NON A PITKERN NORFK PERSPECTIVE

FENUA MAITAI (Part Three) - CUSTODIANS OF THE LAND ... by Rachel Borg

Monday, March 04, 2013


Although there was a degree of fluidity about who did what, and while individual circumstances varied, traditionally the roles of men and women were very clearly defined.  Men cleared the land, dug the gardens, felled trees, built boats, and houses, fished, and looked after public affairs.  Women  raised children, cared for the elderly, kept house, wove, sewed, cooked and supported the men in gardening and rock-fishing.  Failure to be a successful worker and provider put a man to shame.  That having been said, it was no real shame to be poor.  A run of bad luck and misfortune  was quite another story; at this point the Island rallies together in support in very real and tangible ways.


Behind all of these practices lies a highly sophisticated philosophy which embraces religion, moral law, personal ethics, and common law—these have been and to a greater degree still are the primary regulators of Island life.  If a transgression occurs, there are codes of restitution which are simply sorted out quietly between families.  If for example your pig gets out and destroys someone’s elses garden, you will have fresh pork and vegetables on your doorstep until the ‘debt’ is considered paid off.   Likewise if your cattle breaks down someone elses fence, you simply make amends by fixing the fence and dropping something off at the house. 


There has always been this common law system of legal rights and responsibilities for offences which operates outside of the legislative processes.  This is an important part of the social justice system which preserves order and renders obedient, law-abiding citizens.  It is a very powerful compliance mechanism in small communities and the first laws drafted for Pitcairn Island very much reflected and formalised the social justice system which had been put into place. Those regulations also very much reflected the unique way in which the Pitcairners ordered their world.  Included in these were laws for dogs causing injury to goats.  Pigs trespassing or causing damage would become the property of the offended party.  If any person wanted to cultivate land, he was to give public notice.  If he wished to build a house he was only to cut what was sufficient to build his house.  Ownership of rock-pools was also assigned, and ownership of certain trees was designated by marking them.  All of this was geared to ensure the preservation of life, equitable distribution of resources, food security, and that ultimately everyone had fair and equal opportunity to sustain and fulfil their family’s needs.  In essence an offender’s property, food, etc could be plundered or destroyed to give compensation to the offended party but at the end of the day it was all really about values education — and good old-fashioned manners.  

    

The principle of reciprocity is also another important aspect of Island socio-economics.  For every object, or labour, given one of equal value should be returned.  In this way water wells were dug, timber cut, houses built, crops harvested, fish filleted, fences run, children raised, and families fed.  Reciprocity is a simple but fair system.  If someone allows you to take firewood from their land or run cattle, you also keep them or their aging parents in firewood, or several times a year at slaughter time you keep them in fresh meat.  Even at its very simplest level we all understand reciprocity, jars of jam, fresh fruit and vegetables, or eggs are often swapped for a regular bucket of food scraps for the neighbours chooks, a bag or oranges, or a few fillets of fresh fish.  A simple favour returned, a kind word, or a helpful deed are all important parts of the Island balance sheet, all of which advocates communal harmony, good health, and general wellbeing. 


In this way our worldly spiritual repositories and social knowledge are preserved in ‘schools of thought’ which are enshrined in our oral traditions and our way of doing things which are in turn transmitted inter-generationally and hopefully in some small way are somehow preserved and perpetuated.    


Today it is becoming increasingly clear to many Islanders that holding onto our land and physically maintaining and caring for our land in a cash-based economy presents all kinds of challenges and new dilemmas for the Island people, particularly as very few Islanders now make a living from the land; yet land remains such a crucial part of our life-mix.  The value of our land is less about its monetary value.  Its cultural value lies in the lore of maintaining life, the need for reciprocity, and the desire to look after each other and to maintain the socio-economic ‘balance’ sheet, as well as the joy of being able to give with a generosity of spirit, as the old Islanders would say ‘to give the best of your best’.    In consequence many Island families have held doggedly onto their inheritance for many generations, sometimes at great cost, pain, and sacrifice.  It is often ‘the last thing to go’.

Our land is still used in many productive and semi-subsistence ways to supplement us.  Many Island people feel threatened by change and are fearful of losing what they hold dear—it is understandable.  Our land still remains very much a cultural cornerstone of Island life; it is our security and is fundamental in ensuring our families will be nurtured and well-fed now and into the future.  We maintain a precarious balance in which we continue to strive to live between two very different worlds.


In the ‘old world’ our ancestors worked hard on the land to sustain life – there was no other choice.  In the old world the entire system was also very much overseen by a supernatural authority better than any human one; it was a system in which the old people always had bucket-loads of faith, hope, and optimism.  They were hardy, resourceful people who believed in a greater power beyond themselves Dem oel salan wud orlwes tal, Gohd nor sliipen, HHi gwen’ provaid.  En daa es gudan, lornges yus baket nort s’ boelet! (The old people would always say God is not sleeping, He will provide.  Which is well and good, as long as your bucket has no hole in it!).  Luckily our elders also taught to be thankful, positive, and resilient and to always count our blessing—a bucket which does not hold water may not make a good hat, but it can still hold fish!   

Daaset tal neks taim yorlye, tek keya.

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KAM IN' HAUS TAMPALU (Part Four) ...by Rachel Borg

Friday, March 01, 2013


In recent times this greeting has metamorphosed somewhat and become to some people simply a light-hearted salutation or way to greet just about anybody when they are out and about ‘Watawieh tampali?’ and it is probably fair to say that users of this salutation, and those on the receiving end of it, may be unaware of it’s earlier somewhat negative broad Old Norf’k usage.


So where does this old word come from?  It possibly comes from Tahitian taparu – flattery, insinuating persuasion; also the flatterer, or one that persuades.  Captain Cook also recorded ‘tapa’roo to meana beggar’.  In Norf’k all of these elements remain at play in tampalu/tampali and those who have an inclination to impose, or go begging without restitution will often use flattery and methods of persuasion as a means to an end.  You will also often hear Islanders say ‘Hi/shi es riil bega f’ daa’ (He/she is a real beggar or blasted nuisance for that).  In the context of tampali a person who repeatedly imposes on others is a blasted nuisance—or ‘a real beggar for it’.


 Tampalu/tampali in its oldest, broadest sense means a person who turns up uninvited or an imposing person.  Tampali can refer to either an unwelcome, or a welcomed visitor.  Someone who is a friend, or close relation who turns up unannounced (as is often the Island custom) might receive a more friendly or gracious ‘Kam in’ haus tampali’  and in this case it generally means ‘You’re welcome to come in I’m doing something, I wasn’t expecting you but I’ll stop anyway and boil the kettle’.  A little, but very significant, Island custom is to always take something little with you when you visit others; even if it’s only a few tomatoes, a jar of preserve, or a token hand of bananas. 


Alice Buffett in Speak Norfolk Today defines ‘tampali’ as ‘a light-hearted and friendly greeting, used to welcome friends who casually visit on an unexpected though welcome basis. The term derived from a person who was nicknamed Tampali and who mostly called upon people unarranged but was always made welcome and invited to stay, sometimes for long periods of living in. Wael, si wathing d’win s’bloe iin, watawieh yuu tampali? Kaminahaus (Well, look what the wind has just blown in! How are you Tampali? Do come in and welcome).’


 Of course one is never in the habit of explicitly inviting those who have a noticeable habit of imposing, but one is almost always obliged to welcome those who come uninvited, especially if there are filial obligations; and this is how the particular gentleman in question earned his nickname.  Irrespective of the fact that in living memory this gentleman carried the nickname ‘tampali’ this word is in my opinion, a common noun and not an anthroponym, and the usage of this old word pre-dates this man’s characteristic sub-optimal behaviour.  There are several other examples of nicknames which come to mind which quite possibly singular evidence of language preservation are.  These include nicknames like ‘Tunoo’, ‘Uru’ [Udoo], ‘Otty’, ‘Uri’ and ‘Yaiya’.


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KAM IN' HAUS TAMPALU (Part Three) ...by Rachel Borg

Friday, February 22, 2013


Traditionally Islanders don’t use the words ‘to thieve’ we say ‘dem teket’ (they took it).  If you had something and someone else needed it, it was given, but if somebody simply ‘took’ something you might hear ‘Salan s’ teket, dem mas bi s’ niid et mor den aklan’ (they have taken it, they must have needed it more than we did) and the case was forever closed.


The level of familiarity and ease which existed between individuals in such a close-knit and closely related community meant that people could and would often turn up uninvited and unannounced and hospitality would be extended without question; but not always without hardship or complaint, albeit that the complaint was lodged elsewhere!  We must bear in mind that relationships, inter-relationships, ownership, sharing, caring roles, responsibilities, and obligations to others and to each other were far more fluid and more informal affairs than they were today.   It was nothing to stay at a cousins house, or an Uncle & Aunt’s, or friend’s house for a few days, or weeks, perhaps months even; but if one stayed for a overly long period (six months or more perhaps), or repeatedly came to stay without warning or adequate contribution in kind, if they imposed on another’s generous and good-natured hospitality, or took too much and gave too little of course the arrangement might wear a little thin; no matter how much you loved a person, or how closely related you might be.


Reasons for extended stays were varied.  These might simply include a desire to spend time with loved ones, sometimes a rare opportunity often related to distance and travel times, and mode of travel be it by horse from Rocky Point to Anson Bay (which might dictate a stay of several days), or by steamship from Sydney or Auckland to Norfolk or vice versa (which might dictate several months or more) until new homes were built, work was done, health regained, or it was time to make the return journey. 


Norf’k salan orlwes yuus’ gu stop’baut lorngf’ wan’nedha (Island people have always gone about life staying with each other), however any person in this context seen to be taking regular or long-term advantage of another is a tampali or tampalu.  At least one man, who was said to be of sufficient and independent means to not need to rely so heavily on others, and who also had his own land, was so noted for his habit of imposing himself on others for long periods that he eventually earned himself the nickname ‘tampali’.  En es kos hi orlwes bines riil taata f’ daa (and it is because he has always been noted for this habitual behaviour). 


In old broad Norf’k tampali or tampalu was not a jocular term; although it was and could be used in this manner also.  In old broad Norf’k a tampali or tampalu is a beggar, a user, or one who imposes, or takes advantage of a person or a situation (often repeatedly, or in a sustained manner).


Although in time, as people began to live more modular or insulated lives, modelled more closely on today’s nuclear family structure and centred around a cash rather than subsistence-based economy, connectedness and inter-relationships nevertheless remains important to Islanders and even today most Island families maintain an open-door, open-house policy in which a party, for example, is for everyone and anyone and everybody was welcome to join in.  As has always been the Island custom you do not go ‘gate-crashing’ empty-handed, you pitch in and contribute as and when, and in whatever manner you are able.  Everyone quickly comes to know those doesn’t pitch in, hence one might hear the light-hearted greeting ‘Kam in’ haus tampali!’ when they arrived at the door.  This slightly tongue in cheek name n’ shame utterance would more than likely see the person in question making some kind of contribution; if not this time then most certainly the next time around, unless of course ‘dem kaa shiem’.

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KAM IN' HAUS TAMPALU (Part Two) ...by Rachel Borg

Friday, February 15, 2013


Growing up we had an Island ‘Aunt and Uncle’ who were very generous and hospitable people in the traditional Island way, they lived and breathed generosity, but hospitality was also the way they earned a living and several times I overheard my ‘Uncle’ (who called a spade a spade) say ‘Oe hi es riil tampali’.  His meaning was quite clear.

Although both patience and relationships sometimes wore thin in such circumstances, Island protocol meant it was also unlikely that anything would ever be said in a direct manner for fear of causing offence; unless the impacts on life were significantly deleterious to warrant a more assertive approach.   It rarely ever was—people just bore the burden and wore the expense and inconvenience.


This wide or extended family structure meant that relatives both near and dear as well as far and distant held privileges—but it also came with reciprocal responsibilities (in theory).  Extended stays were a natural part of Island life, and life within the Island community; in fact they were often expected and offence could just as easily result from not staying with a relative or friend as could result from over-staying or out-staying one’s welcome.  The lore was unwritten but generally well understood and the principles of give and take over long periods of time, and often generations, were, and still are, the core precepts of a well-kept balance sheet.


Sometimes it is difficult to explain to others the lore by which our community has lived, and still lives.  It is just how it is.  Particularly in the past Island people would often go and stay with each other for long periods of time (on-Island and on the mainland), children would be welcomed and lovingly raised by other Islanders or family members either for short or long periods of time, and the ill, elderly, or needy would also be cared for in this manner.  The social responsibilities and burdens were shared, divided, and balanced out.


In our culture any visitor be they family, friend, or stranger is well-treated from the heart (but also sometimes from fear they might get a bad name).  A visitor, particularly one of the ‘relation’ kind who  feels so inclined, might make frequent stays of several months or more and get a little from one, and a little from the other until they get what they wanted without much real need of giving a great deal in return.  This was particularly a matter open for exploitation in the past when the steam-ships provided less regular transport back to the mainland.  Any person who continues to willingly or wilfully abuse this social system of care and places undue stress or burden on others is a ‘tampali’.  No two ways about it!


In the traditional Island way of doing things and  being there is no disgrace for a person to be poor, but to be rich, covetous, or niggardly is less admirable and attracts some derision from others, as such many Islanders (particularly in the past) would go without the shirts on their backs for others.  There was an expectation of re-distribution which ensured everyone’s welfare whether it be fish, yams, time, or tenancy.  Giving is cultural and customary and in the past this custom extended naturally to land and money; if there was reason enough and if someone wanted or needed either, they just asked for it, and it would more than likely be given. 


Island children who are brought up consciously repeatedly hear the lesson ‘God helps those who help themselves’; Island children are expected to work hard and make meaningful contributions from an early age.  They are simply learning about keeping a healthy balance sheet, and when certain people are seen to be exhibiting an unnecessary over-reliance on the obligatory system of giving or re-distribution, which does tend to lend itself to a passive form of thieving or begging, it would prompt people to begin to use the word ‘tampali’ as a reference point.  Children learn in this way not to go into the red and to maintain healthy balanced relationships.  

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KAM IN' HAUS TAMPALU (Part One) ...by Rachel Borg

Friday, February 08, 2013


The modern-day usage of tampali or tampalu always puts me in a quandary.  Today it is more likely to be used in a rather light, jocular fashion such as an off-hand reference in the street ‘Watawieh yuu tamapli?’ but as we were growing up ‘tampalu’ (tumpuloo) or ‘tampali’ (tumpalee) had rather dark associations; and there are many Islanders still around today who will confirm that this is also their experience.


There are some words and usages in the Norf’k language which totter precariously on the brink of extinction or stand at a definite fork in the road—this is one such word.  In some perhaps rarer cases new words will simply be exchanged for old words without pain of argument; but in other cases words currently in use in the Norf’k vocabulary have undergone, or are undergoing a usage and contextual change which is leaving some people more than a little confounded.


In an endangered language environment such as ours, perhaps it is useful to ask ourselves a few pertinent questions.  What might be considered natural change and attrition, and what might be considered linguistic loss?  Perhaps a question best left for the experts.  What happens when a word which traditionally had rather dark and negative connotations becomes a light salutation?  What happens when a word which carried a degree of derision loses its power?  Are such shifts in usage more likely attributable to and indicative of erosion and decline in a language; or are they simply part of the normal processes of language change and development?


This one little word has several minor variations in pronunciation: tampali, tampaali, tampalii, and  tampalu.   Mostly in the past if an Islander said  “E’e es regyula tampalu” they meant that the unnamed third person is a real imposer or a beggar; and in this context it certainly was no compliment!


This word and its history, as well as its likely origins, does seem to speak very much to our cultural value systems.  Filial obligation, the bonds of kinship and friendship, an innate generosity of spirit, and the extension of hospitality are mandatory aspects of Island culture and a fundamental part of everyday life which is taken very seriously indeed.  It is also perhaps a basic and easily acknowledged edict family life everywhere that a person who may be so inclined is generally able to impose on family members in a way and to a greater degree that one might ever impose on a stranger or even a good friend.  Within Island culture there are still greater complexities to this equation; the concept of ‘family’ is very loose and extended and this also makes some people far more vulnerable to being taken advantage of.  Within this cultural climate people could, and were at times more often liable to be taken for granted, or taken advantage of.  At times this social and cultural framework has led to some people taking repeatedly taking advantage of such obligatory relationships and having a ‘tampali’ on your hands, or in your home, could prove to be a rather grave, as well as highly sensitive matter.  ‘Tampali’ as you are probably beginning to see is a passive form of thieving or begging in which a person takes or imposes on others over a sustained or re-occurring period with little or no contribution or restitution thereby taking extreme advantage of the givers obligation to extend hospitality.  

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KAM IN' HAUS TAMPALU ...by Rachel Borg

Friday, February 08, 2013


The modern-day usage of tampali or tampalu always puts me in a quandary.  Today it is more likely to be used in a rather light, jocular fashion such as an off-hand reference in the street ‘Watawieh yuu tamapli?’ but as we were growing up ‘tampalu’ (tumpuloo) or ‘tampali’ (tumpalee) had rather dark associations; and there are many Islanders still around today who will confirm that this is also their experience.


There are some words and usages in the Norf’k language which totter precariously on the brink of extinction or stand at a definite fork in the road—this is one such word.  In some perhaps rarer cases new words will simply be exchanged for old words without pain of argument; but in other cases words currently in use in the Norf’k vocabulary have undergone, or are undergoing a usage and contextual change which is leaving some people more than a little confounded.


In an endangered language environment such as ours, perhaps it is useful to ask ourselves a few pertinent questions.  What might be considered natural change and attrition, and what might be considered linguistic loss?  Perhaps a question best left for the experts.  What happens when a word which traditionally had rather dark and negative connotations becomes a light salutation?  What happens when a word which carried a degree of derision loses its power?  Are such shifts in usage more likely attributable to and indicative of erosion and decline in a language; or are they simply part of the normal processes of language change and development?


This one little word has several minor variations in pronunciation: tampali, tampaali, tampalii, and  tampalu.   Mostly in the past if an Islander said  “E’e es regyula tampalu” they meant that the unnamed third person is a real imposer or a beggar; and in this context it certainly was no compliment!


This word and its history, as well as its likely origins, does seem to speak very much to our cultural value systems.  Filial obligation, the bonds of kinship and friendship, an innate generosity of spirit, and the extension of hospitality are mandatory aspects of Island culture and a fundamental part of everyday life which is taken very seriously indeed.  It is also perhaps a basic and easily acknowledged edict family life everywhere that a person who may be so inclined is generally able to impose on family members in a way and to a greater degree that one might ever impose on a stranger or even a good friend.  Within Island culture there are still greater complexities to this equation; the concept of ‘family’ is very loose and extended and this also makes some people far more vulnerable to being taken advantage of.  Within this cultural climate people could, and were at times more often liable to be taken for granted, or taken advantage of.  At times this social and cultural framework has led to some people taking repeatedly taking advantage of such obligatory relationships and having a ‘tampali’ on your hands, or in your home, could prove to be a rather grave, as well as highly sensitive matter.  ‘Tampali’ as you are probably beginning to see is a passive form of thieving or begging in which a person takes or imposes on others over a sustained or re-occurring period with little or no contribution or restitution thereby taking extreme advantage of the givers obligation to extend hospitality.  

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LEWEN LEHO BELOHWEN! (Part Two ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, February 01, 2013


When the Pitcairners came to Norfolk the presence of cattle and animal husbandry requirements meant that this word (as a verb and a noun) was applied to the castration of bulls in which I think you basically scrape out or remove the testes by peeling back the skin and castrating them ie you leho et (scrape its testicle out).  I have never owned a bull myself (and don’t plan on ‘lehowen’ anything!) but I think they can also sometimes be troublesome friedi big mumu (frightening big beasts); and few I suppose are the fences ever built to stop a lovelorn bull with all its tackle intact getting to its heart’s desire!


I have also been told that a certain Island famer and butcher has made a rather special coin purse!!  Aas’ hem f’ luk orn ef yu el staan.


Alice Buffett informs me that her father ‘Chud’ Buffett taught her that removing one testicle only of a male horse meant it could bring a mare on heat for mating with a stallion.  This horse is then referred to as a ‘rig’.


Eddie Hooker remembers the Islanders saying ‘dem pig s’ lehowet’ (they have been castrated).  Male pigs are castrated before puberty and the onset of hormonal changes associated with sexual maturation (ie iin aa uwai iej) because the release of hormones affects the flavour (ie stronger and less palatable), castrating at this time probably ensures less muscle development and therefore a more tender end product.   A baala or barlo pig is a male pig castrated at or after maturity.  It is a young porker.  This term has also been recorded for Pitcairn Island and probably comes from Tahitian paaro which means to excavate or hollow out.  Are you beginning to get the picture?


As a verb you could say Ai gwen haewt’ leho daa bul suun (I will have to castrate the bull soon).  As a noun Kaa fut daa leho f’ Naatas friedies daa (I don’t know why the bull of Naata’s is as frightening as that).  While I have never personally heard this word used in reference to potatoes in Norf’k I don’t doubt its use in that context; but certainly in reference to cattle I have heard leho used.


I have also heard older Island women use this word in a somewhat insulting derogatory fashion towards certain men ‘Oe hi es riil leho!’ (He is a real so-and-so).    There is another related Island idiomatic expression, often directed at unruly young male children ‘Yu el tal hi es d’ daedis laef stoen’ (He comes from his father’s left testicle).  Ouch!  If that doesn’t grab you by the vitals I don’t know what will!!


Of course in time perhaps the word leho, and baalo, and rig and even uwai horg and uwai iej will become obsolete as our lifestyles change.  If nothing else it is fascinating to record how these words or concepts which arise from oral traditions have come into the Pitkern-Norf’k language and how they have been carried around, used, and adapted along the way to maintain common threads and points of mutual intelligibility.  Certainly when such animal management practices are no longer being used or passed down to our children and grandchildren inter-generationally another entire raft of Pitkern-Norf’k words will simply float away orn’ pulu (on a coconut husk scrubber).


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LEWEN LEHO BELOHWEN! (Part One) ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, January 25, 2013


Imagine eleven leho bellowing – what a racket!  But just what is a leho, and what is it doing in the Norf’k language?  It’s a long story which goes right back to our Tahitian ancestry.


If you were to talk to any of the old Island butchers, farmers, and cattlemen such as Merv Buffett, ‘Bubby’ Evans, ‘Slick’ Buffett, and Greggie Quintal (Snr) they will all know what a ‘leho’ is.  It’s one of those ‘I think you had to be there’ terms – if you haven’t had to castrate a bull or other domestic animal of late it is not a term one might necessarily run into on an every-day basis and the more we move away from a subsistence lifestyle and the less we raise our own animals the less likely we are to encounter some of these old words.


This week to help clarify just what a ‘leho’ is in the minds of those who are not so sure anymore, I want to share with you the history of this old Island word.  Pitkern-Norf’k leho comes from Tahitian ‘reho’.  The change from Tahitian ‘r’ to Pitkern-Norf’k ‘l’ is quite common  (T: rapu to P: lapu to N: lapu et [or larpoot] is one example of many which can be found).


Anyway, reho in this instance in the Tahitian context is (or was) a sharp shell used as a tool to scrape or hollow out things;, and also the act of scraping and/or hollowing out with the reho shell. (T: reho – a tiger shell, cut for the purpose of scraping the rind off the breadfruit; to scrape the rind off the breadfruit. Davies 1851 Tahitian Dictionary


On Pitcairn leho was (and I believe still is) used mostly to describe the action of scraping the skin off the baked breadfruit (eventually done in time with the curved lid of a corned beef tin rather than a shell).  In Pitkern leho has been variously recorded as meaning ‘to scrape the rind or skin off potatoes, breadfruit with a shell [to remove the skin], then lid of a tin of corned beef or spam; and also a goat castrated in adulthood’.    On Pitcairn when a ‘billy’ (male goat) is castrated when small it becomes a ‘weda’), if it is castrated when bit it becomes a ‘lehu’.  Moverly (the Pitcairn Island Education Officer in the 1950s) recorded it as lehu – to scrap breadfruit, sweet potatoes etc. with the sharp edge of a tin’s lid.  Formerly, shells were used’.  Anders Kallgard records a further meaning lehu – a castrated goat’.  There is also another term on Pitcairn ‘mark’ which means to castrate a goat’.  Which leads to the idiomatic Pitkern expression ‘car even mark a chicken’ (can’t even castrate a chicken).


On Norfolk ‘leho’ has been recorded as ‘to scrape potatoes’ [Ross & Moverley ‘The Pitciarnese Language’] and also ‘a bullock ie castrated’, it also means a ‘proud steer’.  Dr Shirley Harrison [nee Buffett] records ‘leho n. bullock.  Equivalent to Australian stag (i.e. a bull castrated after it has grown up)’.    Alice Buffett writes ‘leho n. a bullock, castrated after adulthood.  Peti hi liiw aa bul tal s’ oeles daa for hi katet ko d’ miit nor gwen bi gudes wieh miin’ bii.’ (It is a pity he left that bull until it is as old as that before he cut it because the meat will not be as good as it could have been).


The development of primary sexual characteristics, including hormonal changes probably also affect flavour and muscle v. fat ratios in such animals.   Beryl Nobbs-Palmer writes ‘leho – bullock, or ox or castrated bull. “I se sly walk craws ar paddock gut ar leho een!’ (It is unlikely that I will walk across that paddock with that castrated bull in it!)

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TAATA AAUPITI – THE DOUBLE-MINDED PEOPLE (Part Two) ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, January 18, 2013


Without any primary reference points, and evidence of solid linguistic enquiry it is erroneous to suggest that ‘numerous Tahitian words refer to the undesirable, unclean, and abnormal’ especially when many words identified as such are no more than common nouns, verbs, adjectives, or highly multi-functional words extracted in very narrow context and without regard for how they are connected to historical, social, and ecological phenomena.   Some words can be both an insult or a compliment, depending on context, tonal changes, mode of delivery, and interrelationships between speakers, and again without evidence of attempt at substantiation and the construction of a sound contextual case backed up by anthropological enquiry it is highly speculative, if not erroneous, to suggest that such words ‘may reflect the racism that prevailed on Pitcairn Island in the first years of settlement’.   These words or terms are not semantically negatively marked by those native speakers who use them today; they are simply tools or useful words which emerged from a rather unique diglossic cultural landscape.  Norf’k is also a language rapidly declining in a challenging linguistic landscape and making face-value evaluations based on what appears to be linguistic mis-use and mal-adaption to achieve research outcomes does little justice to our ecological understanding of the Pitkern-Norf’k language.


The academic world has a term ‘autistic linguistics’, although perhaps a slightly insensitive one, it refers to the use of words out of context.  Problems clearly arise when value judgements are indiscriminately placed on Norf’k words without consideration of the ecology in which they are embedded; such problems only being further exacerbated when words are grouped into perceived patterns to achieve dry technical solutions rather than viewed in their proper social and cultural context. To this end it was extremely refreshing to hear Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann, Chair of Linguistics of Endangered Languages at the University of Adelaide, make the following resoundingly succinct observation ‘so they are much more flexible regarding taboos than us’ during Dr Karl Rensch’s (visiting Fellow in the School of Languages and Linguistics, ANU, Canberra) presentation on Tahitian life at last year’s Future of Norf’k Language conference.  I would suggest that just as ‘they are’ [the Tahitians] are comparatively speaking so much more flexible in their regard of taboos; so are we amongst ourselves that much more flexible in our regard for what is and is not taboo. 


Perhaps it is now truly worth fully and carefully considering whether or not in our ‘double-minded’ world our very flexible attitude to what is and is not taboo was handed down to us by our Polynesian foremothers along with their words.


Against this background it is also interesting to consider the general question of who has held, or holds the power, and how they choose to wield that power.  Both the current and historical aspects regarding the ‘language of power’ (which was English), as well as the ‘power of language’ to include or exclude have been powerful motivators for how people use and abuse language, and how they use and abuse trust.  What language we choose to use, with whom we use it, how we use it, and when we use it speaks volumes about us as individuals and collectively as a people.


There are many other indicators to our dual ancestry yet to be explored.   Like the Tahitian language, Norf’k is multifunctional, unfocused, and very fluid in the ways it can be used.  There is plenty of room for improvisation and change, there are also similar word-building patterns to be found in Tahitian and Norf’k which likely demonstrates how the early settlers and the subsequent generations adapted language to changed circumstances and a changing environment.


 Although the Pitkern-Norf’k language grew up in its own soil, but as Dr Rensch also pointed out ‘the Tahitians were prepared for change in language, they were watching for it, they didn’t mind language change so much’.  This fundamental approach to change also extended to naming practices, the basic principles of which have followed through to the present day in nicknaming in Pitkern-Norf’k.  The presence of a number of pronouns and relationship words also indicates many possible relationships.


Our beliefs and superstitions also come from both our biblical history, as well as our dual English and Polynesian heritage.  Great weight is placed on dreams as a portent of things to come, there is also a strong belief in the spirit world and superstitions related to everyday objects like the p’oew (rainbow wrasse) are still prevalent in our community today.


Another interesting and I believe fundamental aspect of our Polynesian connection is the fact that both the Tahitian and Pitkern-Norf’k languages have historically relied on oral transmission and in oral languages how we think is our language base, rather than the writing systems which come to be used at a much later date.  These thought processes are particularly evident in terms like haad baeli (hard-bellied), rohnieg (rotten egg), a’u (intestines, seat of emotions), and kuni (dreams, imagination, etc).


Many Islanders of Pitcairn descent will remember being gently, or sometimes more firmly chided for some social transgression or indiscretion with the words ‘daa ent’ d’ Norf’k [or aklans] wieh’ (that is not the Norfolk way).  Nothing more need ever be said mind, because understanding the transgression was implied by the cultural foundation which had already been well laid down with some vigilance by our elders.  These are the rules and mores (auwas wieh) by which we have lived by for generations, and continue to live by today.


As a people we are descended from two very different worldly kingdoms at opposite ends of the earth; in one the empire was ruled by Kings and Queens who commanded with gold sceptres and swords and in the other they lived in the clouds and flew.  The Norf’k way of looking at the world is their legacy.  It is a rather unique and a very special part of our inheritance and at its core lies the very meaning of what it is to be a Norfolk Islander of Pitcairn descent.  In wishing to preserve and maintain it we should have foremost in our thoughts and motivations the general philosophy that linguistic and cultural decline and the possibility of language death represents a very great loss—for it is ultimately the loss of grace and strength.  

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TAATA AAUPITI – THE DOUBLE-MINDED PEOPLE (Part One) ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, January 11, 2013


A chief does not live in a house—he lives in the clouds;

He does not walk—he flies.

Every culture has its own way of viewing the world, of illuminating the natural and super-natural phenomena, as well as explaining the natural and super-human condition.  How we personally relate to all of this is dictated by what is innate, our essential self, and what is learned and ultimately the degree to which it all evolves to become mutually intelligible within the cultural and communal frameworks laid out before us.  The status and power of the chiefs of Tahiti for example clearly relied on the lore of the people and the collective belief that the chiefs were in certain and rather specific ways perceived as living far above and beyond the capabilities of mere mortal men. 


For a long time now I have wondered what it is like for people who visit Norfolk Island and get a rather rare opportunity to meet and mingle with Islanders of Pitcairn descent in their natural setting as they interact with each other in an everyday kind of way.  What do they see in us that is different, or the same, and how is it that they might perceive what is ingrained or innate in us in the unconscious ways we might go about our lives? 


Sometimes as children we know we are different from others around us but it is difficult to explain exactly how.  In time the tangible merges with the more intangible and we build a sense of self from what we learn, and do, and see in the intimate world which surrounds us.  We know our home lives are different, our language is different, that our filial ties and obligations are extremely strong and we see that our parents, grandparents, and our aunts, and uncles put family and community before self, we learn that respect for our elders is paramount, that raising and guiding children is a communal responsibility, that ancestry and custodianship of land are fundamentally important parts of the continuum, and finally we begin to see much more clearly that our values are shared and instantly recognisable as our own. 


Sometimes we can’t always find the words to explain why it is that we don’t fit easily into the same box as others around us do.  There are certain formulae in our world, social solutions based on intergenerational instruction, and clouds of related words and patterns used frequently to express or reflect the ideas and accepted behaviour within our society.  Our language, our ways, what and how we eat, how we build and adorn our homes and bodies, our value systems, and how we relate to our world and to each other are different and distinct from the wider world which has grown up around us—these are the ties that bind.  We see too that we don’t fit completely into an English world and we don’t fit completely into a Polynesian world; and while we are happy in both worlds we fit best when we are with each other.  The reason for this is quite simple—we are the product of the melding of two different cultures and it is not surprising to learn that the Tahitians have a word for this state of being ‘aaupiti – double-minded, having two stems (as a plant or a tree), figuratively this also refers to a person whose father belongs to one country and his mother to another.  Such a person is called taata aaupiti.  We are these double-minded people. 


Against this background it is also not surprising that we share a lovely simpatico with our cousins in the Polynesian triangle, perhaps it is our linguistic and cultural heritage, our ancestry, our geography, our thought processes and value systems, our humour, our ‘Island inclination’, how we express what is universal, or how we view the world around us in general that helps us to find common ground on a number of levels.  These facets of life are so easily intermingled and rarely when in company with each other do we have to travel far in conversation before our minds meet and tau (settle). 


It is strange to realise that we can be born into this rather ‘English’ world and grow up outside of a fundamentally Polynesian culture and still relate to our Polynesian cousins in this very instinctive way.  But perhaps in some respects it is understandable given that John Adams was very soon the only surviving Englishman on Pitcairn.  In fact it would seem impossible that the nine remaining Polynesian women, the only women and only other adults on Pitcairn, did not have a sustained influence on the socialising of the twenty-five children who had been born in those early tumultuous years on the Island.  Add to this our cultural reverence for our matriarchs, and the traditional role of women as carers and nurturers (which by its very nature implies long periods of contact with children) and the influences and contribution made by our Polynesian foremothers to our language, culture, and thought processes, however much eroded by time and circumstance, must surely have been significant.   Mauatua ‘Maimiti’ (Isabella) for example died in 1841, making her likely to have been more than 80 years of age when she died; while Teraura (Susannah) did not die until 1850, a mere six years before the entire community (which included fifty one children) moved to Norfolk Island.  In this light (despite the subsequent small influx of additional Englishmen) how could these children of the Bounty have been anything else but double-minded?


Just how double-minded we are today of course is a matter for some debate, but certainly our double-minded parents and grand-parents lived distinctly double lives  and sometimes the inherited ‘double-mindedness’ which came with it has worked for us, and sometimes it has worked against us.


The question of what is taboo or not in Norf’k is a case in point.  It must of course be firstly admitted against this background that it is extremely challenging for linguists and researchers working remotely with the Norf’k language and culture to gain a full appreciation of what it means culturally to be a person of Pitcairn descent because many Islanders, particularly those in the more senior generations, are conditioned as a result of the suppression years, and also out of respect, to show their ‘English’ face to non-Norf’k speakers. As a result there are places Islanders will go in their interaction with each other that they will never go with or in front of certain non-Norf’k speakers.  This last bastion of Island life is therefore left largely unrevealed partly because it is a question of trust, and partly it is a point of self-defence.  It can take years of sustained contact with Norf’k speakers before they will even test the water on this particular aspect of Island life for fear of incorrect value judgements being made about them based on marked differences in cultural perspective.


I have had numerous conversations with Islanders of Pitcairn descent about the question of Norf’k words perceived as being ‘taboo’ and the problems associated with misplaced value judgements being apportioned to certain words.  Invariably the answer is the same ‘there are no taboo words in Norf’k and no swear words in Norf’k’.  The only restriction to usage in the Norf’k landscape is that related to personal care, discretion, respect, or reserve based on how and when and with whom the kinds of interplay that ‘English’ people might consider taboo are carried out.  This is particularly the case with words to do with sexuality for which in Pitkern-Norf’k (as in Tahitian) there is traditionally no association of taboo among the Islanders themselves, in fact they are a natural source of ribbing, mirth, and light-hearted interplay – they are simply a whole lot of fun!


In Norf’k itself there are no repressed Victorian England taboos in sight, sexuality and bodily functions are a natural part of life, yet strangely Islanders of Pitcairn descent might also be seen to exhibit English-style taboos in an ‘English’ context or in ‘English’ company; in other words taboos which are not present in their own linguistic ecology are sometimes exhibited by Islanders in an ‘English’ ecology.  Double-minded and two-faced perhaps?

Continued next week..........

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