In so many words : an ethnography of life and identity on Yam Island, Torres Strait

Fuary, Maureen Majella (1991) In so many words : an ethnography of life and identity on Yam Island, Torres Strait. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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Abstract

The dual themes of the practice of anthropology and local expressions of cultural identity on Yam Island are examined in this thesis. Through bringing together diverse data, I provide a loose 're-construction' of Tudu-Yam society during the proto-colonial era, and explore the ways in which the adoption of new ideas and practices, and the retention of others has occurred. By combining these views and perspectives I present an image of how the Kulkalgal of Tudu-Yam islands managed the forces of colonial expansion and consolidation in their region. I demonstrate how the Kulkalgal shifted in their self-identifications from being Tudu Islanders and warriors, clan members and cult members, to Yam Islanders whose places in their physical and social worlds are negotiated as kin or affines, males or females, the living or the dead.

The ways in which I understand Yam Islanders to perceive their past, and to consider certain moments to have been more significant, and the ways in which these self-reflections are transformed into contemporary affirmations of self-hood, constitute the crux of this thesis. In essence, the identity they chose to portray to myself as the anthropologist, is what is described and discussed herein. Despite the multiple impacts of colonisation on Yam Island people and their marginal integration into the Australian political economy, some continuity between the past and the present has been maintained. Their continuing use of areas and reworking of old stories are reliable indicators of the salience of meaning implicit in these places and narratives. To be a Yam Island person is to know how to inhabit a specific social and physical universe.

The identity which they have constructed from a synthesis of the past and the present, is theirs alone. Their contemporary identity reflects the long-term processes of retention, incorporation, synthesis and reworking of ideas and practices. This identity remains essentially inaccessible to others and provides a base from which Yam Islanders encounter and act in the world. These perceptions and images continue to provide a yardstick by which Yam Island people can evaluate, measure and comment upon the direction of their own lives. This is especially so in the manner in which they represented their selves to the anthropologist, and their requirement that these representations constitute the predominant focus of the thesis.

This thesis, as text, represents my response to the majority of voices on Yam Island, and to the voices from within the academy which reflect on the anthropological experience, address issues of fieldwork and the production of texts, and showcase the essential connection between practice and ethics, self and other.

Item ID: 8810
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Torres Strait Islanders, Yam Island, Kulkalgal people, Tudu Island, self-image, self-reflection, self-representation, identity, history, narratives, culture contact, social conditions, kinship, families, ceremonies, death, mourning, anthropological practice, field work
Date Deposited: 15 Apr 2010 22:54
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2002 Cultural Studies > 200201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies @ 60%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1601 Anthropology > 160104 Social and Cultural Anthropology @ 40%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 100%
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