A Novel Approach to Tradition: Torres Strait Islanders and Ion Idriess

Fuary, Maureen (1997) A Novel Approach to Tradition: Torres Strait Islanders and Ion Idriess. Australian Journal of Anthropology, 8 (1). pp. 247-258.

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This paper considers the significance of the novel Drums of Mer (1941) in contemporary Torres Strait Islanders’ lives. Its use as narrative by many Islanders today constitutes one means by which men especially have come to know themselves, white others, and their past. In particular, I explore the ways in which this story appeals to and is appealed to by Yam Island people. Contrary to literary deconstmctions of Idriess’s representations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, my paper argues that in seriously attending to Torres Strait readings of Drums of Mer we can see that for contemporary Islander readers, it is not themselves who are other but rather the white protagonists.

I employ Said’s (1994) notion of ‘cultural overlap’ and de Certeau’s (1988)understandings of reading and writing as ‘everyday practices’ to frame my analysis of the differing impacts of the historical novel, Drums of Mer, and the Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expedition to Torres Straits. It is through story telling that Yam Island selves are placed in the past and the present, and in Idriess’s memorable story a similar effect is achieved. In his novel approach, the past becomes his-story, a romanticised refraction of the Reports. Unlike the Reports, this novel is a sensual rendering of a Torres Strait past, and at this level it operates as a mnemonic device for Yam Island people, triggering memories and the imagination through the senses. This Torres Strait Islander detour by way of a past via a story, can be understood as a means by which Yam Island people continue to actively produce powerful images of themselves, for both themselves and for others.

Item ID: 5214
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1757-6547
Keywords: Torres Strait, narrative, Ion Idriess, anthropology
Date Deposited: 09 Sep 2009 03:35
FoR Codes: 20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2002 Cultural Studies > 200201 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Studies @ 100%
SEO Codes: 97 EXPANDING KNOWLEDGE > 970116 Expanding Knowledge through Studies of Human Society @ 100%
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