Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Moennan and Manilyan

The two Menang women, who were kidnapped and taken to the islands by the Breaksea Island sealers, did not have their names recorded by Lockyer. Like contemporary victims of sexual assault, they remained anonymous, whilst their attackers' names were recorded (although they were never charged).

Naming characters in my historical novel Exiles was a bit of a problematic beast anyway and combining that with recorded and unrecorded Aboriginal names was even more curly. There is a section in my thesis where I argue that the only logical way through the conundrum was to manifest some of the characters' names myself. If I attributed historical names to people such as the two Menang women, it would be inaccurate, mess with incontrovertible facts in fiction, and quite possibly prove offensive and distressing to descendants of those people. However it was important to me that the two women were not peripheral, accessory characters to those blokes who wronged them or saved them. A major theme of my novel (I feel) is the responses of the women and children to their captivity; how they survived and adapted in extreme circumstances. So they had to have names. Really, really tricky!

Yesterday wasn't all fun and games. I did get some work done, including searching out the original references for my section on naming Aboriginal characters in historical fiction.
So there is this, from Captain Collet Barker, who was the Commandant at King George Sound in 1830.

"Wanting to know the ideas of the blacks of the origin of mankind, I got him [Mokare] this evening after some difficulty to understand my questions, when he told me that a very long time ago the only person living was an old woman named Arregain who had a beard as large as the garden. She was delivered of a daughter & then died. The daughter called Moenang grew up in course of time to be a woman, when she had several children, (boys & girls), who were the fathers and mothers of all the black people." 1.

I named one of the Menang women Moennan after reading this story. I liked the sound of the name spoken aloud and the way you have to move your lips around it.
Mokare's information is interesting on other levels though. His ancestral story has a distinctly maternal genesis. Also, that the ancestral mother of the Menang people is called Moenang.

Manilyan, who does not feature as largely in my novel as Moennan because she was taken away to Bald Island by the sealer McGuinness quite early in the drama, was named after a star.
Again, from Collet Barker's journal:

[Mokare] "Told me this evening that Moken had commenced, which he knew by the situation of the Black Magellanic cloud near the cross (Whitepepoy). They have some story which I could not clearly make out, of its being an emu and laying eggs. The larger White Magellanic cloud he called the Chucadark & mentioned the names of several stars. One brilliant one was shortly to be seen, called Manilyen. By his description I think it must be Jupiter & if so there is a rather there is a rather singular coincidence as 'Man' in their language signifies 'father'." 2.

In other wordlists, Manilyen is simply a star, Jupiter and occasionally Venus.

Venus revealed herself. 
“Venus,” said Bailey. “The oldest whore in the world. First one out at night and the last one to leave.”
“That Captain of the Astrolabe,” Black Simon nodded his head towards where the Frenchmen were moored below Venus, “He is famous in his country for finding Venus in a field in Greece.” When Black Simon spoke he was frugal with words, meting them out like precious shot. The whole camp stopped what they were doing to listen.
“The Venus de Milo, she was six foot tall and cool, white stone, as beautiful as the inside of a seashell. Her ears were pierced and her hair was coiled around her neck and she held an apple in her hand. He pulled her out of the earth, from a tomb.”
“No wonder the officers are asking after the women,” laughed Smidmore.
“He’ll get no classic Greece in the Sound,” said Jimmy the Nail, “just mullet and muttonbirds and blackfella women smeared with fish oil and red clay, feathers in their hair.”

Meremere, ah Meremere” sang Billhook quietly over his weaving.
Manilyan, Manilyan, Manilyan,” chanted Weedchild, who seemed to understand which star they were talking about, and then she burst into tears.

1. Mulvaney, J., & Green, N., Commandant of Solitude. The Journals of Captain Collet Barker 1828-1831, Melbourne University Press, 1992, p. 289.
2. Ibid. p. 284. 
3. The picture by Louis de Sainson is of the Astrolabe's sail maker camp, close to the channel of Princess Royal Harbour, Albany. In the background is the Astrolabe and beyond that, Michaelmas Island (left) and Breaksea Island (right) where the sealers lived. October, 1826.


  1. Thanks Heron. I like all those cultural intersections bouncing around.

  2. This is so fascinating Sarah and I get your process. Makes me want to study local Aboriginal history formally.

  3. It's so interesting, especially the language of people like Lockyer and Barker.
    "She was delivered of a child" makes it sound like the birth mother had nothing to do with childbirth at all. Common language in those days, informed by the bloke Mokare (by the way).