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Kewa, as some of you know, is the name of the language group in Papua New Guinea with whom Joice and I lived and worked. The language name was given to them by Australian government officers, probably in the early 1950s, but the word simply means “stranger” and was used to refer to people who were from another place and, usually, another language.


Kone, in its broadest sense, means “thoughts,” or even “behavior” and “mind.” Writing about Kewa kone is meant to help you understand a bit about the Kewa people, a fairly large population (for language groups in PNG), who live in the mountainous areas of the Southern Highlands. There are three rather diverse Kewa language, groups and, at different times, we lived among two of them. 


We began to study the East Kewa language and culture (the kone of the people) in 1958. We were sparsely trained (two summers of linguistics at the University of Oklahoma) but had read as much as we could about the Territory of New Guinea and Papua (as it was then called). The background reading was indispensable, but we could only know the language and culture by living with the people. That meant learning new things each day and trying to speak an unwritten language—no grammar books to guide us.


Not surprisingly, we soon learned that the Kewa people had a different way of thinking than ours—our konewere different. They were trying to fathom us, and we were in the same boat with them. As you can imagine, there were a lot of mistakes and wrong assumptions.


In our culture, material things matter, things like books, radio, TV, automobiles, and houses for example. None of these, except houses, which were very different than our own, were part of the Kewa culture and their kone. Instead, pigs, pearl shells, gardens, trade items, and ancestral spirits were in focus. Ancestral spirits were those of the departed and men’s bones (in particular) were preserved because of their potential power. We were like aliens meeting other aliens on a planet with unknown surroundings.


Gradually, we began to understand some of the Kewa ways, their kone, and they, in turn, had questions and opinions about ours. What kind of sweet potato and food did we eat? Were our parents still alive? Why do we wear rings on our fingers? Why did we put screens on our doors and windows? Try explaining all that (and much, much more, including very personal matters) in a language you are trying to learn! What was in the mail the young boys retrieved at the government station each week and how did we read (look at) it? Where did we come from? And so on, in a never-ending barrage of questions. We were the same: Why did they have multiple wives? Why did the pigs sleep in the women’s houses? Where did they trade for certain items, such as for wives, salt, plumes, axes, and knives, and so on? What did they think and believe? What does the word “anda” mean, and so forth with words and phrases.


Kone, in the broadest of terms embodies the Kewa “culture,” and anthropologists include everything you can think of in that label. One online definition, for example, says culture is “the customary beliefs, social forms, and material traits of a racial, religious, or social group.” It is also “the characteristic features of everyday existence (such as diversions or a way of life) shared by people in a place or time. popular culture.” See what I mean? It includes everything.


One day a very young lad was doing something that annoyed others. “Why don’t you stop him?” I enquired. “He doesn’t have any kone yet,” was the reply. When would he have it? They weren’t sure and I suppose it is something like our “age of accountability,” which is hard to define as well.


We were often told, “Our kone is different,” meaning sometimes, “You will have trouble understanding us,” which of course was true.


Consider, for example, “ancestral spirits.” What is a spirit and how many generations back can you name your ancestors—on both your father and mother’s side. Kewa men, and sometimes boys, could name seven generations of ancestors and remember, they had no written records. They could also give us the kinship term for each person named. Parallel cousins (the offspring of brothers, for example) were called by the same name as brothers and the word for “grandfather” and “grandson” was the same. We were looking at a system very different than our own and I had no idea what the name of my great grandfather was.


If a Kewa wanted to tell me that he/she (one pronoun for either) was thinking, he would say “I kone am putting,” meaning that he is thinking about it. If he couldn’t remember, his kone might be broken and when he believed his kone was “firmly packed,” like a house post in the ground.


Yes, we were different in terms of backgrounds and languages, but one thing was certain: We both had “bad kone” and needed God to change us. And that is where the beautiful message of the Word of God came in: it told us how we could “turn our Kone around,” and follow Jesus in his tracks. All we needed to do was firmly pack the kone of Jesus in our livers.


You might refer to your emotions with your heart, but the Kewa used liver or stomach. It isn’t so much “where,” as actually doing it.


Karl Franklin


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