Day 42, Lionel Possum and preserving language and culture

Pitjantjatjara-bible-alice-springs

Kanytjupai and the Pitjantjatjara bible translation

20 September

I am introduced to Lionel Possum today. Lionel is the son of Clifford Possum who is considered one of Australia’s most renowned Aboriginal artists. Lionel has inherited the right to his father’s stories and his dot work has the same precision and uniformity as that of his father.

Lionel is working on a painting, Worm Dreaming. He tells me if I go out at night I can hear the whistle of the worms, digging under the earth. We sit on the concrete in the shade of some corrugated tin with his painting spread out on the ground, its precisely placed, deep ochre red and yellow dots, set beside rich dark black. He is a strong man, like his Daddy, he tells me, painting the Dreaming.

My other meeting today is with Kanytjupai. Kanytjupai is Pitjantjatjara from Pukatja (Ernabella) but lives now at a hostel in Alice Springs for her care. She is working as part of a team translating the bible into Pitjantjatjara, and has been working on this for many years. She says it will be for many years more too.

Kanytjupai shows me a copy of this amazing work, and the beautiful paintings it contains. Zebras and Kangaroos drink side by side at a waterhole with emus grazing nearby. Rabbits and koalas and snakes move through the trees and the grass, and on the horizon, the silhouette of a young Aboriginal boy feeds what appears to be a gazelle. The whole image has a beautiful golden water-colour wash.

It is important to translate the bible into language, as this has been one way that language has survived. Ironically the missionaries who introduced the bibles were also responsible for much of the banning of cultural practices. It is with great resilience that the Aboriginal people have used this medium as a means of preserving what they can of culture and language.

(The Digital Resources Australia Page of the blog has 2 new links – one on Lionel Possum and an ABC article about Australian Aboriginal youngsters retracing the steps of their ancestors)

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