'Wamparla' is our Word of the Month - Celebrating Arabana in the UNESCO International Year of Indigenous Languages

'Wamparla' is our Word of the Month - Celebrating Arabana in the UNESCO International Year of Indigenous Languages

Wamparla is an Arabana word meaning possum.

Arabana is an Indigenous language with three dialects. Some Arabana speakers live in rural parts of South Australia, around the west side of Lake Eyre to Stuart Range, and in places like Oodnadatta, Coward Springs, Neales River, Lake Cadibarrawirracanna and the Peake. These days, however, many Arabana people live off-country in urban centres as widespread as Adelaide, Port Augusta, Coober Pedy, Alice Springs and Darwin. Until recently, Arabana had been in steep decline. In 2004, there were about 250 Arabana speakers. By 2006 only 21 people spoke this language. In recent years, however, there has been a revival of Arabana and many younger people of Arabana descent are now learning to speak this traditional language from elders.

The wamparla is a small nocturnal mammal. In South Australia, there are five species: common brushtail, common ringtail, western pygmy, eastern pygmy and little pygmy. Their native habitat is tall gum or box trees, but over the years, many wamparla habitats have been reduced due to the effects of urbanisation. In the past, wamparla was a traditional food for the Arabana people, who climbed the trees to take the possums from their hollows, and also killed them on the ground with boomerangs and hunting sticks.

Wamparla Apira (Possums and Tall Trees) recounts a traditional tale from the time when the Arabana people hunted possums for food and clothing. The story has been retold in Arabana and English by elder Thanti Syd Strangways, and the beautiful illustrations are by Kathy Arbon. The book is a great introduction to Arabana. Readers of all ages will quickly learn to speak a few words in this traditional language as well as hear how the Arabana climbed very tall trees to take the wamparla from their hollows, although in some places the wamparla was regarded as sacred and could not be killed.

The book was published by the Indigenous Literacy Foundation in 2018 as part of its Community Literacy Projects program and has been gifted to Arabana-speaking communities. You can purchase the book here.

Listen to elder Thanti Syd Strangways reading from Wamparla Apira (Possums and Tall Trees) here.

  • Posted 04 June, 2019

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