NON A PITKERN-NORF'K PERSPECTIVE

The old Rustin' ruston at Gada Bridge (Part Three) ... by Rachel Borg


For those who are not aware, the Pitcairners re-settled here on Norfolk in 1856, bringing some of their laws with them; while others were soon to be added not long afterwards, hence to law of fornication.  As to the name of the bridge; Bishop George Selwyn went on to relocate the Melanesian Mission headquarters from Auckland to Norfolk Island, following a free grant of land in 1866 by Sir John Young, the Governor of New South Wales; which was supplemented by the purchase of further land.  The area of land on which the Mission was established and operated until the early 1920s occupied over 400 hectares extending in the direction of Anson Bay, some distance inland, and out towards Headstone.  During that period the relationship between the two communities, was like any marriage, had its ups and downs but was generally a good working partnership.  Today the most impressive and visible remnant of the Melanesian Mission days is of course the magnificent St Barnabas Chapel. 


That all having been laid down as our reference point, I have to admit to secretly wondering just what the ‘saintly’ Bishop Selwyn would have thought about having a bridge built and named in his honour by men who had committed the most ‘unsaintly’ crime of fornication.  We can only now hope that he had a reasonable sense of humour as he looked down from his saintliness upon the unfolding scene.  A wicked sense of humour you see is one of those things that Islanders have never been particularly short of, and very soon this bridge of sin had earned itself the new and somewhat irreverent name ‘Gada Bridge’.  ‘Gada’ is a very old Norf’kword and in ‘Speak Norfolk Today’ it is glossed thus:-


gada (gLdLn. 1. full green bananas.  2. Coition

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The old Rustin' ruston at Gada Bridge (Part Two) ... by Rachel Borg


What do you suppose it is that makes us all so prone to looking backward rather than forward?  Are we all just plain curious, or do we simply like to accumulate piles of information; are we ferrets and bower-birds perhaps, or nosey parkers, or simpler people who have a hankering for good stories.  We might all of course fall more into some categories, and less into others.  

A romantic, in the classic sense of the word, might say it is pure unadulterated sentiment that drives us to know the unseen; or the human heart’s innate eternal desire for truth which compels us to uncover and lay bare the events of the past.  Who knows what a cold hard realist, or a pragmatist even, might offer up on the subject of digging around in a pile of old rubble for tiny clues to our dead and distant past?  Perhaps let’s not go there today.


The other thing about history, particularly on this miniscule scale, and especially if it is oral history is that much of it passes out of living memory as the events of one period in history are repeatedly overlaid by the next. 


Deep in the vaults of the Norfolk Island Museum lies a rather small slightly tatty manuscript entitled “The Descendants of the Mutineers of the Bounty” by Eric Stopp, Official Secretary dated 1944.  It contains a small but rather intriguing paragraph on our Island’s past; but an intriguing little layer it is nevertheless:


                ‘According to the Minutes of Proceedings of the Council of Elders there were a number of breaches of the Fornication Law and persons working off fines imposed under this law built a bridge on the Anson Bay Road, which was named after the saintly Bishop Selwyn, but the Islanders have their name for it’.

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The old Rustin' ruston at Gada Bridge (Part One) ... by Rachel Borg


History is strange – and interesting (but not to everybody).  Sometimes there is an enormous amount of history packed away into very small places and spaces.  Some might even rightly say that Norfolk is one such place; but what about those REALLY small spaces.  The kinds of spaces and places you might walk, or ride, or drive through or past in the blink of an eye, and leave just as easily without as much as a backward glance.  Those little way-out out of the way places; the ones where we don’t even realise that history is unfolding right in front of our eyes.


Perhaps we don’t ever stop to wonder at what happened there once so long ago because it doesn’t look a lot like history to us as we pass it by, there are no sign posts, no interpretive plaques or monuments, no busts or scale models, and no signs of long-gone pomp or ceremony; just a bend along a winding rutted road, a large rusting old piece of iron slowly melting away into the undergrowth, or a rundown fence of rotting wood and flaky old paint falling away into a comforting earth.


People who work with the past on a daily basis such as our trusty historians, curators, archivists, museum employees, archaeologists, researchers, interpretive officers, linguists who specialise in language reconstruction, conservators, and restoration specialists have all generally been born with, or have developed an intense curiosity about what went on before them, what happened there, why it happened and who did what and why.  They are creatures perhaps more inclined or accustomed to recognise the signs of an earlier existence than us commoners might; it is after all their life’s work and of course their keen eye for detail and professional training can open up for the rest of us a wonderfully vivid and evocative new—or should we say ‘old’—world. 

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Rachel History - Wihi Plan ... by Rachel Borg


These two words have been rolling slowly over in my mind for several years where no doubt they have grown older and gathered a little more moss.  Why?  Because they are a mystery to me and probably many of my generation and younger.  These are the key words to an old Island recipe; a dish I had never seen prepared, never tasted, and in my lifetime at least, never even seen on a Bounty Day table (maybe I just couldn’t see beyond the mudda and hihi pie!).   A chance reference on an old recording set me off on the path to greater undertanding.  Asking around among the old people seems impossible now; most of those oel salan (old people) who I would have liked to have asked were of my grandmother’s vintage and long gone from this earth.  This recipe is not to be found in the Holy Grail of Island cooking—the Sunshine Club’s Norfolk Island Cookbook.  My be-smeared and smattered copy, now dog-eared by time and use, remain silent and secretive on the subject.  Clearly the mysteries of wihi plan lay now with the living.  But with who, and where?


But first, let’s go back to the good old bad old days of yore, after the mutiny when the men and women of the Bounty were setting up house and working out how they would work together, and make their little, completely isolated community work.


Work it out they did, for eventually as it prone to happen, the children began to arrive; one after the other.  And children, along with everyone else, cried out to be fed.  Dutifully the women took out their yolo stones (traditional vesicular basalt graters) and began to yolo their days away in the age old rhythm of their mothers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers and in the doing fed their children, their partners and themselves.  When the children were old enough they too took their turn on their mother’s yolo stones and so ensured the survival of this practice which seems now to be older than time itself.  It kept the crew satiated, if perhaps at times not always satisfied, with their lot in life.


Into the linguistic pot these English men and Polynesian women also threw their cultural lot; useful words, meaningful words, and words of mutual intelligibility.  Plan (often spelt plun) is the Pitkern-Norf’k word for banana (which includes plantains).  It is an abbreviation of the English word plantain.  Bananas (eating plan) and plantains (cooking plan) are a staple of traditional Norfolk Island food, and luckily so as this is one of the few year-round food sources, although plantains which tend to be more starchy, less sweet, and often requires more work to make them palatable have fallen further and further out of favour over the last few generations.  While plantains still holds an important place in Polynesia, and the home islands of the Tahitian foremothers today, many Norfolk Islanders tend to grow more multi-purpose higher yielding varieties of ‘eating’ banana. 


Plan (bananas) are still an omnipotent part of Norfolk Island life and for this reason alone it is turned to a myriad of different purposes and is used at every stage from green right through to almost rotten—there are at least twenty-six different ways to use banana.  The leaves and bark of the banana bark (rauhulu) also have a number of uses.


The word wihi is a gift from our Tahitian foremothers.  It comes from the Tahitian word vihi or vehi with the very common and interchangeable ‘v’ to ‘w’.  Davies  1851 Tahitian dictionary records vihi as ‘a wrapper’ and vehi as ‘a case, sheath, or covering; to case, or cover a thing; to make a thing into a bundle, and tie it up’.  Although this is an old Tahitian word it is also one of the Pitkern-Norf’k words which have been consistently recorded.  A. W. Moverly was an Education Officer on Pitcairn Island in the 1950s and his substantive research along with work undertaken by Elwyn Flint in the 1960s on Norfolk Island was compiled by Professor A. S. C. Ross into a wonderful resource—The Pitcairnese Language.  On Pitcairn Ross recorded ‘wehe’ as ‘to wrap up cooked food for handling and carrying’.


Back on Norfolk Island Dr Shirley Harrison, daughter of Morseby Buffett, in her glossary of the Norfolk language, was one of the first people to extensively examine the origin of Norf’k words.  Her substantive field work was carried out in the 1960s and her informants, including her father Moreseby or ‘Moss’, were born in around 1900-1910.  Shirley lists wihi in her glossary and states that it is ‘now used almost solely to describe a pilhai wrapped in banana leaves before being cooked ‘Es wihi pilhai' (It is a wihi pilhai).    Again in ‘A Dictionary of Norfolk Words and Usages’ Beryl Nobbs-Palmer recorded wihi as ‘the act of wrapping pilhi in banana leaves’ and gives the following example ‘I thought dem plun leaf muss be se mare-mare nuff fe I wihi deye pilhi, yu nor thought’ (I think the banana leaves must be pliable enough for me to wrap the pilhi, don’t you).  Finally in her dictionary and encyclopaedia Alice Buffet also identifies the word’s Tahitian origin and defines its Norf’k usage as to ‘wrap in banana leaf to cook.  ‘Ai gwen wihi sam pilahai en bail sam dem wihi tala en ‘ yaam puding’ (I’ll wrap some pilahai in banana leaves and bake them for us, the some greeted taro and yam puddings in banana leaves and boil them from those others).  Wihi wetls d’ swiites. (Cooking in banana leaf wrapping gives a special flavour).  If you think about, it when we wrap Island pies, quick breads and scones in a clean, dry tea-towel to prevent moisture loss, and also for carrying, we are also wihiyen (wrapping, covering and encasing them).


This all of course leads us to ‘wihi plan’; most people of a younger vintage will have never even heard of this term.  In many ways ‘wihi plan’ is a dish now well relegated to a musty corner of the kitchen cupboard; it is probably now more fairly considered a heritage recipe than a part of the everyday fare of today’s Island folk.  It comes from a time when food was sometimes scarce, there was far less choice—absolutely everything that ended up on the kitchen table had to be grown, harvested, processed, caught, or foraged. 


The process of wrapping food in leaves goes right back to the Tahitian foremothers and today on Pitcairn they still wihi things like whole fish in rauti and plan leaf.  This moist insulating layer allows all kinds of food to be parcelled and cooked in ground ovens, in coals, on barbecues, iinhoem awn (a home-oven - also called umu on Norfolk in earlier times), and in wood-stoves as well as the more modern gas and electric versions.  These kinds of dishes benefit from long slow cooking to preserve moisture.  As most people will probably be aware, long slow cooking also develops flavour and texture.  Cooking in ‘em doht awn’ (the dirt ovens) also continued on Norfolk, at least up until my grand-parents generation, which meant that different kinds of food such as pilahai, whole fish and meat required wrapping in leaves before placing in the ovens.


Joe ‘Joss’ Adams who very generously gave me his recipe for wihi plan; says he is the only one left in his family who still makes it.  Hopefully there are many more wihi plan enthusiasts out there who are still keeping the home fires going with these lovely old recipes.


F’ Miek’ Wihi Plan (To make Wrapped Grated Green Banana Pudding)

Tek twelw pu’u plan (ala maches wieh yu want).  Dem Chaina plan es gudan.  Piil en yoloret, udi yus mikscha, spil et orn wan plans liif s’ p’hiehet en meamearet. Wihi yus miks iin yus plans liif en taiet lorng’ sam yu buchas twain (ef yu mieket diip es wan pilahai gwen bi es gudan).  Padet daun iin wan pot o sloe bailen worta f’ wan awa.  Drainet den letet sit short letl.  Anraep yus wihi plan en itet hot ala koel lorng’ wathing aewa yu laik; miit en’ griewi, frai fish, ala jes wieh es.


(Take twelve fully developed green banana, or as many as you like.  The old Norfolk banana known as ‘China or Cavendish banana are good.  Peel and finely grate it, mix it and place it on a banana leaf which has been stripped and wilted.  Wrap your mixture in your banana leaf and tie it with some butcher’s string (if you make it as deep as a pilahai that will be sufficient).  Put your parcel down into a pot of slow boiling water for one hour.  Drain it and let it sit a few minutes.  Unwrap and eat it hot or cold with meat and gravy, fried fish, or whatever else takes your fancy.  It is also delicious just the way it is).  If you have plantains, generally known as kuken plan (cooking bananas), their higher starch content makes them perfect for this dish.  


In the same way that you make wihi plan, Joss says you el wihi d’ swiit tieti (can wrap sweet potato) and prepare it in the same way by yolorenet (grating it), wihiyenet (wrapping it) and bailenet (boiling it).  Taala (Taro) and yaam (yams) can also be prepared in the same way though less and less people grow yams and go for taro.  As a matter of interest, in previous times packets of food cooked in this way were tied by many Islanders with a strip of clean rag.


A little tip from one who now knows; when making wihi plan make sure that you don’t boil your pot dry!!

The end result is of an hour’s gentle simmering is divine—a beautiful, dense, moist rich cake of green banana.  It cooks to a solid state but is moister and softer than mada/mudda (green banana dumplings).  Some people find green banana dishes taitai (tasteless) anyway, but if you like green banana enough said.  Joss also said he does not put salt in his wihi plan, but that quite possibly the old people piled it on before or after cooking ‘dem lauw’ solt’ (they loved salt!.  I am glad that I resisted the temptation to salt the plun, I suspect it might make it a little tough and to be honest the lovely full flavour of the green banana warrants nothing extra.  As usual, the quality of your base ingredients very much determines the quality of your end product.


I even tried it with cream and golden syrup which, in my humble opinion, ruined a good thing as it totally masks the distinct flavour of green banana.  If you like green banana dumplings (mada/mudda) and pancakes why not try wihi plan.  I think you might be pleasantly surprised.


Joss, ever generous with his culinary secrets and also proving yet again that Island cooks are eternally creative, says the when he is not in the mood to go and get some plun leaf he mixes some ‘pu’u plun se yolo et’ (green grated banana) with coconut and cooks it in coconut milk in a pan.


One person who must remain anonymous says wihi plan  ‘Kaa duu f’ dorg iit ef nor gat’ koknat iin’ (it is not good even for a dog to eat if it doesn’t have coconut in).

Colleen Vincent says her mother Noni used to make a dish called ‘China’ which is very similar to wihi plan. 


F’ Miek’ Chaina (China)

Piil en yolo yus pu’u plan, pat in’ koknat ef yu want (el kain’ mieket drai bat ef yu laik padet iin), wihiet lorgnf’ plans’ liif, tieyet lorngf’ sam string padet iin wan bieken dish, kawaret lorngf’ hot worta en biek f’ gud awa.


(To make ‘China’ peel and fine-grate your green well-developed banana, put in some desiccated coconut if you want - (it can tend to make your China dry but if you like the flavour put it in – then wrap your mixture in banana leaf, tie it with string and put it in a baking dish then cover it with hot water and bake for a good hour).


Here is another important point of difference.  If you make wihi pilahai it is actually ripe banana pilahai wrapped fully in banana leaf before baking.  Few people make wihi pilahai (fully wrapped pilhai) anymore; many Islanders simply line the baking dish with banana leaf, and others now also use baking paper instead of plans liif (banana leaf)—this is the plan pilahai (ripe banana pudding or slice) that most people today still know and love.  Those who stay faithful to ‘banana leaf baking paper’ do so because of the vastly improved flavour, and perhaps also the moist, insulating properties of banana leaf.


Alice Buffett makes a good and clear distinction between wihi plan and wihi pilhai.  She says that the primary difference is that ‘wihi plan’ is boiled and ‘wihi pilahai’ is baked using a dry heat method.  Aunt Liz McCoy showed Alice twenty-six ways to cook bananas, in fact one or two bunches of bananas and not much else ‘es orl yu niid f’ pad ap wan alien dena f’ twenti salan’ (is all you need to put up an Island dinner for twenty people).


Pilahai is a generic Pitkern-Norf’k word of Tahitian origin (from pirahai – a species of wrapped food) and in Norf’k it remains as a generic word used to refer to a ‘species’ of food, namely a kind of baked sweet or savoury pudding made from different roots, fruits and vegetables depending on availability and seasonality as well as personal inclinations.  

  

It follows then that if you make pu’u plan pilahai (green banana pilahai) you are making green banana pilahai, this you will find in the Island cook-book but I suspect that today it rarely finds its way to Island family dinner tables to the extent that mada (green banana dumplings) and griin plan paenkiek (green banana fritters) might.  Pat Anderson used to do Island dinners and was taught by her mother-in-law Gigi and Nella Adams.  Pat remembers making this dish and said that in comparison to many of the other dishes it was dark, thin, ugly and taitai (tasteless).  Like so many of these dishes, and the times from which they came, the most important thing of course was that it filled your empty tummy.

Not only are the staple ingredients of traditional dishes versatile but Island cooks of old, and also thier studied descendants, with very few ingredients on hand do make very versatile  and intuitive cooks; they can make many things out of what seems like just about nothing, if they don’t have the right size or shaped dish they will adapt their recipes, they will make up dishes based on what is at hand, and they will use whatever cooking method suits the circumstances whether it be over an open fire on a cliff-top or beach, whether the oven’s going or there’s a pot on the stove-top the recipe will be adapted to fit the circumstances and surroundings.


The greatest beauty in these recipes was that the ingredients were readily available and their heavy, starchy nature easily satisfied family appetites.  Today, more than anything they keep us connected to our past and satisfy our yearnings for Island food staples, and our natural leaning towards what is available almost all year round—the every humble, but nourishing and filling, banana and sweet potato.


Special thanks this week to Joe ‘Joss’ Adams, Pat Anderson, Colleen Vincent, and Alice Buffett in helping to bring these old recipes back into wider circulation.  Daas et yorlye, en tek keya.


Bibliography

Speak Norfolk Today – Alice Inez Buffett, OAM (1999)

A Dictionary of Norfolk Words and Usages – Beryl Nobbs Palmer (Third Edition, 2002)

A Glossary of the Norfolk Island Language – Shirley Harrison (1979)

The Pitcairnese Language – A.S.C. Ross (1964)

A Tahitian and English Dictionary – J. Davies (1851)

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Rachel History - Where does one begin to find the words? (Part Four) ... by Rachel Borg


Side (said) is another locational term which has been expanded upon greatly. There are a multitude of derivatives and a number of meanings from this core word including, just to name a few; ‘mais said’ (my place) ‘noesaid’ (nowhere); ‘taedasaid’ (the other side) and ‘w’said’ (where or which side).

‘Out’ and ‘about’ also belong to this category of built-on words.  You will find phrases like ‘paluen’baut’ (a haphazard way of moving from one place to another mucking around and not achieving much), hiiwabaut (heave about); borl aut (bawl out), and aut’ mishan (out at the Mission).

‘Ugly’ is another beautiful multifunctional base word which is used in the same sense as its standard English usage when referring to something, or someone, unpleasing to look at or something that which is vile or offensive, ominous or dangerous.  It but also used in more unexpected ways; an ‘agli lieg’ (ugly leg) is one which is wounded and/or infected and not nice to look at.  If you see a ghost or have a strange or eerie visitation you ‘si wan agli thing’ (you saw an ugly thing).  ‘Ugly’ is also used often in the typically self-deprecating Island humour; ask someone who’s feeling particularly unattractive ‘watawieh yuu desdieh’ (how are you today) and they might likely reply ‘Siem wieh d’ agli’ (just as ugly as ever).  Old Islanders might also sometimes be heard to say ‘basen f’ agli’ (bursting with ugliness) or ‘daas agli breken aut’ (that’s ugly breaking out).  Someone ‘mieken agli’ (making ugly) is being nasty or unpleasant; and a young child howling away miserably might be gently cajoled with the phrase ‘du agli’ (don’t make ugly faces).

Make (miek) has been fairly widely recognised as belonging in this category of extender type words.  There are many wonderful words and phrases which derive from the source word ‘make’ - ‘wi miekapf’ miit’ (lets make a time to meet up); ‘mekies’ (make haste); ‘miek f’ goe’ (to attempt to leave); ‘miek’wieh d’ busam hiiw’ (thrust out ones chest and pretend to be a cut above others), m’giem (make a game or to mock); miekflaeshi (dress up), miek’tan (take turns), andmiekmieken (to pretend to be busy, or to fiddle around or work hard and get nowhere).

Because there are so many of these words here is a preview of a few of them with several, but not exhaustive examples just to illustrate the extent of this word-building inclination in the Pitkern-Norf’k language:.....

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Rachel History - Where does one begin to find the words? (Part Five) ... by Rachel Borg


From behng (bang) we get behng orf (bang off), behng down (bang down), behngetstefnet (to bang it and stiffen it), and behng’ tiebl (to bang the table ie play cards, esp. jarro)

Died (dead) is also often used, perhaps because it gives us such a sense of the absolute; ‘ai dieden f’ laik hem’ (I am dying in admiration of him), gu died (go to blazes), ai s’ died (I am out of trumps); ai died f’ sohri faret (I am dying of sorrow for him/her) and ai s’ died f’ taiyed (I am dead with exhaustion).

Bas (burst) is another basic concept which is applied and extended in a multitude of ways, basap means to burst, break, pull, beat or shatter something or someone.  You can also ‘bas’ gat’, ‘bas’ pupu vaelv’, ‘baswana’, ‘musa bas’ or ‘bas aut klai’.  On this occasion the list goes on and on.  You can also be a ‘bas as’ or a ‘baswaagas’ – neither is particularly complimentary.

Kech (catch) is among one of the most colourful and expressive of these foundation words.  You can ‘kech aa dorg’ (catch the dog ie a barking cough), you can ‘kechet’ (be in trouble); ‘kechfaret’ (be lumbered with someone), you can ‘kech’kraek’ (get a smack) or kech’kord (catch a cord when you are singing) or you cankechwaili (become caught up and wound around) a tree, a vine, a fence or a role of wire for example and if ‘yu s’ kech’ you are pregnant – which of course doesn’t apply if you are a boy!

Kaa (can’t or cannot) is another very widely used source word and a very useful negative.  Here are just a few examples of its usage ‘kaaduu’ (can’t do), kaa w’said(don’t know where), kaa staan (can’t stand to, not game enough to), kaa laan (can’t say), and kaa fut (don’t know why).

Among those words and phrases which have tek (take) as its foundation we find ‘teket staat’ (take him/her and go); tek iin (take in eg visitors, children, etc),tek’waa (take what), and ‘tek flai’ (take off very fast).

If we speak in Norfk we tork (talk) such that we ‘tork Norf’k’ (speak Norfolk); if someone is torktorken they are speaking a lot or using empty words; to ‘torkagli; is to speak improperly or ill of someone or something; and tork’wieh is to keep talking.

Tal (tell) is another foundation word.  ‘Dem tal’ means ‘they say’, it is also the local grapevine; aitalyiwaa is an emphasiser which means ‘I’ll tell you what’;noetalen means ‘there is no telling’ and ‘du tal’ is ‘don’t tell or you don’t say’.

If we 'gwen wieh'  we are 'going away'; daefiwieh is ‘that way’; defiwieh is ‘this way’ and daa d’ wieh is ‘that’s the way’.  The Island greeting watawieh basically means ‘what way are you?’

Tear (teya) has also received a similar kind of treatment; teyateya is torn in many places; teya raun is to dash around madly, teya ubn is to tear open and flai teyais to move very fast.

As one might expect the word Norf’k word ‘sor,’which comes from the English word ‘sore’, has endured from a much earlier time and been extended over time.  InNorf’k it is generally used in reference to being ill or unwell e.g. sor baeli (sore stomach), but if you have a ‘sor nek’ it’s likely the ‘pain’ you feel is from having not received an invitation to a function, and if you have been ‘ap en daun sor in’ bied’ (unwell and in and out of bed with your illness) we hope you get better soon 

The English derived tan (turn) has also been utilised along a similar vein.  In Norf’k we find ‘tantan’ (turncoat), tanaut (turn out or it turns out); tanetor (turn it over) and tanwieh (turn away).

Mad (maad), time (taim), heave (hiiw), break (brek), come (kam), why (fut), mind (main) snitch (snich), fly (flai), on (orn) bend (ben), worser (wasa); run (ran), scrape (skrep), take (tek), tip (tip), and jug (jag) are also widely built on multifunctional words and of course in another place and time each and very word and their derivatives deserve full and proper explanation in regards to the breadth of usage and the context in which they might be used.

By now you must have certainly built a fairly comprehensive word picture.  These base words, or concepts, and their derivatives are very characteristic of Norf’k.  When you look at the core concepts each of these base words represents there is an innate practicality about them; they are easily understood, obviously communally verbalised and therefore can be immediately put to work, or re-worked, in any number of ways.  In essence they are short, sharp, direct and multifunctional - all wonderful building blocks towards a universal, mutually intelligible and ever-expanding Pitkern-Norf’k vocabulary.

Daaset yorlye, tek keya tal neks taim; en ef ai s’ pat eni yorlye t’ slip, rimemba daa thing f’ Elvas ‘wieki-wieki’!!!

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Where does one begin to find the words? (Part Three) ... by Rachel Borg


Even today Pitkern-Norf’k is primarily a ‘working’ language; it does not lend itself well to the halls of academia, to science laboratories, or even to high English prose.  It is a language of pragmatics reflective of our fishing, farming, whaling and spiritual life and designed for the practicalities of life, death, child bearing and rearing and general every day intercourse between people.  It is disarmingly simple, honest and direct and with good reason – it needed to be.  This is in fact part of its charm and in no way is this reality meant to undermine its strengths, in fact in many ways Norf’k has not always been given the credit it is due (it is smart to keep it simple) and in so many other ways it is witty, creative, astute, and fun.  It is a language of happiness and togetherness interwoven with good humour.  Perhaps its innate strength lies in its beautiful simplicity and the fact that it makes its speakers feel good about themselves and the world?

Most of us can remember reasonably well the simple word building exercises we did at school – take one root word and see how many derivatives you can find.  This building upon core concepts or root words is a characteristic of both Tahitian and English; perhaps this inclination is simply no more than a basic human attribute and one I do not profess to know anything about.  This week I would like to look briefly at the world of root words in Norf’k.  These are just a few of the ones that seem to crop up time and time again in my word compilations; there may of course be many more like them.  From a distance, over the several hundred years that Pitkern-Norf’k has bumped along, these words seem to firstly illustrate a little of how those men and women who sailed in to Pitcairn’s Island in 1790 may have begun to work out their world and verbalise it to each other; as well as, secondly being indicative of the multifunctional way in which base words were applied and meanings extended beyond the scope of use in the language of origin.

It is also interesting to note that this word building is generally based around verbs (doing words) and adjectives (descriptive words) making the language lean towards being more literal rather than figurative or abstract.  It was a language designed for working rather than thinking, intellectualising, or waxing lyrical; although of course there would be nothing stopping you from waxing lyrical in your spare time; if you had any.

‘Up’, ‘down’, ‘across’ and ‘around’ are among the most frequently extended words; there are literally hundreds of variants on these general spatial or directional themes.  Above all the word ‘up’ seems to have more derivatives than any other.  Here are a few examples pat ap’ dena (put up dinner), tipap (tip up, fall down, up turn, turn upside down); diwi ap (divide up); tiketap (to tick it up, or book it up), ap raun gen (up around against); ap’worl (to sleep up against the wall); pupu ap (to make a mistake or a hash of something); apin’stik (up in the bush and mountain areas); and natietap (to tie or knot it).

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Where does one begin to find the words? (Part Two) ... by Rachel Borg


Quite often when it comes to making ourselves understood to others we human beings really come unstuck – even when we profess to speak the same language and share the same cultural background.  Where, for example, does one begin to find the words to tell someone that you love them.  What is this word ‘love’?  Does this abstract thing call ‘love’ exist in all languages and cultures, does it hold the same weight and relevance?  How do you explain what love is and what love means to you?  Go tell it to the moon perhaps for I suspect only the moon might understands this thing called love.  Many might argue that love is in fact the only universal language; luckily for us love is an action word.  If she throws the wild daisies you picked for her back in your face, clearly she loves you not.  It is the non-verbal cues, that which is unspoken, which speaks louder than any empty meaningless words ever might.

When there is no easily verbalised and mutually intelligible word, particularly for such abstract concepts, trying to make oneself understood can be an embarrassing, painful, confusing, frustrating and confounding experience – it takes time, patience, perseverance, a liberal dose of good humour, and optimism to reach a point of true and complete understanding.  With the best of intentions it can still all blow up in your face.

Imagine an Inuit Indian trying to explain to a New York businessman why his wife won’t let him go fishing on Friday’s.  It might sound simple but it isn’t – unless he is very good at charades.  Imagine the Tahitian foremothers trying to explain to the mutineers the complex and vastly differing rituals and beliefs they held regarding death and dying; let alone any interior decorating workshops which might have been on the cards.  Not easy.

Certainly because the Bounty has been so long in Tahiti in the course of collecting and establishing the breadfruit plants for the onward journey to the West Indies, almost six months, many of her crew would have perhaps got up a working Tahitian vocabulary, certainly the narrative of boatswain’s mate James Morrison and the missing Tahitian vocabulary taken by midshipman Peter Hayward suggests they were very much interested in Tahitian life on any number of levels.  Following the mutiny just how much English the Polynesians on board the Bounty may, or may not, have spoken by the time the ship left Tahiti’s shores for the last time can only be second-guessed.

Once the Bounty dropped anchor at Pitcairn’s Island and was burnt to the water line and dropped away into the deep the little community of twenty-seven adults and one new born girl-child were committed to a shared future and to combining language, culture, gender and personality differences in such a way that they had a workable and reasonably cohesive society.  Bound together by circumstance they would now need to work through the hierarchy of needs and wants in order to survive – to do this they would require a certain level of mutual comprehension.  In the very early period given the language and cultural barriers which existed it was bound to be a very simple, accessible and workable solution; very much akin to natural selection – this one works, this one doesn’t, yes we understand that; we can say that, that’s too hard; that one’s good, it works for us if it works for you and so on and so forth.

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Where does one begin to find the words? (Part One) ... by Rachel Borg


In the overall scheme of things Pitkern-Nor’k is a very new language; and for this reason alone it makes it an interesting subject for linguists to study.  The main living languages in the world today was here long before we came on the scene and for academics and more serious-minded human beings relatively ‘new’ languages such as Pitkern-Norf’k offer an intriguing and rarely presented opportunity to study language development.

There are indicators which help us to understand how languages, old and new are formed in the first place; the impetus for development, the rate of development, and what influences and factors are at play in their formation and in their maintenance.  For over ten years now I have been collecting words, phrases and idioms, simply because I find Pitkern-Norf’k extremely fascinating, but probably also because I also like the way words can paint pictures and the pictures that the Norf’k language in particular paint appeal very strongly to my sentimental self and my sense of family and belonging.  About two years ago now, as my little word pile became a mountainous muddle, I noticed a very curious trend emerging; the prevalence of a core body of root words and a propensity to word-build around a group of these simple high frequency words or concepts.  This was a real revelation to me and although I may well be misguided in my thinking it appears to me that this is one of the very strong indicators as to how the Pitkern-Norf’k language may have emerged during the early years of isolation on Pitcairn Island lies with these foundation words.  For twenty years the Englishmen of the north and Polynesians of the south and their off-spring on Pitcairn Island saw no-one else but each other – plenty of time to work out who was going to dig the yams for dinner and to call a family meeting to iron out any ‘residual issues’ which might have arisen from such directives.  Irrespective of who were the linguistic socialisers a deal of diglossic word selection would certainly have gone on during this time to arrive at a point of mutual intelligibility.

If you have ever shared a roof with someone who does not speak the same language or does not have the same or a similar cultural background as you; if you have ever dated or married someone from another part of the world, travelled to a country where you do not speak their language, and they could not speak yours then you will understand a little of the problems and complexities relating to the cultural and linguistic barriers and challenges in communication which may have occurred during those early years on Pitcairn Island.

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Rachel History - Captain George Rennie McArthur visits the Pitcairn (Part Four)... by Rachel Borg


While there are several intriguing aspects to this old 1856 article; many today will be more than interested to learn that the Pitcairners, at least some of them, were made aware of the proposal to establish the Melanesian Mission headquarters on Norfolk Island before they came to the Island.

According to David Hilliard in God’s Gentleman while Governor Denison had rejected Bishop Selwyn’s initial plan to re-establish the diocese at Norfolk Island on the basis that it was ‘crude and undigested’ and that he smelt the threat of ‘ecclesiastical tyranny’ over the 200 newly arrived Pitcairner descendants of the Bountymutineers.  A few short years later the matter was finally settled and Bishop Patteson was at last able to purchase for mission purposes 933 acres and was also bestowed a free grant of 99 acres; permission now having been granted for him to do so by Sir John Young, Governor of New South Wales at the behest of the home government.  

Anecdotally, I understand that relations between the Mission and the Pitcairners were sometimes strained but generally cordial.  Despite the understandable resentment from some quarters of the Pitcairner community there was of course some necessary and mutually beneficial interaction between both camps.  The residual resentment which perpetuated over some generations among the Pitcairner community regarding the Mission’s presence on the Island quite clearly emanated from a belief on the part of a number of Pitcairners that Norfolk Island would be reserved for their sole and exclusive use.  In retrospect however, few would now argue thatthe Mission’s presence has added a subtle overlay to Island life and made for a far richer and fascinating history.

Following the Pitcairners relocation in early June 1856 Captain McArthur again visited Norfolk Island.  On Monday 22 September 1856 The Hobart Town Mercurycarried the following short article:

      The Southern Cross arrived from Valparaiso, bringing 4084 bags of wheat, or about 12,250 tons biscuit. ... On the 2nd September theSouthern Cross touched at Norfolk Island and took in fire-wood.  Captain George Rennie McArthur reports that the Pitcairners in consequence of their potatoes and yams not having come to perfection, and having no other vegetable, were complaining of the want of bread stuffs.  One death that of an elderly female had occurred on the island.  The Bishop of New Zealand’s lady was residing ashore.  His lordship was on a cruise to the eastward, but was expected back daily.  Captain McArthur supplied the Islanders with some bread, potatoes, and sugar, and in return they assisted in getting him his firewood.  No colonial whalers had touched at Norfolk Island since the Pitcairners had been there. 

It is both speculative and fanciful to think that Captain McArthur was somehow touched by the Pitcairners plight and that he held some paternalistic concern regarding the fate of this small community of people, whom he had encountered so briefly in a state of angst and turmoil over the prospect of moving en masse to a new and distant land. It would be nice to think that he did however and nice to believe that his feelings fell on the side of humanity and were not alone founded  ing the fulfilment of his duties.

If nothing else Captain McArthur more than likely played a dual role in easing wary minds and better equipping the Pitcairners for what might lay ahead of them on Norfolk Island; and following the Pitcairners initial weeks of settling in he again helped to see them more comfortably provisioned until their own crops were established.

While in the overall scheme of things many may feel that the part Captain McArthur played in our history was small and insignificant, yet to his descendants today and to the early Pitcairners here on Norfolk Island in 1856 he surely looms large as a good and benevolent man.  Here was a man with choices; a man who chose to hold out his hand, who chose (despite less than favourable conditions on Pitcairn) not to simply sail onward and outwards or turn his back on the Islanders.  Captain George Rennie McArthur was much more than that; in the sum total of things he was a friend to the Islanders at time when they needed one.

On more than one occasion the Southern Cross had brought windfalls to the Pitcairners.  Many of the whalers which plied the southern oceans were referred to as ‘lucky’ ships; and those who had ‘greasy lucky’ were the luckiest of all.  Unfortunately the Southern Cross itself eventually ran out of luck - she was lost off Cape Douglas in January 1880 while on a voyage from Adelaide to Newcastle, all hands getting safely ashore.  By the time the sun was setting on the final days of theSouthern Cross the Pitcairners themselves had hoist their sails and caught the breeze setting the course for their new life on Norfolk Island.

Very special thanks this week to John Christian for sharing  information passed on through Captain McArthur’s great-great grandson during his visit to the Island recently.

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