Yolngu Naming and Forgetting — Managing Risk?

14 October 2019, 17:00 - 19:00

Seminar Room SG2, Alison Richard Building, 7 West Road, Cambridge, CB3 9DT (different date and time today)

Professor Howard Morphy (Australian National University)
Frances Morphy (Australian National University)

Personal names and place names are integral to the Yolngu sense of being in the world. Place names are bestowed as personal names. They are implicated in all aspects of life, from structuring connubial relationships between sets of clans to ensuring enduring relationships between people and place. Our recent research has demonstrated the strength of memory, showing that some names have been in use as place names and so possibly also as personal names for at least 3000 years. But names can be painful or dangerous; some are highly restricted in their use. Names need to be retained, but in many contexts they must also be unspoken in the everyday, and may remain so for many years. For example, when someone dies, the silencing of their names is part of the mourning process: naming a recently dead person in an invitation to their mokuy (ghost) to harm the living. Yet, simultaneously, that individual is becoming part of the names they held in life, which are passed down through the generations. Those names will, in due course, resurface in the naming of newborn children. Yolngu are aware of the need to maintain the names, despite the constant danger of them becoming forgotten. In this paper we will talk about the process of remembering and how digital technology is being seen as a tool for recording names in place – minimising the possibility of loss. But is this managing risk? Yolngu have no word for risk, and we will question whether or not ‘risk’ is indeed a cross-cultural category. We need to understand how Yolngu conceptualise and talk about probability, possibility, danger and loss before asking if ‘risk’ is the appropriate way to frame the analysis.



Open to all. No registration required.
An event organised by Risk and Renewal in the Pacific Network
Administrative assistance: networks@crassh.cam.ac.uk