Stories of contact retold in music
November 30, 2019 11:15 PM   Subscribe

how Indigenous songs recount deep histories of trade between Australia and Southeast Asia. An essay by Aaron Corn for The Conversation on how historic contacts between the Yolŋu of Arnhem Land, Australia, and the peoples of island South-East Asia are retold in music, law and ritual.
posted by tavegyl (9 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite
Thanks for this, and am reading through on mobile, so maybe later I'll find the song mentioned in the beginning because the embedded video isn't made available here, ironically enough
posted by cendawanita at 3:05 AM on December 1, 2019

Whaaaaattttt... After yesterday's post on the Portuguese trade route to India this is exactly the rabbit hole I had remembered and went down on Wikipedia. :)
posted by Mistress at 3:09 AM on December 1, 2019 [2 favorites]

Really interesting, thanks for posting. After reading the article I wanted to know more and found my way to "Macassan History and Heritage", a collection of essays on their journeys to Northern Australia, published by the ANU Press in 2013 and kindly made available for free download or reading online.
posted by valetta at 3:42 AM on December 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

Fascinating; thanks!

I'm wondering where the orthography used for Yolŋu names (i.e., ŋ presumably pronounced "ng") came from; also, is there any phonetic significance to the L in “Luŋgutja” being underlined?
posted by acb at 1:31 AM on December 2, 2019

I'm not sure who developed the Yolngu writing system but it's a common one for Australian languages. You are right about ŋ (as ng in sing, not eg finger, e.g. The g is not pronounced separately to the velar n).

The underlined l is a retroflex l. Yolngu, like many Australian languages, has a series of retroflex consonants. You may be somewhat familiar with retroflexes from languages like Hindi, which have a retroflex t. Listen to some Indian English and you are likely to hear it. But in Australian languages often t r l n all have retroflex versions. If you are a speaker of most standard varieties of English you can approximate these by putting your tongue in a position as though you are about to say a word starting with r, but without moving your tongue, try to produce an t, n or l instead. They are either written with an underline, a dot below then, or as sequences of rn, rl, rt etc (although they strictly speaking are a single sound, not an r + the other consonant.)
posted by lollusc at 4:55 AM on December 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

that bit of the ng consonant is very interesting! count that as another shared link with the malay muslim world - tht's a common consonant in maritime southeast asia. in fact, in jawi (malay/indonesian arabic script), they also had to invent a character for it.
posted by cendawanita at 7:28 AM on December 2, 2019

It's quite common around the world. See this map here. The red is where you find it at the start of words, and the pink is where you find it only elsewhere in the word.

There are, however, some very interesting rare features that are shared between Australian languages and Asia-Pacific region. And many of them seem like they are most likely due to much older trade networks and population movements than the Macassans. In fact, I have a major research project on this at the moment together with archaeologists, linguists, anthropologists, etc. Look out for an exhibition at Museums Victoria late next year that will also showcase some of this stuff.
posted by lollusc at 6:40 PM on December 2, 2019 [4 favorites]

Your project sounds fascinating, lollusc. I hope you will post it on Projects, if there are any open access outputs from it.
posted by tavegyl at 8:06 PM on December 2, 2019

Everything's open access, but I try to keep my profile here from being directly linked to my professional profile, so I can't see an easy way to do that for now, sorry!
posted by lollusc at 3:53 AM on December 3, 2019

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