Thursday, 27 August 2015

Islam in Australia - a very ancient connection

It should be remembered that settlers in Australia since 1788 
have long had Muslims in their midst. 
 Northern Australia and indigenous people have a longer history. 
 The Editor of this blog can recall a news item 
from when she lived in the Northern Territory between 1993-97. 
A very elderly woman had returned to Australia. 
She had left many decades before because she married a Macassan 
and had now come back to spend her last years on country. 

Each year from the early to mid-1600s to 1906 AD1 at least a thousand ‘Macassans’ – from the extreme corner of the island of Celebes (now modern day Indonesia) – voyaged to northern coastal Australia in search of trepang. Otherwise known as bêche-de-mer, sea cucumber or sea slug, trepang was considered a delicacy in China where it was later sold. Early records including navigator and explorer Matthew Flinders’ A Voyage to Terra Australis (1814) commonly refer to the trepang fishermen as ‘Malay’, but a more accurate term is ‘Macassan’ (Macassar was the major port of origin for many of the boats). During the three hundred or so years of seasonal contact, the coastal societies of northern Australia, from the Kimberly region, across Arnhem Land and down into the southern Gulf of Carpentaria underwent a dynamic process of transformation (Clarke 315-16). The centuries long encounters between Aboriginal and ‘Macassan’ societies produced both wanted and unwanted social change for coastal Aborigines. After all, Indigenous meetings with foreign ‘Macassan’ communities were formed against the backdrop of imperial incursion and cultural expansion from elsewhere. 

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