August 13, 2014

Bla olgamen

Today is the first anniversary of the passing of Mrs F. Roberts, the old lady who taught me more Marra than anyone else in the world. She was awesome. I miss her and it makes me so sad that the world is a lesser place without her in it. 

She was born c1930 at Limmen Bight and passed away August 13, 2013 surrounded by family at Ngukurr. She arrived at the Roper River Mission as a young girl speaking only traditional languages, including her own language Marra. She went on to become a senior health worker at the local clinic and worked there for decades. After she retired, she started doing more language work and I started working with her in 2005. Her knowledge of Marra was spectacular and she could read and write it well too. She also spoke Yanyuwa and Nunggubuyu. I loved working with her and feel so priveleged to have learned some Marra from her. She was absolutely integral to my PhD research. She was the last person in Ngukurr who is a fully-fluent first language speaker of Marra. Without her around, the Marra language has become even quieter, to an even more heartbreaking degree. May she rest in peace and her language and legacy live on forever. Below are a few words I gave at her funeral:

Ai nimin sabi dis olgamen wen imin helth weka ba yumob. Ai bin oni sabi im afta imin ritaiya en imin stat weking la Langgus Senta. Bat imin so humble det olgamen, ainimin sabi streitawei det imin sabi im langgus, Marra, rait thru. Ainimin sabi hau speshul dis olgamen was.

Antil wandei, wan important olmen from Darwin bin gaman. Im neim Ted Egan en imin Administrator blanga NT. Imin wandi jidan garrim dis olgamen en irrim im stori. Det olmen Ted bin askim im ba tok olawei burru Marra.

Ai nimin sabi det taim, det dis olgamen im yiligarri ba langgus. Bat ai bin gedashok wen imin tok Marra rait thru en dalim det olmen lilwan stori bla im laif. Dijan na sambala wed imin tok la det olmen:

Gana ginya n-Marra gana ngarl-ngamanji: ngina, gana ginya n-daway.
            Ngula na-munanga gana… marluy.
            Bigana nimbirr-jangani wala wul-agagurr.

En det wed im min: dijan Marra mi toking, bla main langgus dijan iya. Munanga kaan digidawei, najing. Dumaji mi dalimbat ola biginini.

From det dei, wen imin tok lagijat la Ted Egan, ai bin sabi hau speshul dis olgamen is. Det yiya bin 2006, seven years ago.

En didei aim jis very happy det ai bin get to know dis olgamen en det ai bin abu tjens ba len lilbit Marra burru im. Imin duwum lorra wek bla langgus. Imin gu la skul titjimbat Marra. Mela bin oldei hambag la im, bobala, ba tok burrum Marra, pudumdan najawan stori. Wi bin rekodim lorra stori bla im, so im langgus im gin kipgon.

Bat stil, ai sabi wi kaan faindim natha olgamen laik im. En mi so sad didei, ba tok wan las taim la im: guda mingi.

Translation: I didn't know this old lady when she was your health worker. I only knew her after she retired and started working at the Language Centre. But she was so humble. Initially, I didn't realise that she spoke her language Marra fully fluenlty. I didn't realise how special she was. 

Until one day, an important man from Darwin came. His name was Ted Egan and he was the administrator of the Northern Territory. He wanted to sit with this old lady and listen to her story. Ted Egan asked her to speak only in Marra. 

At the time, I didn't know that this old lady was a Marra expert. I was taken aback when I heard her speak only in Marra and tell that old man (Ted Egan) a short story about her life. Here are some of the words she said to him:
Gana ginya n-Marra gana ngarl-ngamanji: ngina, gana ginya n-daway.Ngula na-munanga gana… marluy.Bigana nimbirr-jangani wala wul-agagurr.
And those words mean: This here is Marra I am speaking: it's mine, this language. Europeans can't take it away from me, no. Because I'm teaching the children.

Since that day, when she spoke to Ted Egan like that, I knew how special this old lady is. That was in 2006, seven years ago.

And today, I'm just very happy that I got to know this old lady and had the chance to learn some Marra from her. She did a lot of language work. She taught Marra in the school. We would always bug her, poor thing, to speak Marra and record another story. We recorded a lot of her stories, so her language can continue.

But I know we won't find another elder like her. And I'm very sad today to say to her one last time "guda mingi" (goodbye).