Wednesday, June 25, 2014

When Islam came to Australia

Janak Rogers
June 24, 2014.

Few Australians are aware that the country's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples had regular contact with foreign Muslims long before the arrival of Christian colonisers. And Islam continues to exercise an appeal for some Aboriginal peoples today, writes Janak Rogers.

The white lines are faint but unmistakable. Small sailing boats, picked out in white and yellow pigment on the red rocks of the Wellington Range in Arnhem Land, northern Australia, tell a different story from the one most Australians accept as the history of their nation.

They are traditional Indonesian boats known as praus and they brought Muslim fishermen from the flourishing trading city of Makassar in search of trepang, or sea cucumbers.

Exactly when the Makassans first arrived is uncertain.

Some historians say it was in the 1750s, but radiocarbon dating of beeswax figures superimposed on the cave paintings suggests that it was much earlier - one of the figures appears to have been made before 1664, perhaps as early as the 1500s.
 A cave painting of an Indonesian prau, found in Arnhem Land
They apparently made annual trips to gather the sea cucumbers, which fetched a high price because of their important role in Chinese medicine and cuisine.

The Makasssans represent Australia's first attempt at international relations, according to anthropologist John Bradley from Melbourne's Monash University - and it was a success. "They traded together. It was fair - there was no racial judgement, no race policy," he says.

Quite a contrast to the British. Britain designated the country terra nullius - land belonging to no-one - and therefore colonised the country without a treaty or any recognition of the rights of indigenous people to their land.

Some Makassan cucumber traders stayed, married Aboriginal women and left a lasting religious and cultural legacy in Australia. Alongside the cave paintings and other Aboriginal art, Islamic beliefs influenced Aboriginal mythology.

"If you go to north-east Arnhem Land there is [a trace of Islam] in song, it is there in painting, it is there in dance, it is there in funeral rituals," says Bradley. "It is patently obvious that there are borrowed items. With linguistic analysis as well, you're hearing hymns to Allah, or at least certain prayers to Allah."
Read the rest here.
Comment: "You live and learn" like my landlady Nancy in Baltimore used to tell me in the late 90s.  I did not know anything about Muslims in what is now Australia before white colonization.

I am not surprised though. 

About 15 years ago I met a Native Indian brother in the US who told me about Muslims who travelled to what is the US now before white colonization - or, before Columbus 'discovered' the Americas.

He spoke about the influence of Islam on Indians somewhere - and about intermarriage - but I never followed up.  Well once I looked for literature on what he told me but I did not find any online.

If you know more please do tell.



cosmicyoruba said...

About 15 years ago I met a Native Indian brother in the US who told me about Muslims who travelled to what is the US now before white colonization - or, before Columbus 'discovered' the Americas.

I have heard about this too. Haven't come across much in the way of literature on the topic, I believe I first came across mention of Malian Muslims reaching the Americans in the huge book on African history "When We Ruled". I think I've come across on article, also on the BBC that mentioned there been oral history that testified to this voyage. I don't have any links though, this was several years ago.

Ridwan said...

Slm Cosmicyoruba.

Thanks for your comment. I will look for 'When We Ruled'. It is an interesting bit of historical information which may give us a greater understanding of the movement of Africans - and Muslims - in the time before European colonization.

Van Sertima's book 'They Came befor Columbus' may also have some possible references.

Trust you are well.