English glosses was compiled more recently by Masanori Yoshioka and Richard Leona. The Hano Translation Committee (see below) claims to be in the process of producing a 10,000-word Raga dictionary, and linguist David Walsh is also working on a major dictionary of the language.

Among Pentecost islanders, Raga speakers have the strongest tradition of writing in their native language and using it in non-traditional contexts. The late Reverend David Tevimule wrote Vevhurin Raga ("Story of Raga"), a lengthy account of his society’s myths and customs in his own language, which was later edited and published in four parts by Masanori Yoshioka of Kobe University. At college in the 1960s, the future prime minister Walter Lini and others edited a Raga newsletter, Roroi ata Raga ("News from Raga"). Lini also worked with linguist David Walsh on Veveven bwatun tauvwa, ata la vanua Raga (1981), "A story about the beginning of creation from Raga Island".

Over the past 130 years, numerous religious materials have been produced in Raga by the Anglican Church, including a widely-distributed 1970 edition of the Book of Common Prayer (Book Tataro Ata Raga) and various portions of the Bible. More recently, a Hano Translation Committee, based at the provincial government offices in An'goro, has been set up to publish scriptures and other materials in Raga. These are based largely on the work of Father Mark Gaviga, a former member of the Melanesian Brotherhood who has been working on translations of the Bible since the 1970s. The Hano Translation Committee has already published a translation of the gospels (Roroi Tavuha Non Jisas Kraes), and a full New Testament and portions of the Old Testament are promised soon.

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© Andrew Gray, 2010