I went second-hand book shopping today, at some local Saturday markets. I usually don’t find anything worthwhile – perhaps some Penguin 20th Century Classic going for 8 bucks a pop – but today I found a rare treat.

It looked like an old, 1970s collection of psuedigenous stories, of the sort that claims to be ‘Authentic Aboriginal’, but provides no clue as to where they’re from or which language they would have originally been told in. Being interested nonetheless, I picked it up and had a perusal.

I was rather surprised as it was a collection of transcribed songs and poems each presented in full in both the originating language and English. It was clearly the sort of thing you could spend half your life looking for and never find, so I resolved to pay whatever exorbitant price the seller was asking.

Six bucks – bargain!

I just put it on my LibraryThing collection and found that there’s one other person listed who has it; none other than Claire.

Anyway, the book is called The honey-ant men’s love song and other Aboriginal song poems edited by Bob Dixon (of course) and Martin Duwell. The title of this post is the name of the Anmatjarra song after which the book is named. It is an epic piece of 65 verses, complete with notes. I’ll give you a teaser:

Nyanuwa, januwaji,

Narrumpa jilina,

Lover, lover,
Snared, entrapped.

Close-cousin loved,
Forbidden love.

The underlying meaning of this relies in understanding the kinship system, which is way too complicated to go into now again, but basically ‘mother-in-law’ shouldn’t be taken as the English translation but more like ‘person with whom marriage is forbidden’.  Wild (the researcher)’s note accompanying these two lines reads as follows:

Verses 29 and 30 convey the fact that love ceremonies may result in illicit or immoral unions, either between a man and a woman, who is in the relationship of mother-in-law to him, or between a man and a woman who are genealogically close cross-cousins (father’s sister’s daughter/son or mother’s brother’s daughter/son), In the latter case, genealogically distant cross-cousins, that is those who call each other “cross-cousin” but cannot trace an actual genealogical relationship, may legitimately marry, but sexual relations between close cross-cousins are forbidden.