English: ‘clan’.

To be useful in Papua New Guinea, it would be ideal if the English word ‘clan’, and its Tok Pisin counterpart, klen, were reserved for groups (a) with long-standing identifying names in districts populated by other similar groups, that are (b) made up of people who believe in a common descent even if they do not know the precise genealogical connections, and (c) whose full members only belong to one such group at a time.

Unfortunately, both words are used elastically in everyday language in PNG, and are made to extend to all the kinds of social entity such as exist across the country. Not all Papua New Guinea societies have ‘clans’, though (many are group-less ‘network’ societies while others have descent lines similar to European surnames).

The rise to prominence of klen parallels that (in English) of ‘landowner’ since Independence and the emergence of resource industries where access to royalty and compensation depends on proof of membership of landowning ‘clans’. The Land Groups Incorporation Act 1974, and various methods of land tenure conversion, are companion factors encouraging the spread of ‘clan’ and klen in both languages.


Noun forms

  1. Society: a clan, a customary landowning group tok ples, wanpisin

Revising the Mihalic Project, 26 Jan 2005 [Home]