I would like to make clear; I do not claim that the views expressed in my articles are necessarily the views of other First Nation Australians. What I have been taught and my understanding of these teachings are unique to me. We all have our own Dreaming and my views are a reflection of mine.
The theme for this year’s National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) Week, Sunday, July 2 to Sunday, July 9, 2017, was “Our Languages Matter”. Why do our languages matter? There are many reasons why our languages matter. Following are some of my thoughts on this.
Reclaiming Our Languages
When so called colonisers invaded the lands belonging to First Nation People throughout the world, not just Australia, they prohibited people from speaking their own language. One of the ways you disempower people is to stop them from speaking their own language. This was systematically done in Australia, particularly by stopping the children who were taken away from their families, “The Stolen Generation”, from speaking their own language. This is one of the reasons why most of us First Nation People, see the European arrival to this continent as an invasion. Today we are reclaiming our languages and taking back our power.
There were at least two hundred and fifty First Nation Australian languages at the time of European arrival. Each of these languages belonged to a specific group or nation. Some languages had dialects, and speakers of these dialects sometimes referred to their dialects as languages. Today, about a hundred of these two hundred and fifty languages are no longer spoken. The majority of the rest are highly endangered, and less than twenty languages are spoken by all age groups within a nation. This is very sad. Our languages embody our culture and reflect who we are. When we lose a language, we lose part of this continent’s cultural heritage.
Our languages are part of the Dreaming of our continent. They are like the threads of a fabric or strands of a web that are woven together to create something of substance. Some of us call the paths taken by the Ancestor Spirits of the Dreaming when creating this land and the creatures that inhabit it; “Songlines”. I find it revelatory that the Keepers of the Songlines speak a language unique to the Songline/s they are looking after. Amazingly, the Keepers can sing their way from one end of the continent to the other, the song of their Songline mapping out the topography of the land as they go. It is also amazing that the Keepers of a Songline can communicate with the Keepers in parts of the continent great distances away from their own nation. They can do this via the language unique to that Songline, even though they might not be able to communicate via the languages of their own nations. This gives us a hint of the inherent power of language.
Words Have Power
Our thoughts create our reality and words are the outward manifestation of our thoughts. The book of Genesis in the Bible informs that God made commands, words of power, creating a powerful response. For example, ‘Then God commanded, “Let there be light”—and light appeared’. I was taught, the universe was created when Baiame dreamt, hence “The Dreaming”. Are not the commands of the God of the Bible a manifestation of his dream or thoughts? To make it so that our words carry more power, it is good practise to only say what you mean. Too many of us speak just to break an awkward silence when we should learn to be comfortable with silence and only speak when we have something worth saying.
The Energy of Our Land
It is interesting to note that there are vestiges of First Nation Australian language in many of our place names. Two examples are, “Parramatta” a First Nation Australian word for head of river or waters, and place where eels lie down and “Wagga Wagga” is a First Nation Australian name for place of many crows. This indicates to me that the energy of this land and the languages that sprang from it, are still having an effect on modern day Australians. This and all of the above are just the tip of the iceberg in regards to the significance of our languages, but I hope it conveys some understanding of why “our languages matter”.