Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Ephraim Bani: 1944-2004

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Ephraim Bani: 1944-2004

Article excerpt

Barry Alpher () writes:

Ephraim began the linguistics part of his career with his collaboration with Terry Klokeid in 1970. This resulted in a series of papers in a volume co-edited by Bani and Klokeid (1971; Bani 1971a-d; Bani & Paipai 1971), which comprised the first linguistically informed descriptive treatment of Western Torres Strait Island Language (Kala Lagaw Ya), and the first treatment of an indigenous language of Australia by a native speaker, involving the creation of terms in Kala Lagaw Ya for the concepts involved in grammatical analysis. Ephraim continued this work with a paper for the 1974 conference of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies (Bani 1976); other papers resulting from his collaboration with Klokeid appeared in 1977, 1979, and 1981. Later in 1974, Ephraim enrolled as a student (later a teacher) at the nascent School of Australian Linguistics in Darwin (later Batchelor). At that time he developed the beginnings of his analyses of grammatical gender and of adverbials of space in Kala Lagaw Ya. These were published later as 'Garka a ipika' (1987) and 'The morphodirectional sphere' (2001). The former was the first, and is to date the only, treatment of grammar and semantics of an indigenous Australian language written in that language and published in a refereed journal.

One of this paper's referees, while strongly favouring contributions by linguistically trained speakers of indigenous languages, thought that these should be, except for the language they were written in, indistinguishable from the contributions of others: in principle (in a kind of thought-experiment), the reader should not be able to guess at the author's ethnicity. The journal, to its everlasting credit, published the paper despite this referee's recommendation. The result is a marvellous contribution to the literature, unconstrained by the narrow stylistic demands of standard scholarly writing in languages with long traditions of literacy yet full of previously unreported information and insights. And, in the very best tradition of scholarly literature, it is empirically falsifiable.

Ephraim's other careers included those of schoolteacher, community leader, artist and grantsman. In his later years, he was a passionate and effective worker for the establishment of the Gab Thui Cultural Centre on Thursday Island (Middleton 2004a,b). Many consider this his most important legacy.

He was intellectually adventurous and a delightful conversationalist, humorist, and man-about-the-world. As a sideline he held a black belt in karate.

Bruce Rigsby, Emeritus Professor of Anthropology, University of Queensland () writes:

In June-August 1970, Geoff O'Grady and Terry Klokeid spent some weeks doing linguistic fieldwork at Bamaga (near the tip of Cape York Peninsula) and nearby Thursday Island. O'Grady went to Bamaga to continue work on Umpila and Kuuku Ya'u, closely related dialects of a language-complex, which he had started in the late 1950s in Sydney with the late Johnny Butcher. Klokeid met a remarkable man on TI, Ephraim Bani (from Mabuiag Island), and they began collaborative linguistic work on the Western Torres Strait Island Language or Kala Lagaw Ya. Ephraim was then 26 years old, and he had been working as a pearl-shell sorter. Ephraim and Terry wrote several items together (Bani & Klokeid 1971, 1975, 1976), and they developed an excellent practical orthography for the language.

In August 1972, my family and I went north to Bamaga for four months to do linguistic fieldwork with some Lamalama people who had been removed there from their homelands in the lower Princess Charlotte Bay. I took a copy of Bani and Klokeid (1971) with me. A few weeks after our arrival, we attended the Bamaga Show, organised by the local state school, and I recall that a smiling Islander man came up and introduced himself, his wife and young son to my wife and me. …

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