Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

BlackWords and 'Reciprocal Recognitions'

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

BlackWords and 'Reciprocal Recognitions'

Article excerpt

Abstract: BlackWords: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Writers and Storytellers is a digital humanities, online literature resource devoted to the creative writing and oral storytelling of Aboriginal Australians. BlackWords was established by Aboriginal writers and scholars in 2007, and in 2013 AIATSIS began a major new project in BlackWords. An academically rigorous vehicle for the researching and teaching of Aboriginal literature and orature, the value of BlackWords lies in the great cultural and political importance of the literature emergent since the 1960s, and in the central role storytelling has for millennia played in traditionally oral Aboriginal cultures. AIATSIS' new BlackWords project, Aboriginal Literatures, Stories and Languages, combines academic and community research to develop education and research 'trails' about the stories and literatures of distinct language groups in a series of politico-historical contexts, and with particular reference to the aesthetic and political significance of the use of traditional Australian languages, pidgins, creoles and Aboriginal Englishes. The aims of the project include supporting the integration of the stories and literatures into the curriculum, and their role in language revival and the resilience of Aboriginal peoples, which is uniquely bound up with their connectedness to the languages.

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BlackWords (1) is a significant digital humanities resource for researching, teaching and supporting Aboriginal literature and orature and its involvement in the 'battle for the creation of a human world--that is, a world of reciprocal recognitions' (Fanon 1967 [1952]:218) by countering the occlusion or demeaning representation of Aboriginality in much non-Aboriginal-authored work. Most literary representations of Aboriginal people have been by non-Aboriginal authors and have often filled 'Indigenous people with shame' (Scott 2003:i), constructing essentialist representations of black people as barbarians (Bourdieu et al. in Langton 2003a:83; see also Langton 2003b), representations that have served as 'an imperial alibi for domination' (Cheyfitz 1991:10). It was not until the 1960s that Aboriginal literary production began to emerge and contest the 'unequal and uneven forces of cultural representation involved in the contest for political and social authority' (Bhabha 2005 [1994]:245).

In contrast to much of the European literature, Aboriginal writers generally attempt faithful representations of the diverse experiences and realities of their peoples. Unifying themes in heterogeneous Aboriginal writing, across authors of diverse religious beliefs and secular perspectives, and from remote, regional and urban locations, include the political view that their land was invaded and occupied by the British and ensuing migration, a concern with disclosing the silences in the official historical records, and a definitive sense of connection to ancestral homelands and community (Leane 2012). In Australia's 'Fourth World Literature' the black 'nation within a nation' (Shoemaker 2004[1989]:1-15) speaks back to the neocolonial discourses that erase or distort it; the black subject speaks against eugenics and guns, for example, or the crippling political, administrative and legal regimes imposed upon them, puncturing Orientalist mythologies about the native 'other' (2) and defining their own identities, histories and aspirations.

BlackWords contains comprehensive, authoritative records of Aboriginal writers and their works in all forms and genres of creative writing for the page, stage and screen, and of the storytellers and their stories that are so fundamental to the cultural and social fabric of the communities. BlackWords also provides thematic research and education 'trails' that group together authors, storytellers and works with shared or comparable preoccupations. AIATSIS' new project in BlackWords, Aboriginal Literatures, Stories and Languages, offers thematic research and education trails that succinctly explore the works and lives of writers and storytellers from distinct language groups in a series of politico-historical contexts, with particular reference to the creative and political use, or absence, of Aboriginal Englishes, creoles, pidgins and ancestral languages. …

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