Thursday, 3 January 2013

The naming of places

which have indigenous names is a delicate issue. What was once called Ayers Rock is now known as "Uluru".
"Uluru" is the name given to the rock by the Anungu people, the indigenous people who live around it. For them it is a sacred site.
It is a sacred site for some other groups too.
Recently it was announced that Lake Eyre would now be known by another indigenous name, Kati-Thanda. This is the name given to it by another indigenous people, the Arabuna.
The problem however is that this is not the only indigenous name given to either Ayers Rock or Lake Eyre. There are other names given by other indigenous people.
There were thousands of languages spoken in Australia before European settlement. Some of them were spoken by very small groups of people.  Many of them have been lost. Others were spoken by greater numbers but the language spoken before European settlement almost certainly bears little resemblance to the language spoken today.
The idea that a language is being preserved or that it is somehow "right" for a geographical location to be known by an indigenous name is just that, an idea. No indigenous language is being preserved. English is not being preserved. In order for a language to live it has to change to fit the circumstances in which the speakers find themselves. As for one name  being "right" over other names that is equally incorrect. There are other names for Ayers Rock and Uluru, Lake Eyre and Kati-Thanda. We are not preserving anything. We might be acknowledging one group of indigenous people. In doing so we have to ignore other groups.
It is a sort of tribal warfare being carried out with the help of the "politically correct" brigade. A late indigenous friend had little time for all of this. Her "received" memory stretched back to her own great-grandmother. She was well aware that the culture of her own group was very different from the way it was portrayed by others. She was a highly intelligent woman who had lived much of it. As she once said to me,
"What is welcomed by some people is insulting to others."
At very least we need to be aware of that.

1 comment:

the fly in the web said...

Planning to visit Guatemala I am discovering something arbitrary decision to plump for the name used by one group rather than another...