Yan-nhangu: People of the Crocodile Islands and the Language of Spiritual Attachment
In Australian Indigenous cultures, there are unique locality based ontological systems of reference to a pre-existing ancestral geography that exist nowhere else on the planet. This lecture will focus on the distinctive relationship between ancestrally inherited language, sacred sites and the intimate spiritual connection to their country and its intangible spiritual attachments. Dr James will discuss briefly the ethno-linguistic investigations he has made over a twenty year period in collaboration with the last generation of Yan-nhangu people to have lived a completely antonymous existence from European influence. This ethno-linguistic study maps the seasonal travels of people around their islands and their spiritual, economic and historical attachment to named places, phenomena and spirits that inhabit their world. Dr James will use visuals to describe the situation faced by the descendants of the last Yan-nhangu speakers of the Crocodile Islands in light of the changing life circumstances imposed by a colonial and post-colonial Australian settler state.
Dr Bentley James, social and cultural anthropologist, linguist and educator
Dr Bentley James has lived in remote Indigenous Australia for nearly thirty years. His interest in language, sign and anthropology began with Warlpiri Media at Yuendumu in the late 1980s. In 1993 he began engaging with Northeast Arnhem Land languages after a decade completing the first Yan-nhangu Dictionary (2003), Yan-nhangu Ethnography (2009) and Atlas and Illustrated Dictionary of the Crocodile Islands (2014). His long term commitments have borne a family of interrelated practical projects around life-long language learning and cultural economies including the Crocodile Islands Rangers and Junior Rangers programs, Language Nests and bilingual education resources in support of meaningful livelihoods on country. His new book Maypal, Mayali’ ga Wäŋa: Shellfish, Meaning & Place, is a bilingual identification guide to shellfish of Arnhem Land for schools in six languages. Currently teaching anthropological linguistics, he continues to visit kin and country from the desert to the islands.
Convenors: Associate Professor Yaso Nadarajah (Intercultural Practices; International Development) with Dr Kerry Mullan (Global Language; Language and Culture Studies), School of Global, Urban and Social Studies, RMIT University
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