Margaret Kemarre Turner on language

“The Land needs words. Otherwise, if we didn’t have language to speak with, we’d only have the thoughts that are inside our head. We’d have thoughts, but what good are they without the words to bring them out, so that we can tell each other what those thoughts are, sing our songs, and tell our Stories? So the Land needs words . . .
It’s not only words that’s sacred but also it comes from our own Land, and comes from our Ancestors. It’s a gift from that Land for the people who join into that Land – fathers, and brothers, and sisters, and brothersin-law, and also our children. We come from the Land, and the language comes from the Land. And everything that grows from the Land, it really relates to our language as well. Like the hills, creeks, trees, and water. Because they got all the names from the Land. Everything’s got a name for it, even ant. Every different ant, every different bird’s got a name. Every bird talks different languages, and that comes from the trees from our Land. All the time we relate to the birds’ words and the birds’ message as well as our own language. Akarre is a sacred tongue because it comes from the Land and it’s part of us, and because we use it to do things, to say things – give messages, bring out things, you know.
Ane akaltye anthurre angkentye ikwerenheke. Ane angkentye itethe atnerte mpwepe-arenye apeke re. And that person knows his language, and he knows that his language is born out of the living flesh of that Land.
. . . it’s rooted in your relationships from Creation, in your kinship that cycles from then and there onwards and onwards. Language is just like a root from the tree, ’cause that language is spoken not only unte, it’s spoken by ngkwenge artweyele, ngkwenge artweye atherrele, ikwere artweye atherrele, and ikwereke artweyeke artweye atherrele angkentyeke. Not only you speak that language, but generation upon generation upon generation of your families have also spoken it. And so language is really, really important. Your own language. And that language really recognises you, gives you identity, and who you are and what is you, and how you’re connected to that Land, and how you hold the Land, alakenhakweye. Angkentye ngkwinhe. Yanhe-anteareyele rarle angkentye-arle antirrkweme, those are the things that the language connects and holds. What is to be yourself.”

(Margaret Kemarre Turner, Arrernte elder)
The painting is from M. K. Turner’s “bush banana”.

Language is one of the four pillars of Kurdiji, alongside law, ceremony and kinship. Warlpiri elders are creating an app to reconnect young Indigenous people with Kurdiji ideas, to strengthen resilience and prevent suicides. You can support them by donating at and sharing the campaign.


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