Social keywords in postcolonial melanesian discourse: Kastom ‘traditional culture’ and tumbuna ‘ancestors’

Carsten Levisen, Carol Priestley

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In postcolonial Melanesia, cultural discourses are increasingly organised around creole words, i.e. keywords of Bislama (Vanuatu) and Tok Pisin (Papua New Guinea). These words constitute (or represent) important emerging ethnolinguistic worldviews, which are partly borne out of the colonial era, and partly out of postcolonial ethno-rhetoric. This chapter explores the word kastom ‘traditional culture’ in Bislama and pasin bilong tumbuna ‘the ways of the ancestors’ in Tok Pisin. Specific attention is paid to the shift from “negative “ to “positive” semantics, following from the re-evaluation of ancestral practices in postcolonial discourse. Social keywords in postcolonial discourse form a fertile ground for understanding how speakers in Melanesia conceptualise the past as a vital part of the present.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationCultural Keywords in Discourse
EditorsCarsten Levisen, Sophia Waters
Place of PublicationAmsterdam
PublisherJohn Benjamins Publishing Company
Publication date20 Oct 2017
ISBN (Print)9789027256829
ISBN (Electronic)9789027265470
Publication statusPublished - 20 Oct 2017
SeriesPragmatics and Beyond New Series


  • Cultural semantics
  • Ethnopragmatics
  • Bislama
  • Tok Pisin
  • Historical Pragmatics

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