palawa kani: Expressing the power of language in art and the museum context

Pakana, Tasmanian Aborigines, were the first astronomers in lutruwita, later known as Tasmania. We know this because we have language words describing the skies – in darkness and light – that refer to the brightest “stars” and the light and dark between them; in fact, our story of creation tells us that the first (black) man, Palawa, was made by Muyini, who cut the ground and made the rivers; and a bright star in the sky, Rrumitina, who gave Palawa joints.[1] And we know these stories because of language revival. In Lutruwita, invasion and colonisation was swift and violent. Ancestral and intellectual traditions have been severely impacted – often to the extent of huge gaps in knowledges. Some of those gaps can be, and have been, narrowed, and even closed due to Ancestral memory and information resting in the pages of manuscripts, journals and correspondence of the colonisers.

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