A Place for “Was-Was” 1

Jessie T. Ponce Photography

“A Place for Was-Was 1” / Central Province, Papua New Guinea, June 2013

Two things that intrigue me:  (1) Tok Pisin and (2) What the word “was-was” means.

Tok Pisin is a creole spoken throughout Papua New Guinea.  I’m just so intrigued by how, long ago, out of the need for Western visitors and Papua New Guinean tribal peoples to communicate; a whole new language evolved.  Now Tok Pisin is an official language of Papua New Guinea and majority of its more than 800 tribes use it.

I get very attentive when I’m within listening distance from two people talking in Tok Pisin. The language is full of English-sounding words but has a totally different structure and the spelling of these words seems to be based on simpler phonetics.  The name of the language alone is English-sounding and by etymology, “tok” appears to have come from the English word, “talk” and “pisin” derives from the English word pidgin.  

From Tok Pisin comes the word, “was-was” and, yes, “was” comes from the word “wash” although it seems that locals use it to mean most activities related to washing like taking a bath or washing clothes.   In this photo which I took as we were crossing a river in Central Province,  kids and adults are doing ‘was-was’ in the river.   This leads to the point that intrigues me.  So far, from what I’ve seen, there is an abundance of fresh water in PNG.  There are huge lakes and rivers in many places but clean water for domestic consumption seems scarce and I always see men, women and children bathing and washing clothes in muddy waters such as this.   This practice has a lot of implications in terms of health and hygiene and hopefully comes a day  when all households in the world have clean, potable water in their premises.

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