Born, signed and named

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The rich literature on traditional naming practices in Australia has tended to take a static perspective, yet naming systems can respond in interesting ways to social change. For the Bentinck Islanders (Kaiadilt; language spelled Kayardild) of the South Wellesley Islands in the Gulf of Carpentaria, Queensland, the system of naming is intimately connected to the system of country tenure. Traditionally all three types of name (birth-place, conception and lineage names) had implications for country ownership. Since 1940 the Bentinck Islanders have gone through several radical changes in their location and social structure. They were evacuated from their own country by missionaries to Mornington Island, sought to establish new relations with the Mornington people, began to make short-term visits back to the South Wellesleys in the 1980s, and since have begun to reestablish permanent outstations on their own country. Systems of naming practices have undergone interesting changes over this period. This paper traces the interconnections between these changes in naming systems, cultures of connection to country, and the practicalities of securing and maintaining a land-based identity against the powerful outside forces which have impinged upon the lives of Bentinck Islanders since mission contact.


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