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The birds and the bees: issues in translating an Aboriginal song text from north-west Australia. Michael Walsh AIATSIS Centre for Australian Languages, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies 28 March 2014 Session: Language, Story and Song

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The birds and the bees: issues in translating an Aboriginal song text from north-west Australia


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    1. The birds and the bees: issues in translating an Aboriginal song text from north-west Australia Michael Walsh AIATSIS Centre for Australian Languages, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies 28 March 2014 Session: Language, Story and Song AIATSIS National Indigenous Studies 2014 Conference, National Convention Centre, Canberra

    2. Abstract Translation is a significant challenge for the documentation of Aboriginal songs. This paper will present an explication de textefor a particular Aboriginal song from north-west Australia. The targeted song text only contains a small number of words so that a translation of just those words will not convey much to an outsider. The song is embedded in a rich cultural context which Murrinh-Patha people will acquire as increasingly richer content over a lifetime. Central to this song text is the sugarbag or wild honey totem, thithay. This totem connects with a particular clan and particular places in the clan territory. Those particularities can be invoked by the mere mention of ngarim ‘bee sp.’. But this mention also invokes a whole range of totems possessed by clan members including certain bird species. Roughly comparable is the extent to which the mere mention of certain key terms in the Western literary canon can invoke a rich array of allusions. For example, the mention of Achilles and Patroclus invokes varying portions of the Iliad – the variation dependent on the background and interests of the listener. For the translator the challenge is how much of the rich cultural context should be included.

    3. Wadeye Song Documentation Project .

    4. Wadeye in regional context

    5. Wadeye (Port Keats) • Aboriginal community of about 2000 people • Originally established as Port Keats Roman Catholic mission, 1935 • Lies within clan estate of Dimirnin clan but 20 other clans now resident there • Various different ancestral languages, but MurrinyPatha is lingua franca and L1 for young people of all clans • One of the healthiest Indigenous languages in Australia • Social tensions arising from historical enmities between clans perpetuated in contemporary gangs etc.

    6. Tharrmandjiterert(song genres) • MurrinyPatha • Djanba • Wurltjirri • Malgarrin • Marri Ngarr • MuyilLirrga • RakThangkurral (Marri Tjevin, Marri Ammu) • Walakandhawangga • Ma-Yawawangga • MurrinyNyuwan • Balga

    7. Tharrmandjiikarduwardangatha(Songs and clan country) Base map adapted from Map 5.4, Furlan 2005, p. 197

    8. Djanba • Dimirnin • Nangu • Maniny • Kirnmu • Kultjil • WakalTjinang

    9. The text From p. 16 of Barwick, L, Blythe, J, Marett, A & Walsh, M 2007 'Arriving, digging, performing, returning: an exercise in rich interpretation of a djanba song text in the sound archive of the Wadeye Knowledge Centre, Northern Territory of Australia', in R. M. Moyle (ed.), Oceanic Encounters: Festschrift for Mervyn McLean, Research in Anthropology and Linguistics Monographs, Auckland. 13-24.

    10. Contexts clans: person-totem-place generic: Djanba – Lirrga – Malgarrin – Wurlthirri musical: instrumentation; melody etc body painting: [separate slides: lirrga vs djanba] dance [separate slides] bark painting [separate slides] geographical: an intimately familiar landscape totemic: each person has a set of totems dreamings: entities in the everywhere and everywhen

    11. Contexts clans: person-totem-place generic: Djanba – Lirrga – Malgarrin – Wurlthirri musical: instrumentation; melody etc body painting: [separate slides: lirrga vs djanba] dance [separate slides] bark painting [separate slides] geographical: an intimately familiar landscape totemic: each person has a set of totems dreamings: entities in the everywhere and everywhen

    12. clans: person-totem-place From the pre-publication 2nd, expanded edition of Ward, Teresa 1983 The Peoples and their Land around Wadeye: MurrinhKanhi-ka KarduiDangarraPutekPigunu. Port Keats via Darwin: Wadeye Press.

    13. generic contexts: Tharrmandjiterert(song genres) • MurrinyPatha • Djanba • Wurltjirri • Malgarrin • Marri Ngarr • MuyilLirrga • RakThangkurral (Marri Tjevin, Marri Ammu) • Walakandhawangga • Ma-Yawawangga • MurrinyNyuwan • Balga

    14. musical instrumentation [clapsticks and body percussion for Djanba but no didjeridu vs Lirrga and Wangga always with didjeridu]; melody etc From pp. 19-20 of Barwick, L, Blythe, J, Marett, A & Walsh, M 2007 'Arriving, digging, performing, returning: an exercise in rich interpretation of a djanba song text in the sound archive of the Wadeye Knowledge Centre, Northern Territory of Australia', in R. M. Moyle (ed.), Oceanic Encounters: Festschrift for Mervyn McLean, Research in Anthropology and Linguistics Monographs, Auckland. 13-24.

    15. Body painting: Lirrga

    16. Body painting: Djanba

    17. Dreamings: entities in the everywhere and everywhen The Dreaming conjures up the notion of a sacred, heroic time of the indefinitely remote past, such a time is also, in a sense, still part of the present. One cannot ‘fix’ The Dreaming in time: it was, and is, everywhen. We should be very wrong to read into it the idea of a Golden Age, or a Garden of Eden, though it was an age of Heroes, when the ancestors did marvellous things that men can no longer do. The blacks are not at all insensitive to Mary Webb’s ‘wistfulness that is the past’, but they did not, in aversion from present or future, look back on it with yearning and nostalgia. Yet it has for them an unchallengeable sacred authority. (Stanner, W. E. H. 2010 [1956] The Dreaming. In The Dreaming & Other Essays. 2nd edition, Collingwood: Black Inc., 58.)

    18. totemic From the pre-publication 2nd, expanded edition of Ward, Teresa 1983 The Peoples and their Land around Wadeye: MurrinhKanhi-kaKardui Da ngarraPutekPigunu. Port Keats via Darwin: Wadeye Press.

    19. kutek

    20. Bark Paint-ings From the pre-publication 2nd, expanded edition of Ward, Teresa 1983 The Peoples and their Land around Wadeye: MurrinhKanhi-ka KarduiDangarraPutekPigunu. Port Keats via Darwin: Wadeye Press.

    21. Geographical

    22. Furlan, Alberto 2005 Songs of continuity and change: the reproduction of Aboriginal culture through traditional and popular music. PhD thesis, University of Sydney, p 184

    23. Wadeye in regional context

    24. Ambiguities

    25. Past participial semantic differentiation Compliment to executioner: Well hanged!

    26. Past participial semantic differentiation Compliment to executioner: Well hanged! Compliment to gallery owner: Well hung!

    27. Interpretations

    28. Interpretations

    29. Allusions: place – totem – person orange blossom – red loincloth – body painting – “lack” of didjeridu –birds – bees – and the intensely personal Interlude:marramarda “progeny” a speculative etymology: marra “now, today” + marda “belly” cf. literal reading: manhimardapurlnu “I will wash your (sg) belly” vs metaphorical reading: damngimardathin “I’m worried”

    30. Song texts may be short but they are often tricky (Barwick 2006: 57).

    31. Some references Barwick, L. 2006. A musicologist’s wishlist: some issues, practices and practicalities in musical aspects of language documentation. Language documentation and description, 3 (2005), 53-62. Barwick, Linda in press Keepsakes and Surrogates: Hijacking Music Technology at Wadeye (Northwest Australia). In Music, Indigeneity, Digital Media, edited by Thomas Hilder, ShzrEe Tan and Henry Stobart. Rochester NY: University of Rochester Press. Barwick, L, Blythe, J, Marett, A & Walsh, M 2007 'Arriving, digging, performing, returning: an exercise in rich interpretation of a djanba song text in the sound archive of the Wadeye Knowledge Centre, Northern Territory of Australia', in R. M. Moyle (ed.), Oceanic Encounters: Festschrift for Mervyn McLean, Research in Anthropology and Linguistics Monographs, Auckland. 13-24. Bowern, Claire 2003 Bardi songs and song poetry. http://www.academia.edu/963331/Bardi_songs_and_song_poetry, accessed 22 October 2013. Walsh, Michael 2007 Australian Aboriginal song language – so many questions, so little to work with. Australian Aboriginal Studies (Special Issue edited by Allan Marett and Linda Barwick). 2007/2: 128-144. Walsh, Michael 2010 A polytropical approach to the ‘floating pelican’ song: an exercise in rich interpretation of a MurrinyPatha (northern Australia) song. In The Language of Song: A Special Issue of Australian Journal of Linguistics. Edited by Tonya Stebbins, Myfany Turpin and Stephen Morey. 30(1): 117-130