The Manbarra language constitutes the fourth class of the Herbert River languages, according to Robert M. W. Dixon. The surviving vocabulary of the Manbarra language, mainly collected by Ernest Gribble in 1932, indicates that it had a roughly 50% lexical overlap with Nyawaygi. Little information was conserved regarding its grammatical structure. Another language was also spoken on the island, Buluguyban which was mutually intelligible with Manbarra, and may have been a dialect name, like Mulgu, Wulgurukaba, Coonambella, and Nhawalgaba.
History of contact
It is estimated that there were about 200 Manbarra people at the time of James Cook's visit in 1788. By the end of the 19th century they numbered about 50, apparently because many had left the island to go fishing for bêche-de-mer with Europeans. In 1909 the Queensland Chief Protector of Aborigines visited the island, apparently to check on the activities of Japanese pearling crews in the area, and reported the existence of a small camp of Aborigines.
The primordial creative serpent of the Manbarra dreamtime legends, a carpet snake named Gubbal, is said to have slithered down the Herbert River, and, swimming across the sea, to have disintegrated, leaving pieces of his back as Palm Island and his head as Magnetic Island.
Tambo (Kukamunburra), a Manbarra man was shipped by the showman R. A. Cunningham to the USA in 1883, in response to a call by P.T. Barnum for specimens of savage races to be put into a display in his traveling circus act. He died the following year in Ohio. His mummified remains were first put on exhibition in a dime museum and then stored in the basement of a Cleveland funeral parlour and were only discovered a century later when the business closed down. The Manbarra community appealed for the repatriation of his remains and they were duly restored to the people in 1994. His reburial there according to traditional funeral rites that had fallen into abeyance for decades played an important role in the cultural renewal and reconsolidation of Manbarra identiy, and also that of the Bwgaman.
Notes and references
- Dixon, Robert M. W. (1983). Dixon, Robert M. W.; Blake, Barry J., eds. Handbook of Australian Languages. 3. John Benjamins. ISBN 978-9-027-22002-8.
- Dixon, Robert M. W. (2002). Australian Languages: Their Nature and Development. 1. Cambridge University Press. ISBN 978-0-521-47378-1.
- Downes, G (18 March 2004). "The Manbarra People and Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority and Anor  AATA 26". Administrative Appeals Tribunal of Australia.
- Garond, Lise (2014). "'Forty-plus Different tribes':Displacement, Place-making and Aboriginal Tribal Namjes on Palm Island, Australia". In Hermann, Elfriede; Kempf, Wolfgang; van Meijl, Toon. Belonging in Oceania: Movement, Place-Making and Multiple Identifications. Berghahn Books. pp. 49–70. ISBN 978-1-782-38416-8.
- Hubert, Jane; Fforde, Cressida (2005). "The reburial issue in the twenty first century". In Corsane, Gerard. Heritage, Museums and Galleries: An Introductory Reader. Psychology Press. pp. 107–122. ISBN 978-0-415-28945-0.
- Poignant, Roslyn (2004). Professional Savages: Captive Lives and Western Spectacle. Yale University Press. ISBN 978-0-300-10247-5.
- Roginski, Alexandra (2015). The Hanged Man and the Body Thief: Finding Lives in a Museum Mystery. Monash University Publishing. ISBN 978-1-922-23566-4.
- Tsunoda, Tasaku (2006). Language Endangerment and Language Revitalization: An Introduction. Walter de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-110-89658-9.
- Watson, Joanne (2010). Palm Island: Through a Long Lens. Aboriginal Studies Press. ISBN 978-0-855-75703-8.