Bougainville’s Naasioi (Otomaung) font project

A volunteer type or graphic designer is needed to help develop a font for a rare script of Kieta district in the Autonomous Region of Bougainville.


Few details about Otomaung alphabet—its history, vitality and the extent of its manuscript corpus—are known to outsiders.

To the best of my knowledge Otomaung was developed and promoted by a cultural movement of Kieta district during the Bougainville Crisis of 1988-1998, and is used for representing the Naasioi language. The existence of the script was reported to me by a Bougainvillean linguist in 2010 who remembers seeing it used during this time. She had witnessed it being taught in some schools and saw it displayed on T-shirts but she could not recall the location.

The below summary represents the key information I have been able to gather about this system from other Bougainvilleans and visiting researchers between 2010 and 2014. (I have only included names of sources if they are public figures. Since leaders of the movement have, via intermediaries, expressed a desire for their script and literacy program to be publicly promoted I have left their names unchanged in hopes that others will be able to discover connections to them.)

According to a personal communication from James Tanis, the former president of Bougainville, the script was used by members of a cultural movement during the blockade (1990-1998) as a means of recording stories, music and dances. The script became part of the school curriculum in Kieta district up until third grade. During this time the Bougainville Revolutionary Army (BRA) denounced the movement as a cult and began persecuting them, prompting Tanis to intervene on their behalf. Members of this group performed a dance at the signing of the Bougainville Peace Agreement in Arawa on 30 August 2001.

bougainville peace agreement

The Bougainville Peace Agreement. Prime Minister Mekere Morouta is in the wide-brimmed hat. Those with the coloured head-dresses are presumably members of the cultural movement that developed the script. Image from NZDF.


From the front cover to Reconciliation and Architectures of Commitment Sequencing peace in Bougainville (ANU Press 2010)

Tanis believes that the schools that use this script have been under financial pressure and may have had to close. Another source believes the founder of the movement is Peter Karatapi, from Siang village in the south Naasioi area. A linguist long familiar with the Naasioi language and community, located the script on the Siaang river and passed on the contents of text message correspondence with script advocate Steven Tamiung. The correspondence began on 8 August 2012. Annotations in square brackets were added by the linguist and ellipses indicate redacted names:

Mi manki Bougenvil, na mipela adoptim owned Currency (moro, tero [?]), owned Lunar Calender, owned Alphabet, ABC, and activate, Nasioi Literature. Em wanpla gutpla nius blo Bougenvil. Bai mi emailim yu yet. Thankyu. Wanem taim mi free bai mi email.

Translation: I am a young man of Bougainville, where we have adopted our own currency, lunar calendar, alphabet and (active?) literature. It is a good story from Bougainville. I will email it to just you. Thank you. When I am free I will email you the story.

A subsequent message from Tamiung read:

Mi bin attenim Rigu High, na papa blo mi em wanpla culture man wantaim Damien Dameng [a prominent leader of a group isolationist people who mainly lived back in the mountains and disdained European influence], na mi comparim tupla samtin Bible blo whiteman na Bible blo blackman, na kamap wantaim gutpla conclusion pinis, conclusion blo servim man lo displa world today. Tampara.” [Basically he seems to be saying that he considers himself to be a multiculturalist.]

Translation: I went to Rigu High School and my father is a knowledgeable man on culture, alongside Damien Dameng. I have compared the white bible and the black bible and have concluded some good things – things that would help today’s man. Tampara.

When the linguist requested more information, Tamiung asked him to pose specific questions, but at that time the international exchange of text messages was proving too expensive so Tamiung passed on his email address. On 27 October 2012, Tamiung again contacted the linguist:

We the indigenous Nasioi speaking of Kieta District AROB PNG are apealling and requesting to you if you could assist us in exposing our litracy, owned Nasioi Culture and original language to the school curriculum or as a syllabus so that it cn be thought during early stage of education. Ta! Steven. Arawa.”

The linguist responded:

Please contact […] He has all the books and curriculum for Viles Tok Ples Skuls, and he knows who to contact in the education department. Thank you. […]

Stephen Tamiung replied:

Thank you very much […] for your notice, hope you are aware that we also adapted our own writing, like letter A is pronounced as ottomaung [?], and letter B as miru originated from Lord’s prayer [?], but totally different style of writing, that also goes to numeric symbols, etc. I could send you a e-mail if you are interested, so that you have a clear idea and link us to the right computer science personel or computer programmer. Tampara mung [good night].

The linguist wrote to me “I have seen some of the symbols of the alphabet that he is referring to. They were embroidered into a dancing cape, but there was no one around who knew what they stood for or how the alphabet worked. I got the impression that it was more like a code used by a secret society than an alphabet designed for wider distribution. We had been friends with Demien Daa’meng for some time before he died. When we were living near him in Arawa, in 2009, he and his wife would visit us often. During that time he told us that if we would give him a Greek New Testament, he would share a special secret with us. I suspect that the secret was this alphabet that Tamiung is talking about, but since we didn’t have a paper copy of the Greek New Testament with us to give to him, he never shared his secret with us. If you care to call Steven Tamiung or text him, you can reach him at […]. Otherwise you can try e-mailing him at […]. Give him our greetings. We think he will be very happy to communicate with you.”

I contacted Tamiung by email on 12 November 2012 but received no reply, then got distracted with my thesis which I submitted a few weeks later. I reestablished contact with Steven in 2014 and we have maintained an intermittent correspondence. Attempts to discuss the Ottomaung script via intermediaries were curtailed by the recent visa blockade on Australians visiting Bougainville.

Font project

Steven Tamiung has sent me the following image as a starting point for developing an Ottomaung font.


Since correspondence is difficult, I have been unable to establish the meaning of ‘Capital’, ‘Small’ and ‘Handwriting Economy’, nor the rules for using these registers, combining letters, orientation etc. At a best guess, this is a left-to-right system with an uppercase, lowercase and ornamental case that combines the upper and lowercase graphemes separated by a medial line and five dots.

Given that Otomaung is an alphabet, the keyboard input should be very easy. I would be very pleased to make contact with a typography student who wishes to design this interesting font, and to be recognised as the designer in the font documentation. I will be happy to send any drafts to the Naasioi community for feedback.