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Tasmanian Indigenous Language Used in Modern Song

Tasmanian Aborigines
Tasmanian Indigenous Language Used in Modern Song
on April, 25 2014
Tasmanian Aborigines

Image credit: Truganini and last 4 tasmanian aborigines taken by Roke under Public Domain.

Dewayne Everettsmith, an Aboriginal singer-songwriter from Tasmania has just released his first album, which includes a song in Palawa kani, a Tasmanian indigenous language. There is a growing interest in learning Palawa kani, a constructed indigenous language in Tasmania, an island state in Australia. And what better way to preserve and promote the language than in a song? That is what Dewayne Everettsmith does. He is keeping the language alive through music.

The song – Milaythina

The song, which is included in the album recently released by Everettsmith is entitled Milaythina. This is the first commercially available song that is entirely in Palawa kani. The song was earlier written by members of the Aboriginal community. It was Everettsmith that put his own type of music to the song. According to the musician, Milay, as he calls the song, is about welcoming people to Tasmania; welcoming Aboriginal people to the land and about welcoming the broader community. In the Aboriginal language, "Palawa" means the Aboriginal Tasmanians while "kani" means language. Milaythina, on the other hand, translates to "country."

The meaning of the song goes deeper. It includes the recognition of many important places in Tasmania, places that are likewise important to the Aborigines in the state and to all Tasmanians in general. Some of the lyrics of the song includes every day words in Palawa kani, such as "lutriwa" (Tasmania), "kunyani" (Mount Wellington), "kanamaluka" (River Tamar), "katina" (beach) and "purinina" (Tasmanian devil).

The songwriter – Dewayne Everettsmith

Dewayne Everettsmith is a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter, who had also supported some well-known performers such as Paul Kelly and Gurrumul Yunupinhu. He has family ties to Fanny Cochrane Smith. She has the only available audio recordings of the local Aboriginal language, recorded on wax cylinders in the late 19th century. A wax cylinder is a phonograph cylinder that was the earliest form of commercial medium used for sound recording and reproduction, which was popular late in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Cochrane Smith's recordings were used by the Aboriginal community to revive the interest in Palawa kani since 1999.

Everettsmith has performed across Australia and New Zealand as well as in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and American Samoa, where he had received rousing acceptance. He had also front-acted for John Farnham and sang duets with famous local musician Paul Kelly. One of his songs was used for the 250 million-dollar global advertising campaign of Tourism Australia.

The language – Palawa kani

Palawa kani is a constructed language as the original Tasmanian Aboriginal languages became extinct in 1905. The local community, since 1999, is making an effort to construct and revive the original culture of Tasmania, including the language. Teachers of the language welcome the release of Everettsmith's song, taking it as a positive sign that the interest in the language will increase some more.

The Tasmanian government is fully supporting the initiative and had released a dual-naming policy where landmarks in Tasmania will have their Aboriginal names added to their sign posts. The policy will also give preference to the Aboriginal name for those landmarks that are yet to be named. Tasmanian Premier Lara Giddings says that this is a step towards reconciliation as well as the preservation of the language. It shows a deeper appreciation of those thousands of years of early history, long before the Europeans came to Australia's shores.

Day Translations Team

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