NORF'K AS THE LANDSCAPE ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, January 04, 2013

There has been some discussion in recent years regarding the ‘visibility’ of the Norf’k language; or perhaps more precisely its ‘invisibility’.  Visitors often say they haven’t heard the language spoken at all; some even leave unaware that the Island had its own language co-official with English.  While there has been some effort to increase the level of signage and its presence in brochures, magazines, and other tourist publications this does not give our visitors an authentic experience or a sense of being somewhere else.  The Island’s language and culture is a unique and highly marketable commodity which is being under-utilised and has much potential for positive and creative exploitation.  At the Future of Norf’k Language and Culture Conference in November this year Wally Beadman spoke on ‘The Importance of Norf’k to Norfolk’.  While most people recognise the importance of Norf’k to individuals and to the language community which uses it, Wally explored the importance of Norf’k to the economy, and the potential for capitalizing on opportunities to showcase our unique language and culture.  Wally claims there is much scope for future development in this area and up until recently, as co-owner of local touring company Baunti Escapes, Wally explained that along with his business partners they took the touring company successfully through a very challenging period characterised by a severe economic down-turn and that by changing the company’s emphasis to culture Wally said not only did it ‘save our business’ it turned it around.  He emphasized that the way the business grew was to get back to culture, people, and language.

Some of the strategies that were suggested to capitalise on the value of culture and language is to increase the number of products, experiences, and tours.  Cultural tourism is currently growing at a rate of 15% per year.  Cultural immersion tours have the potential to create economic stimulus, and as it gains a foothold it will also help to rejuvenate the Norf’k language itself.

In discussing these opportunities Wally talked about re-drawing the landscape.  At present it is a white-colonial linguistic landscape; we need to build a landscape which is more balanced.  A visible, auditory, and tangible landscape where the ratio of English and Norf’k is more in balance.  Wally emphasized the value of leading the community to the view that this is an important direction to take.  In turn these changes will essentially then create a re-branding opportunity for the Island and attract a new and quite different visitor demographic. 

How exciting to think that we could one day get our wine from the Sup Shop, have lunch at Dem Tull (instead of Rumours), and go to work at the Porphieh (Poor Pay) Side!!

Changing the linguistic landscape can be achieved in many different ways, and it can be supported in many different ways.   

Dr Lynn Arnold then spoke about ‘Policy Considerations for Norfolk Island Language Arising from a Case Study of the Asturian Language’.   When we begin to talk about changing the linguistic landscape the presence of legislation and well-considered policy guidelines have the power to both support and guide the aims of a language community in strengthening, preserving, and maintaining its linguistic and cultural heritage and while we do have a basic legislative framework at present, there is still a great deal of work to be carried out in the area of policy development. 

The beginnings of formulating language policy lies with the community in which the language lives.  Determining community attitudes to Norf’k by conducting an attitude circle exercise helps to place an overall guiding focus or direction on future language policies.  Determining whether the community’s attitude to Norf’k is positive, negative, disinterested, or passive potentially has great weight and influence in the area of policy development. 

When looking to formulate future language policies the decisions need to be made in partnership, not by one group alone; it needs to include input from a wide range of individuals and organizations including Government, the people, the speakers, academics, key economic and cultural organisations, &c. 

Specific policy considerations include what level of knowledge would demonstrate sufficient knowledge or proficiency to be accepted or regarded as a native speaker.  What would be the policy stance on education, would it be formal and institutionalised or informal?  Should it be compulsory or not? 

Normalisation or standardisation is a job generally reserved for academics but standardisation will also happen naturally.  In such an unfocused multifunctional linguistic environment such as Norf’k the question of standardisation is an important one which falls well within the bounds of policy considerations.  At a fine detail level policy lexical overlap or shared word usage (eg English words) is a matter which might be considered by future policy makers, as are similar words which have the same meaning, similar sounding words which mean different things, and the same word with different usages.  Policy on lexical borrowing may also be another area worthy of examination as there are a number of lexical borrowings in the Norf’k language; some are temporary and others more enduring.  Some of these include kushu and tini (Aust. Eng.), and puku, akeake, and pukaeka/pukeko (NZ Maori).  Because Norf’k is such an unfocused language and until recently was not used in mass media and publications for mass consumption there are also questions of lexical and orthographic variation which arise, including the need or desirability for standardisation or such words as hami/hemi/himi and bembeya/bemeya/bambeya.  If there is a perceived need to try and standardise and enshrine this standardisation in policy, you need to also consider what it is that you are attempting to achieve by standardising the language.  Will standardising it destroy or ‘artificialise’ it, or are you standardising it for the purposes of moving forward and to achieve across the board understanding?  What if any value is there in hyper-correction?

Policy-makers may also wish to address the challenges associated with domain use.  Will future policy documents support and encourage use of the language in a closed or private environment, or will it facilitate and advocate its use in a wider more public forum as a language of community and place.  Will it foster a climate of use in the macro-environment (government, press, multi-media, internet, public office, literature, icons, signage, school, work, business), or will it encompass a more  micro-climate grass-roots approach to domain usage (family, friends, home).

Based on Dr Arnold’s keen interest in endangered languages and the possible policy directions for Norf’k based on his earlier work with the Asturian language as a comparative case study, it seems clear that the more official recognition a language receives, the more power it has, the more people there will be speaking it.  Official recognition for a language in legislation, policy, and at an international level (including the listing of Norf’k in the UNESCO Atlas of World Languages in Danger of Disappearing) increases its status on many levels and serves to solidify, validate, and value the language in a very real way within the wider landscape.

In formulating a future language policy for Norf’k there are essentially only two questions to be considered:-

                Norf’k  could  survive  if ...?

                Norf’k  could  die  if ...?

At the end of the day what you want to have is a living language; and one which can withstand change without losing its integrity.  The gaol is to have a sense of bi-lingualism, and from a policy point of view this would be a good and appropriate place for Norf’k to be desdieh, morla, en aa taeda wan, aa taeda wan aafta daa (today, tomorrow, the next day and the day after that).  En waa!! 

Daaset tal neks wiik yorlye, tek keya tal den.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Hepi s’ ya!  Kresmes s’ kam gien orn Norfuk, stoken s’ hienget, aklan’s trii en’ lait s’ ap en salan s’ begen’ gu daun orn sehn.  Sam salan s’ raepet, raitet, en senet, en gat’ taeda salan huu nort s’ iiwen begenet.  Ai nor laanen huuset!!

Sam salan gwen wieh, sam salan gwen stiehwelaut ya, sam salan gat’ salan kamen, en sam salan gut noebohdi.  S’ taim f’ spred’ gud chiya en gubaut mieken shuwa salan huu nor gat gwen haew’ gud Kresmes tuu.  En gat sam salan huu nor selebriet kresmes en es gudan f’ respekt daa tuu.

Speshli des taim’ yia f’ salan huu selebrietet wi giw thaenks t’ auwas Gohd kos shuwa es wi ya hi ent’ haad baeliyan; en wi wish wan speshl letl biebi haepi berthdi —Haepi Berthdieh biebi Jiisas, en Meri Kresmes orl aklan.

Mieh yu haew’ sief, haepi, en joias Kresmes en Nyuu Yia yorlye.

Goodness gracious it’s here!  Christmas has come again on Norfolk, stockings are hung, our trees and lights are up and people have begun to go down to the ocean.  Some people have wrapped it, written it, and sent it, and there are other people who have not even begun.  I’m not saying who!!

Some people are going away, some are staying here to relax and unwind, others have people coming to stay for the holidays, and some people have nobody.  It’s time to spread good cheer and make sure people who don’t have much will also have a good Christmas too.  And of course there are also people who don’t celebrate Christmas and it is good to also respect that as well.

Especially at this time of year, for people who celebrate it, we give thanks to our God because as sure as we are here, he is not a niggardly hard-bellied god; and we wish a special little baby happy birthday—Happy Birthday baby Jesus, and Merry Christmas everybody.

May you have a safe, happy, and joyous Christmas and New Year.

This week for a special holiday treat let’s have a  look at a traditional Christmas on Pitcairn Island in the early 1970s based on an extract from Pitcairn – Children of the Bounty:-

“The largest communal social event of our stay had, for us, both familiar and unfamiliar aspects.  By local decree of Church and State, Christmas Day was observed on December 26 as the twenty fifth fell on a Saturday, the Adventist Sabbath.  To the little group of outsiders on the island, it seemed odd that the religious observances could not have been combined with the social trappings of Christmas.  To the Pitcairners, it was unthinkable, “Sabbath is Sabbath and Christmas Day is Christmas Day” I was told.

Christmas on Pitcairn brought home to us just how totally our own concept of Christmas is moulded, directed, and almost controlled by the media and by the immense apparatus of merchandising.  Until Christmas “Eve” - Christmas Day itself for us - no one among the islanders had talked, or apparently thought much, about Christmas.  In shop-less, TV-less, newspaper-less, Santa-Clausless Pitcairn, none of the strident reminders were there.  When I told Millie that Christmas decorations appear along Fifth Avenue by the end of October and that the shopping frenzy is beginning to fry parental nerves by the early weeks of December, she raised her eyes to the perilously sagging ceiling of her dining room and withheld comment, as it this were the only way to excuse the madness of the outside world.

There was not, in this most religious and Jesus adoring community, a single Christmas decoration in any of the homes I visited, at the school or on the three public buildings around the Square.  Blessedly, there was not one Styrofoam Santa, plastic holly wreath, or piece of dime-store junk in sight.  No lights, no trees, no cotton-wool mangers, no stencilled snow on the panes.  Landing the necessities of life on Pitcairn is work enough without bringing in the disposable seasonal frills.

We saw the first tangible signs of Pitcairn Christmas on that same afternoon.  To avoid having to cook on the Sabbath, Millie was rushing her preparations at the “bolt”, the outdoor kitchen.  Warren had collected perhaps fifty dried coconut husks to heat up the Polynesian stone oven.  The husks blazed, disintegrated into fiery embers which heated the stones to furnace intensity, and two hours later were raked out.  Milly was baking an unusually large quantity of her delicious loaves, some this day of whole wheat as a Christmas offering for relatives or friends who preferred it over her snowy-white bread.  When the stones had cooled to the right temperature, the tins of dough were placed in rack in the cavernous interior of the oven.

Millie then turned to the goat meat which would be part of the Christmas dinner we would have the following evening … [with] “t’ other things”.

Warren, meanwhile, had divided the day between his garden a mile away on the high ground and his favourite outdoor carving place, … From his garden he carried home pandanus baskets bulging with perfect specimens of grapefruit, small pineapples, oranges, passion fruit, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, cabbages, and a few bunches of bananas.  From his alfresco workshop, the white paint just dry in time for Christmas, came two splendid models of the Pitcairn longboats for our boys …

Christmas Day was a subdued affair set aside largely for worship.   People wished each other Merry Christmas, but there were no presents in sight, nor were they mentioned.

Including the children and babies, sixty-three of the eighty-five Islanders came to Christmas Sabbath service.  It was a normal attendance.  The church was undecorated apart from a vase of fresh flowers on the table in front of the pulpit.  Sabbath school lasted until eleven, and then everyone, the squalling babies, the octogenarians, the bare-footed youths in their American printed T-shirts, the men in clean white shirts and jeans, mostly tieless but some wearing unaccustomed leather or canvas on their feet, moved into the church for Sabbath service itself.

After Pastor had blessed his flock … we ambled outside into the hot sun.  It was a muggy eighty degrees, weather that underscored the inappropriateness of the Southern Hemisphere to so many of the northern Christmas traditions and carols.

[After the sun had set preparations for Christmas dinner would begin]  Slowly, some Christmas touches were materialising.  Tom Christian had tacked to the main notice board the first of five messages of seasonal greeting he had received on the radio from Pitcairners in self-exile … some of the older Islanders were preparing for Christmas dinner by taking a snooze on cots on the porch.  The middle-aged men were busy finishing their Christmas carving … a Christian youth had taken his Honda “topside” to pick a dozen winey-sweet pineapples from his pineapple patch as a Christmas present for his sweetheart … other men were sorting through their dwindling stocks of miro wood to find a good block for carving, which could be a Yule offering to a friend the next day.

Our hosts for Christmas dinner were Tom and Betty Christian.  There were fourteen of us, and we sat on benches on either side of the table about twelve feet long in Betty’s roomy, if cluttered kitchen.  The table was covered with floral plastic oil-cloth and set with floral-patterned china and shiny new stainless cutlery.  We waited for Tom to say grace and surveyed the smorgasbord of Pitcairn and imported goodies that filled each inch of space between the rows of plates.  Millie’s goat-meat stew was just the beginning.  There were platters of chicken pieces baked with tomatoes, corned beef, fried goat liver, baked pumpkin, sweet corn, beets, roast potatoes, sweet potatoes, cold canned peas, bowls of imported butter, home-baked bread, cabbage, tomato, and cucumber salads with coconut-milk dressing, and two kinds of pillhai, the Pitcairn staple that visitors find soapy and almost inedible.  For drinks we had home-made apricot juice, sour-orange-lemonade, and juice extracted by boiling wild strawberries.  Each was served in half-gallon pitchers.  Betty brought first from the stove the sort of basket-ball size plum pudding they ate in England in Disraeli’s time.  There was a pot of custard to pour over it.

For the island children that night, the last act before an unusually late bedtime was to hang pandanus baskets on the front porches.  Pitcairn has never had a Christmas-stocking tradition, partly because there are no living room fireplaces and partly because in the earliest days of the colony, stockings were simply an exotic memory of eighteenth-century London and Portsmouth.  Once the young were in bed, the Christmas spirit belatedly seized the Island.  The festive mood prevailed for the next twenty-four hours, until almost midnight on the twenty-sixth, when it ceased as suddenly as it had begun.

With baskets heavy with candies, fresh-baked cookies, pineapples and other fruits, balloons and trinkets, the grown-ups set out on foot to tour the houses of Adamstown, tiptoeing up to the front porches to drip a few treats into each child’s basket … a few of the Pitcairn Santas made their rounds ringing ancient hand bells, a nice Dickensian echo in the still South Pacific night.  By both bloodlines and social necessity, these eighty-five people are members of a single family, and this was never more apparent to us than on this Christmas night as the islanders made their rounds in the milky moonlight.

After we had done our tour … we climbed the hill to our temporary home and our flashlight picked out Millie filling the three baskets our children had hung along the sad porch.  In each she had placed a grapefruit, shiny, yellow, blemish-free, and measuring perhaps eight inches in diameter, and a pineapple. “Just to make their little hearts happy”, she murmured.  She had also added some of her cupcakes, but she rescued them and transferred them to the safe in the dining room when three columns of ants began moving toward the three baskets.  In the beam of the flashlight, we inspected the treats each child had been given.  Each of the baskets held about three pounds of candies and homemade popcorn in addition to the fruit.  Some of the older girls had decorated the baskets with pink frangipani blossoms and large green leaves.  The candy was almost the first the children had seen on the island without shops; most families had been hoarding their supplies for Christmas.

Before six the next morning, our young and the Island children were up comparing the contents of their baskets.  The serious gift-giving was to come later.  This traditionally is a community ceremony on Pitcairn.  No one, not even newlyweds, exchanges Christmas presents in private.  Everyone knows exactly what his neighbour has given and got. 

[The ceremony is normally held in the Square and at dawn Christmas trees are cut on the slopes and brought down to the square which is turned into a kind of fairy-land bower]  The schedule called for the islanders to drop by during the afternoon to hang their presents on the trees and on clotheslines strung across the room for the overflow.  The distribution of presents was to begin at 4.30.  By that time, however the first straw basket loads of gifts were just being toted up the hill.  It took almost two hours for the families to hang up their presents.  A few were gift-wrapped.  Most were in brown papers and some were encased in newspaper.  A lot were bare of any wrapping, particularly the imported items, naked in their factory plastic sheaths.  The though, and the gift itself, are what counts on Pitcairn, not the element of surprise.

By 6.30, well over a thousand presents had been hung on the trees and on the lines … the entire population of the island had assembled in the court-house.  The oldsters sat on the platform or on benches placed around the perimeter of the room.  The children were running like demons among the trees, trying hard to respect the local Christmas rule that says no one may take a preview peek at the names on the presents.  Pastor Webster called for silence, spoke a prayer of thanks to God for the things the Islanders had been able to grow, make, or buy abroad, and gave a little homily on the subject of Christian giving.  And then the bedlam began.  It would take almost two hours to hand out the presents, and until the last one was cut down and presented, the courthouse would be filled with squealing, shouts, laughter, and general uproar.

Our ears were still ringing with the clangor of the ship’s bell in the Square signalling the start of the ceremonies when Pervis in his stentorian voice bellowed out the first name: “Cla-a-a-rice”.  A man had been stationed by each tree and each line to cut down the gift with his seamen’s knife and boom out the names of the recipients.  They all boomed.  The carrying power of voices trained to make themselves heard over raging seas should not be underestimated.

In many cases, the homemade tags bore only one name.  The recipient was left to guess whom it had come from.  I had mentioned this to Millie as she was writing out her cards, and she had explained that it might seem boastful or conceited to claim credit for giving a gift on the anniversary of the Saviour’s birth.   The most impressive presents were a gleaming two-wheeler English bicycle that had arrived many months earlier and had been hidden in a neighbour’s home, and a rifle which Pervis was handing down to his burly, sixteen—year old son, Daryl.  He referred to it as his “musket”.

[The imported items were of an impressive variety] and there were many ‘items of island handicraft – coloured baskets with the words “Pitcairn Island” worked into the patterns, carvings of fish, birds and wheelbarrows, and packets of bookmarks made from bleached and printed leaves (for what books, I wondered) – were hanging from every tree.  I found it odd that a basket maker in the Young family would give a basket-making cousin in the Christian family a sample of her handiwork, particularly since both women turned out precisely the same basket.  In a way, though, it made sense.  If the present was not needed, the recipient could add it to her stock for trading aboard ships, in which case, in an almost cashless society, it was the equivalent of money.  Others were giving long strings of pineapples to their relatives, watermelons, cantaloupes, baskets of paw-paw (papaya), or small trays of wild strawberries.  Among other gifts, our family received a total of thirty pineapples.  It has already lodged in the family folklore as “The Pineapple Christmas”.’

The night and Pitcairn Christmas celebrations ended with a hilarious concert in the courthouse following which they all sang “God Save the Queen” in  a room adorned with no fewer than three portraits of the Monarch and one of the Queen Mother.’


Pitcairn – Children of the Bounty – Ian M. Ball (Victor Gollancz Ltd London 1973)  

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THE NORF'K LANGUAGE IN EDUCATION (Part two) ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, December 14, 2012

Paul Harrington in his presentation went on to highlight the fact that while the view that a second language hindered a child’s development is no longer held, it is well documented that education on Norfolk Island during the suppression period was greatly influenced by that belief and that this has had a deleterious affect on the Island’s language and culture.  The past few decades have thankfully seen a shift away from this view and the role and focus of the Norfolk Island Central School is now to preserve and revitalise the endangered Norf’k language which not only recognises the importance of the Norf’k language and its unique heritage, but follows up on the increasing body of research and evidence which suggests that bilingualism can have a profound effect on your brain and improve cognitive skills not related to language.   

Paul drew attention to the fact that the local school children get only a relatively small amount of time in any given week in which language and culture can be delivered, and really it is only just enough to wet the appetite.  How to deliver this content is also a question of context because it will be the children themselves who ultimately decide how it grows, what it adopts, and how it lives.

Paul posed the question ‘So why use technology?’  Today’s children are part of the ‘digital-native’ revolution, technology will be second nature to them and forms a significant part of their everyday lives from an early age.  Technology has the power to expand contact time with language because it is available to them 24/7.  It is important to acknowledge however that in making this point, it is not and can never be a substitute for daily contact with other speakers; it’s just another tool in the tool-box.  Technology also allows us to assist or re-enforce understanding.  When it comes to the question of ‘learning or teaching?’ technology has several other advantages; it is less about rote learning, and more about self-paced delivery and also different modes of delivery.  There is a great opportunity for collaborative work, especially in areas like social media.  Technology is also fun and engaging for ‘digital natives’, and cannot be underestimated in a modern education environment. 

Paul also put forward a simple but rather thought-provoking equation about how students perceive the value of what they are learning.  When a great deal of time is spent learning maths and English for example then greater value is assigned to these subjects; conversely less time on language and culture lowers its status and the perceptions of value.   Perhaps we need to value our language and our culture more than we do?

Of course economies of scale also affect the level and kind of resources which can be assigned to language and cultural programs; and ours is a very small language community with limited resources.  Achieving the kind of resources we would like, on-line and otherwise, takes a great deal of time, commitment, and creativity.   The New Zealand website is a great example of just what can be done in the area of online resources.

Several other benefits to technology are the lower costs associated with production and the fact that you can future-proof resources.  There are also an increasing number of language applications or ‘apps’ on the market, and a Norf’k Facebook site has the potential to create an on-line language community and provide an authentic opportunity for students to use the language.  Such sites can also act as a connector to the Pitcairn-Norfolk community in New Zealand, in the United States, on Pitcairn, and elsewhere.  Another authentic opportunity for on-line participation is for senior school students to work on the Norfolk Wikipedia site as a project.  Paul finished off his inspiring presentation in spectacular fashion by demonstrating use of the Norf’k language with augmented reality technology using a puppeting program.

Suzanne Evans along with Teva Evans, Mareeva Evans, and Beau Magri then gave a fantastic demonstration of some of the technology-based resources which have been created for the Norf’k language at the school.  This resource base represents years of tireless work and dedication by Suzanne in creating a relevant and modern learning environment for our children which is age appropriate, modern, engaging, and lots of fun.  Suzanne explained some of the theory behind her learning and teaching approach, which has included the setting up of a fantastic, fun, interactive Norf’k laengwij website.  Suzanne’s core approach in taking the Norf’k language and culture into the preschool and primary school environment is that it has to be fun—and the Norf’k class has to be the best class that the children go to!  Her mieket (making it) philosophy is designed not only for the children to get creative and make things to take home, but it aims also to become a bridge that would trigger off conversations at home and extend the learning process and opportunities.  Resources and lessons had to be relevant, in context, have humour, and be about children.  Activities include ‘vocabulary fishing’ with kindergarten children, Norf’k songs, and theme units such as plaiting, under the sea, and ‘hetieh mii’ and teaching the idioms, which the children love.  These have are all been an integral part of ‘making the Norf’k language cool at school’!!

Nicki Beadman as a LOTE (Language Other than English) teacher and co-ordinator of the Norf’k language program in the senior school next took the floor.  She drew attention to the fact that learning a new language is very much about listening to sounds, and learning to form them; in other words it is a physical as well as an intellectual process.  If you use an English ear and English mouth you will not be able to produce the sounds and on this basis Nicky emphasised how useful the phonetic system has been in teaching the school students to make the sounds consistently, and to spell Norf’k consistently.  Learning the system means that all students get a grasp of the basics in the end; in other words the system is the foundation and key to success.  Nicky also said that the school program meant that students were gaining context around language, people, place, creatures, and idioms and that the lessons were interactive with purposeful learning experiences and outcomes.  She also made particular reference to the puppetry and reading work which dramatically increases student vocabulary base and fluency.     

There are clearly an increasing number of people dedicated to teaching, preserving, and maintaining the Norf’k language and culture through education, and other avenues, and an increasing number of resources (in print and technology-based) are now available for use at the school to support students in achieving the desired learning outcomes. 

While we can all do more towards actively ensuring Norf’k is retained as a vital and relevant language into the future, while we have certainly come a long way since the days of linguistic suppression, and while we are much further along that road than most we are all ultimately responsible for our children’s education—and we still have a long way to go if we want to retain Norf’k as a living language. 

Daaset tal neks wiik.  Tek keya tal den yorlye.

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Friday, December 07, 2012

I wish I el larna yorlye

How hard wi little sullun fine [find]

Fe read en write en talk good English

En talk et out auwas mine [mind]

-          ‘Ucklun’ by George ‘Putt’ Nobbs

It is strange to think that it was the small community of Pitcairners, our forebears, who adopted a communal code in 1838 that provided for the first time in any British legislation compulsory education and not only was it compulsory; but the Islanders had to pay for it!  As ships were scarce and Pitcairn was by necessity a subsistence economy where any kind of cash income was virtually non-existent, the Island legislature drew up a list of equivalents which could be accepted by the school master in lieu of the Queen’s shilling:  Three good bunches of plantains was equivalent to four shillings: one barrel of Irish potatoes, twelve shillings; one barrel of yams, eight shillings, one day’s labour two shillings; and so on.

In this earlier context it is all the more painful and ironic to think that the children and grandchildren of the people who invested so much and remained so committed to educating their children on Pitcairn Island would in time suffer at the hands of future educators following their move to Norfolk Island in 1856.  So dramatic has the erosion and decline in our culture and language been that today, despite great effort to revitalise and reclaim our language, we are facing linguicide.  Whether the children wrote with a spine of the slate pencil wana or sea urchin (also known as fetuwe) or with a quill dipped in the inkwell containing the sap of the bloodwood or pen ink (both equally good for dipping the hair of the girls in front of you with!) the children always wrote in the King or Queen’s English and never their own language even if that is what they thought in, and dreamed in.  That was of course until the 1970s when in a very small way Norf’k was introduced into the local school as a result of changes in Department of Education policy.

At its very core I have been taught to believe that education is not about teaching people what to think, but how to think.  It is about providing opportunity, finding pathways to greater understanding, and opening doors to the possibilities or outcomes which might lie on the other side of the learning process.  Earlier this week an interesting conversation took place with a group of visitors, one of whom suggested that we should all speak the same language; the inference being that standard English—whatever that might be given the many variations and dialects—should be the one and only option and benchmark.  If it were for altruistic purposes, if it were the kind of strategy desirous of arriving at a place of global mutual intelligibility rather than supremacy, such an idea might have some merit, but would English fit the bill because statistically speaking, in this ‘global village’ that was envisaged where we were all to be speaking the same language, perhaps  Mandarin and not English might be the more appropriate language of choice? 

Just as the missionaries from the Church of Christ set out to Christianise the world; is it really possible (or desirable) or even morally acceptable to set out to try and Anglicise the world?  And just how is it that one might go about surgically removing the people of the world physically and mentally from their language, their writing systems, and the vast repertoires of knowledge held within them; including their culture and their unique way of doing things.  It is a question fraught with moral and also practical dilemmas.  How it might ever be thought possible to convert the entire human race to one universal tongue, let alone a single writing system, is confounding given the remote and inaccessible pockets and places on the planet that humans have populated, from deepest darkest Africa to the jungles of South America, from the  mountainous areas of Tibet, and the smatterings of Islands strung across the globe; to say nothing of the over-riding hierarchy of needs including the challenges of poverty, health, hunger, and housing; and the many places in our world today that do not enjoy even a basic level of literacy (which we are sometimes prone to take for granted in the developed world). 

Learning a second language, whether it be universal or otherwise, is a luxury for most people on our planet, and how is it that you might also guarantee uptake, or even prevent people from reverting to their native tongues. 

This group encounter was an education in itself.  It is astounding, even slightly shocking, to learn that there are still people who maintain such conservative and fundamentally colonial views.  Amazing to think that there are still people who really believe linguistic diversity is dysfunctional and undesirable rather than a gift which enables people to celebrate their unique and rich way of life and way of doing things and which helps them to navigate their surroundings and retain their sense of identity and belonging.

Today Australia is one of the few countries in the world which actively implements a policy of multiculturalism.  It is a policy designed to prevent loss and deliberate marginalisation and to encourage diversity; and here on Norfolk Island today we benefit greatly from that policy in our education system.

One of the earliest surviving pieces of writing in the Norf’k language is the poem ‘Ucklun’ which we believe was written in the early 1950s.  Not surprisingly it’s central theme revolves around an Island school child’s difficulty in ‘talking Norf’k out of his mind’ before he could translate it into English in his head and verbalise his thoughts in English instead of Norf’k which was his first impulse and inclination.    

During the Future of Norf’k Language and Culture Conference held in mid-November a number of modern educators spoke about the work done in the ensuing decades in teaching the Norf’k language and culture to our school children, the kinds of resources which have been created and are currently available for school students, and the ongoing nurturing of ‘auwas wieh’ at the local school.  This was followed up with a visit to the school for an inspiring presentation on the ‘Living Library’ a fabulous and ever-expanding on-line community resource which is the brainchild and creation of Island educator Trish Magri.

Continuned next week

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THE SKIN WE ARE IN ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, November 30, 2012

There are many factors which contribute to our sense of self and the general feeling of being comfortable and content with the skin we are in.  Liking who we are, believing in ourselves, having faith in ourselves and the world around us, having a firm sense of what is right or wrong for us, accepting our strengths and understanding our weaknesses or frailties are all a part of the ‘skin and within’ equation.  It is basically little more than a kind of emerging realisation which comes from an alignment of one’s innate self with solid learned value systems; which then leads to a final realisation that one also no longer wishes to have these values compromised. 

Getting comfortable with the ‘skin we are in’ can be a lengthy and sometimes difficult process.  For most of us it more often than not requires a degree of life experience, the getting of wisdom, as well as both a formal and worldly education before we finally get to that happy ‘skin and within’ place.  Along the way we have generally sorted much of the wheat from the chaff and have a sense of where our own values might lie along the values spectrum.  Some of these values we hold as individuals (we learnt how to think for ourselves and made up our own minds), and others we hold collectively as a community (somebody taught us how or what to think).  These are our cultural values, the kinds of cultural values which will vary from one location to the next, and from one society or culture to the next depending on the weight or importance we place collectively on the many factors of social, political, cultural, economic, and environmental significance which impact on our daily lives.

Where do these collective values come from?  Largely they come from the people who surround us and influence us as we are growing from childhood into adulthood; what is done and said, what is undone and unsaid, and the many possible ways of doing things.  In other words, although the skin we live in is individual, how we think, what we say, how we say it, and what we do are largely linked to the cultural skin which surrounds us and cocoons us in its own unique way as we grow into maturity.  

This week as we continue to explore the themes presented at the Future of Norf’k Language and Culture Conference we are going to take a look at how language is one of the most powerful mediums in the process of finding or learning about our own identity, and how mutual understanding and a sense of belonging brings security and comfort collectively.  We also acknowledge how as time progresses not only do we begin to settle into the ‘skin we are in’ but we begin to treasure the values entrenched in us by our elders, our educators, and our peers, and through our own deliberations.  In time those values become integral parts of the jigsaw which go towards making up the sum of our essential self.

Along this line of reasoning Jodie Williams made a very compelling and quite fascinating presentation on how ‘values education’ in our community plays a crucial role in this ‘skin within’ process.  She talked about keeping our language strong and starting early in educating our children, including how playing language CDs and utilising the range of language resources, including a number of recently published books can aid in this process.   She went on to emphasise how our language serves as a source of affection and camaraderie and highlighted the fact that it is a kind of private acknowledgement of a unique shared background. 

Jodie made reference to social structures, particularly in old Norfolk life, and how values education in our families and our wider community is such a critical part of our own unique language and cultural ecology.  She went on to explain that ‘values education’ expands ‘to know’ and ‘to do’ into ‘how to be’ and ‘how to live together’ and that the instillation of values through informal and formal education processes inspires young people to make their own personal and social choices based on the values education received.

Jodie talked about universal values and explored the specific values or markers which are characteristic of Norfolk culture:

                Respect – is a broad spectrum aspect of values education ie how to behave;

                Gratitude – this includes things like wordless reciprocation, bartering, sharing;

                Compassion – is reflected in understanding, caring, and loving gestures;

                Humour – is part of our way of life and a foundation stone of Island culture;

Simplicity – valuing a simpler way of life & the simpler (though no less important) things;

Children – are also an important part of our values system

Jodie also made reference to the fact that some schools now conduct formal values education programs and perhaps this reflects a decrease in values education within the traditional values education framework of home, extended family, and community.

In closing Jodie encouraged people to be creative in delivering our language, our culture, and our values to future generations; and she also emphasised the importance and effectiveness in allowing children to also be a creative force in the process.

In an environment of linguistic decline and endangerment, perhaps the question we must now also ask ourselves is whether an erosion or decline in Island language and culture may perhaps also reflect an erosion or decline in the long esteemed traditional family and community values we have held so dear for many generations.  If we start talking and thinking about it in a conscious manner, is it that we have now stopped doing it, or is values education in decline?    

Which leads us on to our next speaker Gaye Evans who blazed the way in the formalisation of Norf’k in the education system which came about in part as a response to the decline in use of Norf’k in the wider community.  Gaye who has been one of the great pioneering forces behind the introduction of the Norf’k language and culture into the school curriculum spoke to the trials and triumphs of introducing the Norf’k language into the school as a LOTE (Language other than English).  She began her presentation by paying homage to Miss Alice Buffett, OAM and her book ‘Speak Norfolk Today’ in laying the groundwork when as Gaye said is ‘the gift that keeps on giving, and giving, and giving’.  Gaye also spoke of her sense of ‘awe, wonderment, and tremendous pride’ when she heard Alice delivering a church lesson in the Norf’k language some years ago. 

Mrs Evans went on to explain that like many English speaking communities the Island people were taught it was rude to speak anything else but English; which of course in many ways denies the fact that our story is one of history’s most fascinating stories. 

Gaye drew attention to the fact that for over 20 years Alice’s book ‘Speak Norfolk Today’ was the only school resource and that the children took to the system ‘like ducks to water’.  She said ‘we soon found we needed much more resources, and anything and everything became a resource’.  The children were voracious in their wanting of knowledge; and in learning their language and their culture they were learning about themselves, each other, and their Island.

Gaye made reference to the indicators of loss and decline, the increasing anglicisation of Norf’k, for example Gat noe mor melk (there is no more milk) instead of ‘Dem melk s’ sorlan’ (the milk is all done), and  Mais baket gat wan hoel iin (My bucket has a hole in it) instead of Mais baket s’ boelet (My bucket is boled) and how many Norf’k words such as d’baagen, piaali, p’hoe and m’hoen are falling into obsolescence.

A final cautionary note was made with regard to linguistic field work and the need for researchers to work directly with native or first Norf’k speakers in collecting, collating, and analysing linguistic data.

Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann next took the floor and spoke about the role of children in language revitalisation making comparative references to other revitalised language experiences including insights from Hebrew, Maori, Kaurna, Sanskrit, and Barngarla.  Professor Zuckermann is Chair of Linguistics of Endangered Languages at the University of Adelaide and his areas of expertise are revival linguistics, contact linguistics, lexicology and the study of language, culture, and identity.  His interest in language revitalisation is also a personal one; his own family having been instrumental in the revival of Hebrew or Israeli.  To this end he is also the author of ‘Israeli – A Beautiful Language’.

Professor Zuckermann suggests that when it comes to language reclamation it is our children who ultimately determine the nature of the emerging language and that typically their language behaviour will be different from the prescribed input from adult speakers.  In presenting his paper Professor Zuckermann explored the themes of what efficient language revival looks like and why some revival attempts fail.  He stated that within this framework all languages will continue to evolve because SHIFT HAPPENS and that the idea of a pure and authentic tongue and an inflexible approach of ‘give us authenticity or give us death’ are likely to result in language death.  Against this background Professor Zuckermann reconfirmed the fact that the Norf’k language is itself facing  linguicide.  He then posed the rather critical question:  why invest time and money on revitalisation?  To which he offered up the following reasons:-

                Ethical – it is just and good to revitalise and reclaim language; loss of values and loss of knowledge are a loss of richness and vibrancy;

Aesthetic – because it is beautiful

Utilitarian – beneficial on many levels, including economic eg cultural tourism

Professor Zuckermann also said there were clear cognitive advantages of retaining language, and that today’s approach to minority, declining, lost, or endangered languages are far removed from past attitudes where it was believed that ‘we would be sooner and better civilised by losing our languages and its simple, rude, and uncivilised properties’.

Against this backdrop is it really possible to reclaim language?  According to Zuckermann the success of language revitalisation is relative — it is never fully achieved.  He emphasised that while you can help reclamation along, it won’t be the same, and there will be disappointments.  He qualified this by also saying that we should also never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. 

Professor Zuckermann also believes that people will increasingly seek to recover and revive their lost language and culture.  This process is referred to as revival linguistics (or ‘revivalistics’ as Professor Zuckermann has coined it) and that ‘revivalistics’ comes into being the emerging language and its speakers become part of the applied linguistics process.      The revival process is in fact very much like co-parenting with a linguist, and the revival process or journey is in itself just as important as the end goals and this is of particular importance because it is not just about language reclamation, but also about ways of doing things eg focus on words rather than word order, grammar, etc.

Professor Zuckermann indicated that there are the same or similar emerging patterns in other revival languages and essentially it is the children who determine the nature of the emerging tongue.  In a modern age the new leaders of the revivalistics process will be the tech-savvy native digital users.

In summation Professor Zuckermann urged those working towards preventing lingucide, and aiming ultimately for reclamation and revival, to accept that ‘SHIFT HAPPENS!’.  He urged people to embrace the emerging tongue, and finally to:-




In other words, don’t let our language fall asleep—or as Elva “orlwes bin yuus’ tal’ alkan  ‘Wieki, wieki, yorlye!’.

Next week we continue bringing to you excerpts from the Norf’k language conference with a wider focus on education, on what has and is being done at the Island school to foster and maintain the Norf’k language, and the role modern technology can play in teaching and engaging students, and in maintaining a vital and relevant language into the future.

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Friday, November 23, 2012

“If French is the language of love, Norf’k is the language of laughter”

-        Albert Buffett, President, Norfolk Island Council of Elders

The Future of Norf’k Language and Culture Conference achieved a rather fantastic outcome — it got people talking.  Norfolk Island has always had this wonderful gift of connecting and humanising people; and making them laugh.

In an environment of language endangerment there are however some sobering issues to be addressed and this conference was a fantastic opportunity to focus on just where the Norf’k language is going, and what we might want it to look like in the future.  It was also an opportunity for conference speakers from both the Island community and those working in academia, either with Norf’k or other endangered languages, to put forward their ideas, share research and personal experiences, and examine several case studies on a comparative basis.  In this stimulating and thought-provoking environment an opportunity was also provided for interested members of the Island community to engage with experts not usually available to us on a face-to-face basis. 

This week we continue to present an overview of conference happenings.   On Tuesday 13th November the conference was opened by Albert Buffett, President of the Council of Elders.  Following a short welcoming address Mr Buffett quoted the Island’s school headmaster who in 1915 wrote “It is only a matter of a few generations that the Island jargon will have disappeared altogether”; but as Albert so rightly pointed out ‘It’s still here!’ and in making that somewhat satisfying statement Mr Buffett took up the right of reply by using an old Island expression ‘Putt dar een yus pipe en smoke-et brud!

Albert also went on to say that in 1989 a group of Norfolk Islanders made a pilgrimage back to Pitcairn Island, the first since 1864, and how the Pitcairn Islanders were most impressed to receive a boat-load of people who could all speak the same language.  This language of course is Pitkern-Norf’k which despite individual Island-based developments post 1856 are still remarkably similar and mutually intelligible.  In closing his address, and befitting of the collective wisdom of our elders, Albert left the conference attendees to ruminate on this rather astute observation “If French is the language of love, Norf’k is the language of laughter”.  Of course anyone who has spent any amount of time here on the Island in the presence of Norf’k speakers will know this is precisely what it is.

Ms Sophie Donohoe and Ms Lexi Tavener on behalf of the Norfolk Island Youth Assembly then took to the lectern and went on to reiterate Mr Buffett’s Island welcome by addressing those assembled in both English and Norf’k.  They explained most eloquently that the Youth Assembly was established in 1999 to express concerns and opinions of the Island’s youth and to examine the role our youth can and does play in the Island community.  For those who are not aware the Youth Assembly holds meetings in the Legislative Assembly Chambers and are mentored by several highly committed community members. Lexi and Sophie also explained that Norf’k is currently part of the school curriculum and that the Youth Assembly believes that the preservation of the Norfolk Island language is important and that we all can work together towards achieving this goal.

The Honourable David Buffett AM MLA, Chief Minister and Minister for Culture in his key note address went on to put the language in greater context and spoke to the historical developments in language writing and to the early pioneering and authoritative works which have served to put the language in the ecology of its origins.  David pointed out that the language dominated verbal expression on Pitcairn and that this continued on to Norfolk.  He also made the observation that given this climate of linguistic strength, who would have ever thought that that it would become vulnerable.

David made reference to the fact that when the language was officially banned, though perhaps well intended, it failed to recognise the cultural context of the language and banning it did not significantly reduce usage outside of the school ‘we simply didn’t use it where we had no control’.  He also observed that in the midst of moving forward we have allowed our language to be overlooked and undervalued.  In marriage Islanders have traditionally deferred to the dominant or common language [English] which has meant that children don’t generally speak Norf’k in the home and that ‘quite likely this is the most powerful reason, the cause, and the plague of diminishment’.  In balancing out this discussion Mr Buffett also drew attention to the fact that ‘We have also been exclusive in sharing our language, we have not encouraged people to come out in that context.  We’ve not given them to opportunity to grow and flourish’

 In the wider political and economic climate Mr Buffett drew attention to the fact that huge changes are currently afoot, some of which are unpalatable, but reiterated that improvement in all areas of our lives does come at a cost and that under a new regime the flow-on effects of ‘prescribed contribution’ is ‘benefits as a right’.  By way of illustration he went on to say that very few Pitcairn Islanders contemplated the move to Norfolk Island with glee but it improved their lot measurably.  In the modern context our community faces a monumental move, and while we cannot quantify the cultural cost of this move into a new regime, we may well see an increase in the use and value of our language and culture in a more vibrant economic environment.  On the other hand we may also be more vulnerable in a less protected environment.  The benefits of change must by necessity be balanced against culture and while the character of the Norfolk Island people have proven them able competitors resilient to change the question still remains—can that risk be managed?  

Mr Buffett made the seemingly obvious, but nevertheless essential, observation that it is in no-one’s interest to lose our language but suggested that the Norfolk Island community needs to ask itself the philosophical question ‘How do we want to live?’  Where will our values lay, what will our priorities be, how do we want to get on with each other, and be in our natural environment.  In other words, tangible revival is a social matter; it is a matter of deciding what it is that matters, and if it matters, how does it matter?

If the aim of the conference was to challenge presenters to offer the benefit of their expertise, and to connect local attendees with other language communities who are also aiming to keep their languages strong and are actively engaged in language revival then this conference provided a wonderful opportunity to put the focus squarely on where the Norf’k language is placed in today’s world in the process of linguistic and cultural revival and reclamation—and where we might want it to be in the future.

In considering the question of endangerment and revival, it may surprise many to learn that comparatively speaking the Norf’k language environment is far more vital than many other small, endangered, or minority language communities; many of which are disabled by severe multi-generational social issues which dramatically affect language uptake and retention.  The Norf’k language has several published dictionaries, recordings, library and museum displays and repositories, a range of literature as well as a strong presence in the wider arts community, an increase in language visibility in general, an education programme in the school, the support of legislation, government, and institutions (both on and off the Island).  All fantastic building blocks with which to build an even stronger house for Norfolk Island’s language and culture, mindful of the fact that the true benefit of the seeds now being sowed may not show itself for another fifty years.

Next week Jodie Williams talks on ‘values education’ and Gaye Evans looks at the trials and triumphs of introducing the Norf’k language into the school, while Professor Ghil’ad Zuckermann talks about the role of children in revitalisation with comparative insights from a number of revived languages, including his own personal family story of ‘revivalistics’ (language revitalisation).

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Friday, November 09, 2012

Now really when it comes to a drink, there is only three ways drinks can come:  stirred, shaken, or swizzled and never the twain shall meet.  A swizzle is not, technically speaking, to be shaken or stirred, but rather swizzled with a genuine swizzle stick.  So if you’re gonna swizzle, you need to do it properly and apparently if you can you pat your head and rub your tummy at the same time; then you can swizzle.

It all sounds a bit saucy I know but all you have to do is first up, hold on tight to your stick.  Use the stick like you're a caveman trying to start a fire—what, you’ve never been stranded in the Mt Pitt wilderness before?  Now insert the swizzle stick and with both hands and moving in perfect unison simultaneously backwards and forwards, working from top to the bottom of the drink, you simply rotate the shaft of the swizzle stick between your palms as quickly as you can and viola, your swizzle is swizzled!  Yes that’s right, now you’re swizzling!  Or is that sizzling?

Now I bet you remember the good old swizzle stick?  Does the old penny drop?  All those buckets of heady, tropical, rum-laden mixed drinks, layers of zingy zappy juice, frosted glasses dripping with lumps of luscious fruit, and over-crowded with gaudy paper umbrellas and bright multi-coloured plastic ‘swizzle’ sticks.  Yes, you know the ones, those colourful plastic doover lackeys that bars and resorts stick into their drinks as an advertisement and souvenir combo.  And remember those halcyon days of behind-the-bar theatrics immortalised by Tom Cruise in the great silver screen classic ‘Cocktail’ where nothing lends more razzamatazz to a bartender’s art than a deftly deployed swizzle stick!   This is the kind of swish swizzle stick that most of us are familiar with; a throw-back to the cocktail culture of the 60s and 70s; and if you don’t remember them it was probably the demon in those lovely long sweet cool drinks which went down so easily and lulled us all into a state of bliss and memory loss—a delightful old fashioned form of anaesthesia!

The swizzle (drink) and the swizzle stick were once, believe it or not, extremely fashionable and Queen Victoria herself was known to use a kind of stirring rod to chase bubbles out of her Champagne, quietly avoiding any possible embarrassment from those pert fizzy gases.  So, despite the fact that all they did was stir; the swizzle became a hot and very collectable item. 

But how did they go from sticks of the earth to fantastic plastic?  It was American engineer and inventor Jay Sindler who in 1934 revolutionized swizzle sticks with an advertising idea that would equal any savvy marketing ploy got up today—and his timing was just too perfect.  Two and a half months after the repeal of Prohibition, Sindler sat contemplating his martini at the bar in Boston's Ritz Carlton Hotel, wondering how he could remove the olive without dipping his fingers into his gin.  Yep, once one of life’s great dilemmas.  So he sketched the solution to this problem on his cocktail napkin; a small spear made of wood with a paddle-shaped handle. The paddle would be used as a miniature billboard imprinted with the establishment's name and while this idea would have been worthless during Prohibition when speak-easies hid from the law, after repeal the drinking establishments wanted their names and addresses publicised and swizzle sticks were just the ticket.  They conveyed the information; and were far cheaper than match-books; and even cheaper still than printed vanishing ashtrays.

Then when World War II and the space-race prompted growth in injection-moulding and plastic technologies; this all helped the swizzle on its merry way and by the 1960s we'd reached the golden age of the swizzle stick where any form was possible and fantasy designs were limited only by our wildest swizzle-fuelled imaginings.

But of course, as already mentioned, the origins of the swizzle stick and the drink known as swizzle, swetzel, or swetchel had a far more ‘sober’ history.  The original drink was a non-alcoholic one, very much like Norf’ks swetzl, despite the fact that if you go into a bar today and mention a ‘swizzle’ you will be served any number of popular and traditional well-laced rum-based drinks—hopefully mixed or stirred with a swizzle stick!

The swizzle itself is a rustic type of mixed-drink; it is not meant to be a poncy drink at all and it is most certainly named after the way it is mixed rather than the ingredients (although they are just as important) – swizzling or rotating the special forked swizzle between the palms to mix the ingredients together is what it’s all about.  Swizzles pre-date the ‘cocktail’ and many of the alcoholic swizzles remain refreshingly simple recipes which follow the same basic structure as the non-alcoholic version – a sweet, a sour or bitter, and some kind of non-alcoholic element.

In literature the swizzle was first mentioned in print in 1788 as being in existence since at least 1760 in A Classical Dictionary of Vulgar Tongue by Francis Grose and the place mentioned as the ‘Swizzle Club’ is listed as being a French-Canadian fort that was captured by the British in 1759; so the swizzle itself must have been a well known drink before this club was established for it to be named after it.  

And according to Frederick Albion Ober, an American naturalist writing around 1920, "the great drink of Barbados ice houses was the swizzle - a combination of liquors, sugar, and ice whisked to a froth by a rapidly revolved swizzle-stick, made from the stem of a native plant."   So by this time the ex-plantation drink was obviously very much in vogue.

Today ‘swizzles’ as a category of alcoholic drink, although characteristically made on rum and one which is preferably Caribbean in origin, it can just as easily and just as likely be made with any type of spirit. But what remains of the original concept is that they are typically long, refreshing drinks with a tropical feel and not surprisingly; are rather robust and boozy.

Some people also say the original plantation switzels may have come about in an effort to improve the drinkability of non-potable water and for this reason it was flavoured with citrus and sweetened with blackstrap molasses, which is the resultant by-product of three stages of sugar refinement.  It was considered inferior to refined sugar and it therefore followed that it was perfectly suited to slaves.  Ironically it is black-strap molasses which proved itself to be nutritionally superior in comparison to refined sugar. 

Blackstrap molasses, or simply ‘blackstrap’, is the dark, viscous molasses remaining after maximum extraction of sugar from raw sugar cane.  As a child I remember a lovely thick rich very sweet goo.  Today this residual product of sugar refining is still used in the manufacture of ethyl alcohol for industry and as an ingredient in cattle and horse feed; so as you can see it has long been down at the bottom of the food chain; but strangely enough in comparison to refined sugar is still considered today to have a number of added health benefits.

Blackstrap molasses is a very good source of calcium, one of the most important minerals in the body, is involved in a variety of physiological activities essential to life, including the ability of the heart and other muscles to contract, blood clotting, the conduction of nerve impulses to and from the brain, regulation of enzyme activity, and cell membrane function. Calcium is needed to form and maintain strong bones and teeth during youth and adolescence, and to help prevent the loss of bone that can occur during menopause and as a result of rheumatoid arthritis. Calcium binds to and removes toxins from the colon, thus reducing the risk of colon cancer, and because it is involved in nerve conduction, may help prevent migraine attacks.

For a long time molasses was actually the most popular sweetener and remained so until the late 19th century since it was much more affordable than refined sugar which was very expensive and even today blackstrap molasses, which gained in popularity in the mid-20th century with the advent of the health food movement, is considered by some as having many curative and health benefits and is still taken as a remedy for a number of ailments. 

So back to swetzel.  Switzel, often called switchel, was perhaps the original and first non-commercial ‘energy drink’ – it was a simple ‘go-go’ juice, a very refreshing, electrolyte-laden drink.  When you add tea you also add caffeine.  Swetzl was a wonderful combination of the curative, the refreshing, and restorative; added to which were the benefits and energising effects of caffeine and antioxidants in the tea, coupled with the  nutritious health-giving and sweetening properties of molasses (or sugar or honey) and the refreshing zing of local lemon.  It all helped to make swetzl Norfolk Island’s perfect work-day elixir when in the heat of the day it quenched the thirst without upsetting the stomach.

So if swetzl sounds a lot like a fancy recipe for iced lemon tea?  You might be right.  Clearly our beloved Norfolk swetzl has been around for a very long time, and while the original swetzl was non-alcoholic it certainly packed a bit of a punch (no pun intended).  Tea-based punches have indeed been around forever - water, tea, lemon, and molasses or sugar - especially when chilled is incredibly refreshing; and the adults-only version is even more relaxing!

Whatever its origins, very soon you’ll come to agree that swetzl is perhaps a very appealing alternative to water; in fact just about anything which combines tea and lemon has personality aplenty and with Summer coming (I can smell it in the air) as sure as the day is long we’ll soon be mowing less grass, pulling more weeds, gasping for shade, and complaining that it is "too damn hot to work!"

So now when you are working outside in the hot summer sun and you feel a little parched your mind might turn a little wistfully to  grandpa’s lunchbox and to swetzl; because there's nothing quite like a long cool glass of switzel to quench the thirst and invigorate one.  So why not keep a cool jug of switzel in the fridge.  Or if you’re out and about on a hot summer’s day, at the beach, or in the garden or paddock take a picnic, just like grandpa used to do, find a shady spot along a creek, secure your drink containers in it to stop it floating away, and at break time you will have a long cool drink of lovely refreshing swetzl.   Just the way it should be drank!

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SWETZL-STIRRED NOT SHAKEN! ... (Part One) by Rachel Borg

Friday, November 02, 2012

“Kitty “Ott’ always gave ‘Ott’ a bottle of swetzl and some sour melk bread when he went to work.  People would buy 1 lb of tea at B.P.’s.  The swetzl was put into a 12” long (1 foot tall) white glass bottles with a tinge of green in them, the bottles came to the Island with something else in them, and it was always sealed with a cork.”

-  ‘Prail’ Woodwood (2012).


Grandpa’s lunchbox has certainly changed a lot over the years hasn’t it.  Here on the Island, especially before refrigeration and supermarkets came to town, breakfast and lunch often consisted of left-overs taken from home from the meal of the previous night.  This would commonly include cold pilahai (a kind of sweet or savoury pudding generally made from root vegetables, banana, etc), ‘corn’ (maize-meal porridge allowed to cool and set into a kind of slice), mada (green banana dumplings), boiled eggs (including whale-bird eggs in season), sour milk or soda bread, left over fried fish, chicken, or other cold meats, fruit, and cold roasted or boiled vegetables such as sweet or Irish potato, yam, or taro.  Perhaps a slab of Island pie might finish off the meal; and unless a man was working alone, whatever he brought from home was spread out on the rocks, in the boat, or on the grass and shared out with his workmates.   

In days gone by just about every kind of industry the Islanders were engaged in, including subsistence farming, involved hard physical labour.  For long, hot, hard physical work – pit sawing, house building, well digging, land clearing, cutting firewood, pulling beans, whaling, public works, and the like wetls (food) needed to be sufficient in quantity and calorific intake to sustain men (and women and children) at their labour; especially through the long hot summer days.  Believe it or not, there was not a sushi pack or chicken wrap in sight in the good old days!          

Invariably a break for sustenance would also involve tea.  In the chill of winter, if possible, the billy would be boiled; but in the warmer months the men would have their swetzl, a long cool refreshing drink of cold sweet lemon tea, which could be chilled in nearby water courses or left in the shade to stay cool.  When the Island men built the Resolution for example, they paced themselves by singing and drinking copious quantities of cool, sweet swetzl

Just how and when swetzl came to be consumed on Norfolk Island is anybody’s guess really, but it certainly has had a long history here.  Of course with our English heritage it is almost a given that tea be a part of our story.  The Brit abroad could not live without tea; it was the drink that fueled an empire and today on a global scale tea is still second only to water as the beverage of choice.  Funnily enough in an earlier time some of the off-shoots of mainstream religion would also offer up a cure for the dreaded drug tea – a dose of pure lemon juice five times a day. 

So attached were Brits to the institution of tea-making that wherever they went their chests of tea went with them; and in the case of Pitcairn Island where the early inhabitants had no tea to talk of a passable tea-substitute was made with roasted coconut.  Which leads one to wonder if perhaps the ritual of tea-making is just as important as the drinking of it?

It is likely that the drinking of tea itself began (quite possibly by accident) in the Orient as a form of medicine and on in time, it’s own merits, became so popular that for millions of people world-wide it is now an every day drink.  Tea also offered another curious opportunity for many enterprising Norfolk Islanders.  Here on Norfolk the prohibition years meant that the only way alcohol could be procured legally was for medicinal purposes.  Understandably the doctor was a very busy man; each day he opened his surgery door to a line of ailing Islanders!  But that was expensive, so here as it did elsewhere else, this dire situation led to a marked increase in the manufacture of sly-grog (known locally as ‘sup’).  In mixed company when tea was being served if someone said ‘Yu laik wan yu nedha kap’tii?’ (Would you like another cup of tea?) it was likely a code phrase for ‘Would you like another re-fill of ‘sup’ or the good brew’.  A nice little pick-me-up!

But back to swetzl.  Why swetzl?  Because it is such a refreshing, hydrating, and sustaining beverage; and what is more certain than anything else is that here on Norfolk Island, like on the slave plantations where it was likely to have originated, all of the ingredients were readily available, easily grown, or reasonably cheap.  Our grandfather Ivens ‘Pullis’ Nobbs grew tea here on the Island and in time it could be brought relatively cheaply in bulk from the local stores.  Our grandmother Sadie always had a large tin of tea on hand, and a tin of molasses and golden syrup in the food safe; and our Island bush lemons have been around ever since the penal settlement days.  In fact, the proliferation of wild lemons would go on to spurn an entire industry – the Island’s lemon industry exported juice, peel, and seeds.  And last but not least, lemon and tea—are a marriage made in heaven!

Here on Norfolk when switzl or swetzl (the original non-alcoholic version) was no longer taken to work as a refreshing drink the term became a generic one for any mixed alcoholic drink:

Yu laik wan yu nadha swetzl mais lauw?

Oe noe, noe thaenk yu daalen ai guud.

Kam haew wan yu nedha switzl, ai s’ giwet udu dem.

Dan’ lorng tang.

Kam yus haspen nor ya, haew wan yu nedha wan.

But what is swetzl, and where does it come from?  Over time, the true origins of this refreshing beverage, and even its original ingredients, seem to have been lost; but it is generally and widely believed that ‘switzel’, ‘switchel, or ‘swizzle’ originated in the Caribbean slave plantations, probably in the West Indies circa 1600s; and that it was given to thirsty workers toiling long days in the hot sun as a re-hydrating refresher.  They were said to have been made with tea, citrus, and black-strap molasses as a sweetener and may have contained other ingredients.  Obviously it met the most fundamental of pre-requisites—it was cheap and readily available. Today understandably many Islands claim the swizzle as their own, including Bermuda, St Kitts, Trinidad, Barbados, Jamaica, St Thomas, Martinique, and Guyana; and each of these islands have their own most famous recipe.  By the late 1600s, it had become a popular drink in the American colonies and by the 1800s it had become a traditional drink to serve to thirsty farmers at hay harvest time in America; hence its American name of ‘haymaker's punch’.

The switchel or swizzle which originated in the Caribbean was a non-alcoholic, refreshing concoction of water mixed with lemon or lime, and possibly tea, perhaps seasoned with ginger, honey or molasses; but the real secret of the swetzel lies not necessarily in the ingredients; but in a little stick – the swetzel or swizzle stick. The origin of this fabulous little stirring stick can be traced to its first appearance on sugar plantations in the West Indies in the 1600s as a small branch or stick snapped off a tree native to the Caribbean which was used to stir the refreshing elixir called "Switchel."   The implement in question comes from what botanists call it Quararibea turbinata, but it is better known to locals as the swizzle stick tree. The sticks are about six inches, with small prongs or spikes sticking out radially at the end, like the spokes of a wheel without the rim, and they are used as a kind of natural, manually operated mix-master or primitive blender.   You can well imagine that plantation owners and overseers may have just as easily popularised the alcoholic versions at the end of a long hot Caribbean day, sitting on their cool wide verandas and balconies with a gentle afternoon breeze wafting on by.  In any event, very soon the category of drinks called swizzles was rather popular in the British colonies.

So much for the recipes I say; but what about the all-important stick?   When it came to the swizzle stick what was essential for the plantation workers, apart from its characteristic shape, was that the stirrer be close at hand, and of course thankfully it worked fantastically to mix the ingredients together.   Now mixing drinks with a stick, swirling and swizzling them about is not new, hardly high-tech; and certainly not rocket science (and we all know that stirring our tea with oleander can be fatal) but in this case the stick was a very important part of the process.  The most widely accepted ‘correct’ stick to use is from the Caribbean Swizzle Stick Tree (Quararibea turbinata), but all-spice is also mentioned from time to time. Both grow widely in the Caribbean, and have branches that fork, but the branches of the swizzle stick tree are slightly more suited to the job as well as sharing the name.  Added to which the sticks plucked from these trees have aromatic bark on them, which, if used vigorously enough, would have given early swizzles a slightly bitter, slightly spicy flavour. It may have served other purposes as well; in Guyana it is said that the tree the swizzle sticks come from is commonly used to make tinctures or teas that are drunk for medicinal purposes.  Another good reason to go on ‘swizzling’.  This all in divine combination clearly made a lovely, cool, refreshing, energising, and slightly aromatic ‘swizzle’

The authentic stick is sometimes also called a ‘bois lele’, or simply ‘lele’.  As you can see it is simply a dried woody stem with a whorl of branches at one end.  

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NOT MUCH USE IN BEING TOO USEFUL! (Part two) ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, October 26, 2012

The final Island whaling station at Cascade supplied whale oil and other by-products which added value to the whale catch.  At the Cascade factory whale-meal was produced by turning the whale bones into meal for export as fertiliser; and Anderson’s Meats had also established a packing and freezing works designed for the export of slabs of frozen whale-meat into the New Zealand market-place for human consumption. 

The whale meal, similar to blood and bone fertiliser, was referred to as wiel manyuuwa  (whale manure) by the Islanders and although it was exported in sacks as a fertiliser, the Islanders themselves did not tend to use too much of it as it proved to be a very powerful ‘blood and bone’ and over-application could easily burn valuable crops.  In other places throughout the world where whaling concerns had been established the bones were also boiled down to make glue.

The old Island whalers still around today will tell you that they would always know which whale they were going after by its spout formation; sperm and humpbacks whales blow straight up, and right whales blow forward.  They will also tell you that a good whale could be expected to yield up to 12 tonnes of oil and about 60 bags of whale meat weighing about 80 kg each. 

Whale vertebrae were also used across the Island as milking stools, and the rib and jaw bones were used as decorative arches over entranceways and as borders around garden beds.

From time to time the Islanders also ate the blood-red very strong-tasting whale meat in stews and as steaks.  It is said to be a little like tuna and very pungent.  The ‘scraps’ which were the crunchy morsels of skin that floated to the top of the oil in ‘the cooker’ or digester tasted like pork crackling were also fished out and eaten.  The delicious heavenly crunch, warm whale oil dribbling down your chin.  Can you imagine?  What a treat! 

Here on the Island, and elsewhere, whale oil was also used to condition or dress leather to keep it supple.  It was also very widely used here, and elsewhere, for machinery grease and as an engine lubricant—it was regarded as just about the quickest way to loosen a seized machine part, or fix up an old rusty nut.  Whale oil was also used to oil sheep’s wool for combing; and all over the world it fuelled the machines of industry—and war.

And oils are not oils of course; the good oil or the very finest of these whale oils was sperm oil as it burnt the best and cleanest and as such this fetched a premium price.  Technically speaking the oil from the sperm and other whale's blubber is just common whale oil. Sperm oil however is the oil from the head cavity of the sperm whale. Thought to aid in the whale’s buoyancy, a large sperm whale can hold as much as three tons of sperm oil in its head cavity.  Spermaceti is extracted from sperm oil by crystallization at 6 °C (43 °F), when treated by pressure and a chemical solution of caustic alkali.   Spermaceti forms brilliant white crystals that are hard but oily to the touch, and are devoid of taste or smell, making it very useful as an ingredient in cosmetics, leatherworking, and lubricants.  When removed and pressed, this deposit is known as whale tallow, and the oil from which it is removed is known as pressed whale oil.

Whale oil was also to be found as a lubricant in delicate high altitude instruments, in glycerine, and in rust-proofing compounds (including as the basis of very effective protective paint for steel).  It was also found in chemical fibres, detergent, vitamins, glaze (on photographs), over seventy pharmaceutical compounds, ointments, and watch oil (at $5.00 per ounce in 1957!)

Whale oil was very widely used in cosmetics, in soap, and perfume manufacture, and in lovely lipsticks providing gloss, staying power, and lubrication.  The commercial advantage to cosmetic manufacturers is that the presence of whale oil "imparts a rich glossy sheen" —now who could possibly resist such an alluring ad-grab!!

It is now perhaps a little more difficult to digest the fact however that whale oil was also very widely used in the manufacture of margarines.

America alone imported a staggering 2.2 million gallons of whale oil annually until 1970, and the American company General Motors continued to use sperm whale oil in its Dexron brand transmission fluid as a friction modifier until 1970.  In fact sperm whale oil remained a key component in automatic transmission fluid until 1972.  The benefits of whale oil in this particular application is that it thick, dark, and viscous, and do not break down quickly.  

It was for this reason also that whale oil was once a very valuable part of the high performance racing car industry until relatively recently.  Over time of course it was eventually proven that, comparatively speaking, whale oil was unable to handle the higher temperatures produced when engines were re-designed to run hotter in order to decrease emissions.  Seen then as a less effective and less efficient option other more suitable alternatives such as caster oil were found, and whale oil fell out of favour.


The down-side of whale oil in general was that it did not burn as cleanly as fossil fuel and once oil was discovered in America people’s thirst for oil itself did not of course diminish— the focus was simply transferred to the vast reservoirs of liquid gold which lay hidden below the earth’s crust. 

Whale oil's predominant place in society was mostly eliminated with the development of kerosene from coal in 1846, and the advances in petroleum drilling in the late 19th century, which led to petroleum-based products replacing whale waxes and oils in most non-food applications.

It was only when people had discovered a better quality, more easily won, and less labour intensive substitute that we relinquished our merciless grip on whale oil and begin to realise and acknowledge the huge and devastating effect the whaling industry had brought upon one of the most beautiful and majestic treasures of our ocean.

By the time the 1986 International Whaling Commission’s (IWC) moratorium on commercial whaling rolled around whaling was no longer a viable or particularly attractive industry to be involved in and substitutes had been found for most of its uses, notably oils such as jojoba, caster, and canola oil. 

The establishment of whale sanctuaries, and the valuable work done by governments and non-government organisations, and environmental organisations such as Greenpeace continue to bring strong moral and political pressure upon those few countries still pursuing the whales on a commercial basis to cease and desist.  Despite some clear and firm opposition from within the international community the only commercial style whaling of any significance still carried out today is ostensibly for ‘scientific purposes’—and even these practices are gradually diminishing.

Ever so slowly the whale populations have begun to recover from this mass onslaught.  In retrospect though whaling has paid the world handsomely; in the end we all probably have to now agree it had paid the whale populations of our planet poorly to have been so damnably useful.  

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NOT MUCH USE IN BEING TOO USEFUL! (Part one) ... by Rachel Borg

Friday, October 19, 2012

That was the trouble with whales—they were TOO useful!!  And certainly historically this ‘usefulness’ has done them little good.  The global thirst for whale-oil and the many by-products of the whaling industry was enormous and seemingly insatiable. 

This voracious human hunger led to the sustained mass slaughter of enormous and unquantifiable numbers of whales in the southern ocean, and elsewhere, for over two centuries.  For a very long time, too long it appears, it was whale oil and not fossil fuel which lit and lubricated the world; and it is of course only in retrospect that we make proper account of the real cost.  Whaling was eventually to be seen as a senseless and unsustainable assault; but more sobering than anything is the fact that it was only when the global whaling industry had almost single-handedly taken a number of whale species to the brink of extinction did we finally make the time to sit back and take a true tally of the devastation which had been caused.

The first principal mass use of whale oil was as candle wax and as an illuminant in whale oil lamps.  In fact, whale oil was the first of any animal or mineral oil to achieve commercial viability and as such was very heavily and widely used in the mid 1700s and early 1800s.

Sperm head oil candles were originally made from sperm head oil in the 1750s in Newport by Jacob Rodriguez Rivera.  It quickly replaced tallow and beeswax candles and in time whale oil lamps, which burnt more cleanly, came to the fore; and so it was that the marvellous modern oil lamp began to creep though the houses, and factories, and seep down along the streets, and the by-ways until gradually night was evermore turned into day.

Here on Norfolk Island all along Quality (or Military Row as it was previously known) and at other prominent places throughout the settlement whale oil lamps once stood.  In other places it was used as an illuminant in railroad sign lamps.  In fact almost every major city and town throughout the world would soon be brightly illuminated upon the back of the mighty whale.  The whale oil pedlars gaily peddled their wares; and each evening the lamp men would tramp and traverse the countryside lighting the way.

Whale oil and the by-products of whale fishery were for a very long time used in a vast array of products of both an extraordinary and often unexpected nature; and Norfolk Island and its whaling-folk, albeit proportionally small in scale, have played their part in this vast global supply chain. 

Island-based bay whaling operations, and the whaling companies for which the Islanders worked or provided supplies to, brought ‘mana from Heaven’ in the form of exotic products and spondulicks (money) to the Island people.  The allure was irresistible and the Island’s proximity to the annual migration route made it not only an attractive, but some might say also necessary opportunity for our Island men to provide for their families in a better way, either by working locally, or taking to sea in the deep-sea whaling ships.

Have you ever stopped and wondered just where those millions of gallons, barrel upon barrel load of beautiful thick viscous whale oil might have ended up?  This week we take a look at the extraordinary number of uses for whale oil and the by-products of whaling in by-gone days.

The earliest Island-based whaling concerns were set up initially in the Kingston area along the foreshore.  The Islanders caught mainly humpbacks (baleen whales) and an occasional right whale as the whales made their annual migration from the Antarctica to the warmer breeding grounds to have their young.  The right whale was the prize of the sea.  As they were so much larger in size it meant a higher yield and a greater return for the whalemen and their families.  The initial Island whaling operations centred on supply of oil and baleen which was strong and flexible and used primarily in the manufacture of women’s corsets.

For good quality whale oil the whale needed to be processed within the first thirty hours, so once the whale was made fast to the boat the hard work had really only just begun. The try-pots (large rendering tubs) used for boiling down the blubber were originally lined up along the beach and a fire lit beneath them.  Whale oil once extracted from the blubber flows readily, is clear, and varies in colour from a bright honey yellow to a dark brown, according to the condition of the blubber from which it has been extracted.

You will probably notice on your travels around the Island that many old Island homes still have try-pots which were once used in the locally-based whaling operations.  These were eventually re-appropriated by the Islanders for making their lard and dripping and for watering livestock.  Floors and walls of Island homes were also preserved with a coating of whale oil and as a child it was always my job to sweep the verandas and hallway with my grandmother’s niau (traditional palm) broom.  The floors in our old house had been preserved with whale oil (and layers of dust!) which left a thick rather musty smelling residue.  The walls at Ma and Pa Ette’s in Mill Road have also been preserved with whale oil and it has left them a beautiful rich dark amber colour. 

Conturing next week .......

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