3000 kilometre journey made by the Green turtle between Indonesia
and Australia is symbolic of the many people who have travelled
the same ocean currents throughout history. Australia
has always had more than one name - the Bajo and Bugis
traders called it Marege, the Torres Strait communities
referred to this large island as Keo Deudai. The Chinese
mapmakers from the 1400’s knew it as Greater Java
- a true reflection of our geographic position and relationship
with our neighbours.
Contact between the Europeans and their exploitation of
Australian waters began in the 1860's. Trade in Beche-de-mer
(trepang), sandalwood, turtle shell and pearl shelling has
impacted greatly on marine resources and their ritual and ceremonial
purposes. It has always been the Bajo people who are
caught at the center of the turtle trade in Indonesia. Just as
they once transported the slaves for the Kingdom of Goa in Sumbawa,
the Bajo continue their work as the middlemen to the
traders. A subgroup of the Orang Bugis displaced in the
Bone wars in Sulawesi in the 1700's they scattered across
South East Asia living as stateless people. Living on boats with
limited access to land and fresh water, they are known as the
sea-gypsies. As the number of turtles diminish the Bajo
are forced to travel further and further afield.
Indonesia’s geographic position
on the crossroads of China, India, Arabia and Europe ensured a
continual flow of foreign invaders, colonisers, missionaries,
merchants and traders through the straits of the archipelago.
Ancestral and trade connections are still acknowledged through
song and ceremonies. On Palu’e the placenta of the newborn
child is hung on the trees to west of the village - facing India,
the ancestral home. The dancing beads, the drums and gongs, the
ancient trade ceramics, the Patola stone, salvaged from
the original/ mythical voyage are still the most valued items
in village ceremonies.
The songs, stories and images collected
for this project record the many connections between these coastal
communities. The loan word Kura Kura - turtle
is found across all island in the exhibition is the legacy of
hundreds of years of contact. The ancient tamarind trees on the
coast of Northern Australia are a constant reminder of vibrant
trepang trade that only ended in the early 1900’s.
For hundreds of years the Makassan/Bugis traders shared contact
with the Milingimbi, Ramangining, Galiwin’ku (Elco Island)
Gapuwiyak (Lake Euella) and Yirrkala communities. In exchange
for turtles and trepang the Makassans introduced tobacco, the
practice of circumcision and knowledge to build sea-going canoes.
Today it is still possible to speak Indonesian with eighty year
old Justin Puruntatameri on Melville Island, hear stories of Indigenous
Australians who settled on Alor and see the rock paintings by
the Yolngu in Makassar.
Cultural exchanges often preceded business
and trade links.
The Meriam people of Darnley Island sailed in two directions,
north towards OP DEUDAI (PNG) to trade for canoes, spears,
drums, cassowary feathers, dogs teeth necklaces and dance ornaments.
They also sailed the treacherous waters south to KEO DEUDAI
(mainland Australia) for red ochre, emu feathers and emu leg bones.
Marriage between the PNG and the people of Darnley continues today.
Austronesian culture and language places
great importance on the maritime skills and its symbols.
The giant mythological canoes depicted in housing, ornaments and
textiles refer to the ancestors and their migration from Southern
China to South East Asia and onto the Pacific. This epic voyage
is depicted in many forms - the cave paintings of New Guinea,
the stone canoes of Tanimbar, on the bronze kettledrums from South
Vietnam and on the textiles of Indonesia. The double hook motif
so common in the Pacific ornamentation may not be a fish hook
but a representation of the ancestral canoes.