Through the years since the first definitive issue of Pitcairn stamps was released in 1940, the philately of Pitcairn Island has enjoyed a much-sought-after status among stamp collectors throughout the world.
The Pitcairn language, also known as Pitkern and Pitcairnese, is a creole language based on an 18th century dialect of English and Tahitian. It is a primary language of Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands.
Following the mutiny on the Bounty, the British mutineers stopped at Tahiti and took eighteen Polynesians, mostly women, to remote Pitcairn Island, and settled there. Initially, the Tahitians spoke little English, and the Bounty crewmen knew even less Tahitian. Isolated from the rest of the world, but needing to communicate with each other, they formed a unique new language that blended a simplified English with Tahitian words and speech patterns.
The Pitcairn language was influenced by the diverse English dialects and accents of the Bounty crew. Geographically, the mutineers were drawn from as far away as the West Indies, with one mutineer being described as speaking a forerunner of a Caribbean patois. One was a Scot from the Isle of Lewis. At least one, the leader Fletcher Christian, was a well-educated man, which at the time made a major difference in speech. Both Geordie and West Country dialects have obvious links to some local phrases and words, such as whittles, meaning food, from victuals.
Many expressions that are not commonly used in the modern English that is spoken in most areas of the world carry on in Pitcairn. These expressions include words from British maritime culture in the age of sailing ships. The influence of Seventh-day Adventist church missionaries and the King James Version of the Bible are also notable.
In the mid-19th century, the people of Pitcairn resettled on Norfolk Island; later some moved back to Pitcairn Island. Most speakers of the language today are the descendants of those who stayed on Norfolk.
In an article printed by the Sydney Gazette and New South Wales Advertiser on 17th July 1819, Jenny (wife of mutineer Isaac Martin) said, “On the island, the Tahitian language was discouraged while the English language was promoted.” The article continues by saying that, “This woman, Jenny, (also known as Teehuteatuaonoa) however, can speak neither English nor Tahitian but a jumble of both.”
There is virtually no Tahitian language today, and the strong pronunciation differences and words from other sources makes the Pitcairn language difficult for any visitor to understand. Pitcairners, when communicating with visitors converse in a perfectly understandable English.
A local idiom, particularly in place names, which are part of the Island’s history, was developed so that a conversation may include references to “John Catch a Cow;” “Where Tom Off” and “Up in a Ti.” Sadly the Pitcairn language is struggling to survive although there is a determined effort in the Pitcairn school curriculum to learn the unique tongue.
A good example follows that most know from the ANZAC commemorations. The ode “For the Fallen” by Laurence Binyon has been translated into the Pitcairn language by Meralda Warren:
“Dem nawa gwen groe ole semes ucklan laf gwen groe ole, Age nor gwen futto dem ulla hem years dreag daun, Un when har sun se gorn daun un een a morning, Wi gwen always sink orf dem.” (They shall not grow old as we that are left grow old. Age shall not weary them – or the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, We will remember them.)
Pitcairn Languages Collectors Notes
Designer: Denise Durkin, Wellington, New Zealand.
Printer: Southern Colour Print, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Process: Offset Litho.
Stamp Size: 30.00mm x 24.00mm horizontal.
Sheetlet Size: 180.00mm x 96.00mm horizontal.
Format: One sheetlet containing eight stamps in a block adjoined, surrounded by 4 other perforated images.
Perforation Gauge: 14.00 x 14.167.
Denominations: $0.20c x 2; $1.00 x3 and $2.00 x3.
Paper: 103gsm Tullis Russell Yellow/Green phosphor stamp paper.
Period of Sale: 7 December 2016 for a period of two years.
Acknowledgment: The Pitcairn Islands Philatelic Bureau wishes to thank Meralda Warren of Pitcairn Island for her valuable help in providing images and text for this stamp issue.
Pitcairn Stamp Issues
(Click small stamp images to see larger views.)
Below is a listing of all Pitcairn stamps issued since 1940 when Pitcairn Island began issuing its own stamps