11yo Kobe is proud of his Aboriginal heritage, now he wants to be fluent in the language of his people


October 12, 2019 09:11:32

Kobe Dare hopes to one day be fluent in palawa kani — Tasmania’s revived Aboriginal language.

Key points:

  • For the first time, a group of Tasmanian Aboriginals have spent a prolonged period of time on recently returned Aboriginal land
  • Members of the Aboriginal community learnt and spoke recently revived palawa kani words for the first time
  • The land is being used as an education tool where the state’s “evolving, vibrant” first language can be learnt on country

“It’s really hard to learn it, to remember the words, because they can get very long and very complex to say,” he said.

But the 11-year-old is determined to learn the words passed on by Aboriginal ancestor Fanny Cochrane Smith and others who have walked before him.

“Aboriginal language, for me, is one of the strongest languages there is because it’s so ancestral,” he said.

Kobe has been attending informal language classes and studying the palawa kani dictionary — he then goes home and teaches what he has learned to his parents.

“Hopefully, one day I can wow people with how strong our language can be,” he said.

It is believed up to 16 separate, original languages were spoken by Tasmania’s first peoples, but they were obliterated by colonisation — with only remnants recorded by Europeans.

Over the past 25 years, a Tasmanian Aboriginal language — palawa kani — has been “revived” by combining words retrieved from as many original languages as possible.

Week on country helps community feel stronger ‘mentally, spiritually’

Some palawa kani words

  • palawa – Tasmanian Aboriginal person
  • kani – language
  • milaythina – country
  • lutriwita – Tasmania
  • kunanyi – Mount Wellington
  • kanamaluka – River Tamar
  • katina – beach
  • purinina – Tasmanian devil

Kobe was one of a handful of Tasmanian Aboriginal people who spent a week on recently returned Aboriginal land on the state’s east coast.

The handover was the first private land return in the state’s history.

Eight months on, the land is being used as a means for members of the Indigenous community to learn about and reconnect with their history.

The spot at Little Swanport is home to stone tools that show evidence of centuries of Aboriginal occupation — namely by the Oyster Bay tribe, one of the biggest in the state, and the luntaytamiriliyuyna people, who inhabited the area up to 60,000 years ago.

It is an opportunity that is not lost on the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s Strong in Country facilitator Sharnie Read.

“To be able to bring our young ones, our elders and everyone in between on such a special parcel of land with all those values is what it’s all about,” Ms Read said.

Ms Read said it allowed for the continuation of culture that not only survived but thrived.

“It’s about giving our community members the opportunity to … feel stronger physically, mentally and spiritually,” she said.

“To really feel the spirit of the land, that comes with time.

“It doesn’t always happen in one day.”

palawa kani a ‘vibrant and living language’

The week on country coincided with the release of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Centre’s second palawa kani dictionary — a book of phrases brought back to life by a team of language program workers who spend their days poring over historical documents to regain their language.

Tessa Atto is one of them. She spends her days travelling across lutruwita, Tasmania, and onto the islands, reintroducing language to community.

Words in the second palawa kani dictionary:

  • timtumili minanya (teem tu mee lee) (mee nah nyah) – Derwent River
  • liyamangina minanya (lee yah mahng ee nah) (mee nah nyah) – Prosser River
  • trayapana (try yah pah nah) – country at Triabunna and Spring Bay

She described the 30-year process as “immense” and one that was driven by a team of “extremely passionate” Tasmanian Aboriginal people who were eager to authenticate Aboriginal words from the places they were spoken.

“We look at when it was recorded, who recorded it, who said it, the level of education that person had that recorded it, if it was said by an Aboriginal speaker — all of those things come into play as to how we use the language,” she said.

“They gather that information and look at where each words were recorded, then work out how often that word was said of different spans and spaces and places, then work out sound and spelling of that word.”

Ms Atto described palawa kani as a “vibrant and living” language that “was always there” and was easier to learn on country.

“To use palawa kani on country [is] so empowering, it’s passionate to know the old fellas were here talking about walking the old tracks in this language.

“It’s great to see how quickly the kids pick it up and how our elders are starting to embrace it, because they’re hearing their beautiful grandchildren speaking palawa kani — it’s just wonderful,” she said.

Like Kobe, Ms Atto hopes all Indigenous Tasmanians will one day be fluent in the state’s original tongue.










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