Collection fishing, Uncategorized, Writing systems

An alphabetic Cinderella

The Eskayan word for ‘alphabet’ is abadiha, generally spelled ‘abadeja’ following Hispanic orthographic rules. I analyse this  as a compound of four syllables ‘a’, ‘ba’, ‘di’ and ‘ha’. This is fairly typical way of forming words for ‘alphabet’. Consider the word alibata from the Arabic recitation order of ‘alif’, ‘ba’, ‘ta’, abakada from ‘a’, ‘ba’, ‘ka’, ‘da’, and even alphabet from ‘alpha’, ‘beta’.

But earlier this year Kristian Kabuay drew my attention to the story Abadeha: The Philippine Cinderella as a possible folkloric source for the Eskayan word. I found a copy at my local community library. Here is the frontispiece:


de la Paz, Myrna J. 2001. Abadeha: The Philippine cinderella. Auburn, California: Shen’s Books.

Continue reading

Collection fishing

Aboriginal Australia seen from Japan in WWII

[Post updated 18/08/2014. See below]

Discovered in the National Library of Australia, a 1943 edition of Baldwin Spencer’s 1928 Wanderings in wild Australia, abridged, translated into Japanese and published in Tokyo in 1943. This is the same year that the Imperial Japanese Air Force was bombing targets across the north of Australia. I would love to know more about this translation, how it came to be published, who was reading it and whether the publisher included any supplementary commentary from a Japanese perspective.


Above is a photograph of the title page. The NLA catalog renders this as Goshu genjumin no kenkyo/ Sa B. Supensa cho, Tamura Hidebumi yaku. I’m assuming ‘B. Supensa’ is Baldwin Spencer and that Tamura Hidebumi is the translator. Continue reading

Collection fishing, Writing systems

Just how wrong-o is this Rongorongo board?

I came across this outstanding paleograph sitting quietly in a glass case in the Archeology and Anthropology building of my university. The quality of the image is somewhat reduced due to the fact that I was pressing my phone against the pain. The caption reads ‘Easter Island rongorongo board with approx5 500 glyphs, collected in 1870.’

2014-07-22 15.52.00

Easter Island rongorongo board with approx 500 glyphs, collected in 1870

According to the Wikipedia entry on Rongorongo, this artefact would represent one of only 26 known objects worldwide bearing a Rongorongo inscription. Considering that Easter Island may be the last place where writing was independently invented — after Central America, the Middle East and (perhaps) China — it’s remarkable that such a rare item is sitting casually amongst a collection of Austronesian and Southeast Asian sherds and flake tools.

Of course, the question of whether Rongorongo represents actual writing remains vexed as does the authenticity of many of the surviving artefacts. The meaning and traditional use of Rongorongo has tormented scholars from their earliest encounters with it.  By the time examples of Rongorongo were being collected for analysis, no literate Easter Islanders remained and the wooden texts were being used for fishing spindles or being burned as firewood. If Rongorongo is writing, as we know it, there is no consensus as to what kind of system it represents or whether the glyphs are merely mnemonics for the oral reproduction of ritual speech.

The date of 1870 suggests that this specimen was collected on the O’Higgins scientific expedition to the island in which the famous Rongorongo text I was obtained. I contacted the person responsible for maintaining the exhibit who then contacted the original collector, the archeologist Professor Peter Bellwood who gave the following succinct and highly informative reply:

“I bought it in Santiago in 1975. If it wasn’t a replica it would be worth millions, and certainly not in that glass case! It is probably made of plaster of Paris – not to be dropped.”

Mystery solved.


Collection fishing

James Northfield’s ‘Canberra’, ca.1930

Just came across this amazing tourism poster for Canberra, printed in about 1930.


Everything I know about this image comes from page 44 of James Northfield and the art of selling Australia (2006) where the image is reproduced with the following caption: “On 31 August 1933 Charles Holmes, Director of the Australian National Travel Association, wrote to C.S. Daley who was then Civic Representative of the Department of the Interior, Canberra. Holmes was replying to Daley’s request for ways of popularising Canberra as a tourist resort amongst Australians. Holmes […] mentioned that he had arranged for James Northfield, whom he considered ‘one of the leading commercial artists in Australia’, to pay a visit to Canberra with a veiw to producing a poster which would be circulated ‘throughout the English speaking world'”.

What fascinates me is the way it captures the early utopian vision for Canberra a style that is more directly associated with European pre-war art and propaganda. There are traces here of Metropolis, German Expressionism and Italian Futurism except the vision that is being sold is of a civilised pastoral metropolis, as opposed to a dynamic techno-utopia.

And interestingly this is still how Canberra is represented today: a ‘bush capital’ marked out by imposing civil institutions.