The Documentation of Wooi


Wooi is the term for both a language and its people settling in the villages Dumani, Woinap and Wooi at the far western tip of Yapen island in Geelvink Bay, north of the mainland of Papua, Indonesia.

The language is of Austronesian origin and belongs to the Eastern Malayo-Polynesian branch of that language family. It is tentatively classified as South Halmahera-West New Guinea, South Halmahera-Geelvink Bay, Geelvink Bay, Yapen, Central Western according to the Ethnologue. Approximately 1800 people still speak Wooi; the language is claimed to have 77% lexical similarity with its neighboring languages Pom, Marau, and Ansus out of which Pom and Marau seem to be slightly closer related to Wooi than Ansus.


The Wooi settlements are remotely located on the far western end of Yapen island and thus only accessible with difficulty. The only way is to take a motorized outrigger canoe from the regional capital Serui and to drive all the way westwards along the mangroves and primary forests of Yapen's south coast until the tsunami protected harbour of Wooi bay. The core settlement area of the Wooi lies at 01˚40’ 46.1’’ Southern latitude and 135˚30’ 27.7’’ Eastern longitude, i.e. in Geelvink Bay, north of the mainland of Papua.

The Wooi speaking area borders on Ansus (Aibondeni, Warabori and Ansus villages) and Marau to the East, and Pom and Serewen to the North.

There are two major Wooi villages, which are Wooi and Woinap and one permanent fishery of the Wooi community in Miosnum island to the farther West of the Yapen island. The hinterland beyond the coastal settlements grows rugged and steep with hills and mountains towering up towards the inland. The area is largely covered by untouched primary forests that feature an enormous wealth of biodiversity although there have been reports on commercial logging recently.

People and Culture

Wooi are organized into patrilineal exogamous clans (marga), who descend either from Yapen (i.e. the Wihyawari clan), Wandamen (i.e. the Horota clan), the Bird’s Head (i.e. the Werimon clan) and the neighboring Biak Island (i.e. the Kendi and Kirihio clans). Most Wooi are protestant; however non-Christian beliefs and magic occur. Contact to neighboring groups (Ansus, Pom, Marau) is frequent; Wooi are traditionally fishermen diversifying their subsistence economy also by horticulture and trading sago in the wider island’s maritime transport networks.

The political power in the central settlements is shared by two elected village heads (kepala desa) from the influential clans of the Werimon and Wihyawari. Interethnic warfare was common in colonial times and traditional Wooi songs (Koya) are still orally transmitted today to remember them; of particular ethnological interest is a specific peace-building ritual, Hesokuru, practiced by Wooi to overcome interpersonal disharmony.

The Wooi Program

The documentation of Wooi is supported by the German Volkswagen Foundation and the DoBeS program of the Max-Planck Institute. In 2007 Dr. Alexander Loch, Prof. Nikolaus Himmelmann and Yusuf Sawaki planned the documentation in close consultation with the speech community; since 2009 the project is actively implemented at the Center for Endangered Languages Documentation.

DoBeS Programs