Thursday, 27 February 2014


Christopher Ehret, a linguist and specialist in African prehistory, believes that the Afroasiatic language family - the earliest attested family in the world, besides Sumerian - dates back to pre-agricultural times in northeastern Africa.  He claims that the expansion of the family began between 16,000 and 11,000 BCE, making Afroasiatic not only the earliest attested family on the planet, but also the oldest reconstructable one.

Tuesday, 25 February 2014

Tupian and Tupi-Guarani

    The Tupían language family is one of the widest spread in South America, and its largest branch, Tupí-Guaraní, was one of the first indigenous American language families to be encountered by Europeans. Some Tupinamba people - Tupí speakers from the Brazilian coast - were likely some of the first indigenous Americans to visit Europe, arriving in Rouen to dance in the streets for the gawking townsfolk in 1550.  Tupían-speaking people were probably encountered on Francisco de Orellana's tragic, extraordinarily violent, somewhat-accidental exploration of the Amazon in 1541/2.  Gaspar de Carvajal's chronicle of the trip seems to have preserved a couple of Tupian words, likely of Omagua origin, spoken in a large kingdom that Carvajal named 'Aparia'.  Guaraní, a reasonably close relative of Tupí, is one of the national languages of Paraguay, and may be the only indigenous American language to be spoken by a large number of non-indigenous people.

    All of which makes me want to write about it.

Thursday, 20 February 2014

European Exceptionalism

I saw this comment directed to me on West Hunter, a blog written by Gregory Cochran and Henry Harpending (famous for their book, The 10,000 Year Explosion).  The comment was left by Ricardo Duchesne, author of a book on the supposed uniquenes of Europe.  The idea is that Indo-European heritage is the main secret of European achievement and the main reason for 'European uniqueness', a dubious nineteenth century concept.  Have a look:

A Hunting Prayer from Flores, Indonesia

Here's another translation, this time from German.  It's a short prayer for success in hunting, and it comes from the Silesian missionary-ethnographer Paul Arndt's 1951 work, Religion auf Ostflores, Adonare und Solor (Vienna: Missionsdruckerei St Gabriel).  Arndt says that the prayer comes from a village called Lama Ojang (I assume the modern spelling is Oyang), and according to the map of the Solor region at the back of the book, it's in far northeastern Flores, Indonesia, where the island hooks back into the Flores Sea.  He says that this prayer is said in the burial ground in the presence of the dead.  Arndt includes the original language (I assume it's some kind of Lamaholot), but as I don't know Lamaholot, I'm translating from the German:

Thursday, 13 February 2014

'The Polynesian Bow' - Edward Tregear (1892)

Having uploaded a couple of short excerpts from Petrus Drabbe's Tanembar, I'm going to say a bit about an even earlier text that touches on bows and arrows in Southeast Asia - Edward Tregear's 1892 article on bows in Oceania in the Journal of the Polynesian Society.  Tregear, born in Southampton, England, but a long-time resident of Auckland, was an interesting chap, and very much the nineteenth century ethnologist; he believed that the Maori were 'Aryan', and publicised this view in several books and articles, fortunately not including his piece on bows and arrows.  He was also a founder of the Polynesian Society and its journal.

Wednesday, 12 February 2014

Bows and Arrows from Tanimbar - A Translation of Drabbe (1940)

I'm posting here a rough translation of a section on Tanimbarese bows and arrows from pages 93-94 of Dutch missionary-ethnographer Petrus Drabbe's Tanembar: Het Leven van de Tanembarees (Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1940).  The Tanimbar archipelago is a small group of islands east of Timor and southwest of Aru and New Guinea inhabited entirely by speakers of Austronesian (Kei-Tanimbar) languages.  The main island is Yamdena, and others are Fordata, Larat, and Selaru.

Tuesday, 11 February 2014

PhD Offer - Bows and Arrows in Eastern Indonesia

Just a quick post to say that I've been given an offer to study for a PhD at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS), part of the University of London, in the History of Art and Archaeology (HAA) Department.  I currently have no funding, but I hope to find some this year, and if I don't, I'll find it for next year or start part-time on my own funds.  Either way, I have a place and I have a topic, and I've already started researching it in depth.  My subject is archery equipment in eastern Indonesia, a topic that is much more interesting than it sounds at first hearing.

I'll post the proposal on here in the next few days, along with some explanatory notes (and possibly a plea for money!), but I'll also be posting more about bows, arrows, archery, and prehistory in eastern Indonesia and New Guinea.  I'm going to put up a few snippets of texts that are useful for my research, including a couple that I have translated from Dutch.  There aren't so many relevant texts, but those that are available are surprisingly useful and give good starting points for research without directly answering the questions that have inspired my proposal and my research.

Good news, in any case.