Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Aboriginal Vernacular Names of Australian Cycads of Macrozamia, Bowenia and Lepidozamia Spp.: A Response to "Cycads in the Vernacular: A Compendium of Local Names"

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Aboriginal Vernacular Names of Australian Cycads of Macrozamia, Bowenia and Lepidozamia Spp.: A Response to "Cycads in the Vernacular: A Compendium of Local Names"

Article excerpt

Abstract: In 2007 Bonta and Osborne published "Cycads in the vernacular: A compendium of local names" in which they concluded that, in contrast to other cycads around the world, very few names and meanings had been documented for Australian Macrozamia species. This paper, aims to better document the cycad species utilised by Aboriginal people for the benefit of researchers in diverse disciplines. It draws on information contained in primary sources and many early historic documents to present Aboriginal names and meanings for various species of Bowenia, Lepidozamia and Macrozamia in Australia, to clarify the names of some Australian species, and to provide additional names for species and plant components not included in the compendium. In addition, it compares patterns in the meanings of names in Australia to those used overseas, finding similarities and differences. By providing a more comprehensive synthesis of information on Indigenous names and meanings of these three genera, the paper demonstrates that the gap identified by Bonta and Osborne is more apparent than real, and highlights the value of cross-disciplinary collaboration in ethnohistorical, ethnobotanical, linguistic, anthropological and archaeological research.

Introduction

Biologists, anthropologists, ethnobotanists and archaeologists have long been fascinated by cycads, an ancient group of comparatively rare plants (Beck and Webb 1991; Beck et al. 1988; Bonta et al. 2006; Cox 2004; Jones 1998; Theiret 1958; Whitelock 2002; Whiting 1963, 1989). Cycads, seed plants resembling palm trees or tree ferns, vary in height from centimetres to metres, grow slowly but are long lived, and produce toxic seeds. The order Cycadales comprises three families (Cycadaceae, Stangeriaceae and Zamiaceae), and 11 genera (Cycas, Stangeria, Bowenia, Dioon, Encephalartos, Macrozamia, Lepidozamia, Ceratozamia, Microcycas, Zamia and Chigua) (Stevenson 1992). Plants grow in tropical and subtropical parts of the world, including the Americas, United States, Australia, Asia, Japan, India and Africa. Bowenia, Macrozamia and Lepidozamia are endemic to Australia, while Cycas species (spp.) also grow overseas. Cycad plants have been utilised by Indigenous peoples in many parts of the world, and researchers have been particularly interested in the relationships between people and these toxic plants. Considerations of past Aboriginal use of Macrozamia seeds have played an important role in debates in Australian archaeology, with arguments that they may have underwritten large-scale gatherings associated with the intensification of socio-political complexity in the past 5000 years (Lourandos 1997; see also Asmussen 2008).

Reflecting this interest, and 'using all available cycad literature', Bonta and Osborne (2007:1) published a worldwide review, 'Cycads in the vernacular: A compendium of local names', in which they 'compiled a table of scientific names, localities, languages, vernacular names and where known, translations into English'. The compendium stemmed from the authors' interest in cycad systematics, and the recognition that, although a comprehensive scientific body of literature existed, an equivalent list of 'folk taxonomies' and 'cultural meanings' was lacking. Also recognised was that a compendium of Indigenous names would be beneficial for science by demonstrating the importance of traditional, ethnobotanical knowledge systems, allowing a common language to be spoken between Indigenous peoples, locals and a scientific outsider, and enhancing Western understandings of these traditionally utilised plants. Benefits for cycad conservation were also identified--a common language would facilitate scientists locating current and historic plant populations, some of which are threatened or endangered, and generate village level protection of populations. The authors produced a 23-page document, including a table of scientific names, localities and vernacular names of African, American, Asian and Oceanic cycads. …

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