Teaching trepang and tradition

When fleets of Macassan boats dropped anchor off Arnhem Land to harvest trepang (sea cucumber) the Indonesian fishermen could not have imagined a coastal gathering of 21st Century schoolchildren curious about their local impact.

In a Learning on Country excursion, Year 4/5/6 students from Alyangula Area School travelled to Umbakumba to learn about the Indonesian trepangers who visited Groote Eylandt to collect and process the marine creature.

The students’ teacher, Sophie Moncrieff, said the children met traditional owners Edna Bara, Roderick Mamarika, Judy Bara and Josephine Bara to learn about the history of Macassan people trading yungwala (trepang) for rice, knives, axes and tobacco.

“The children made Paperbark ajamurnda (coolamon, or carrying baskets) traditionally used to store trepang, and transport food and water,” she said.

“They also learnt about the wet season Barra — or northwest wind that helped blow the prau (Macassan boats) here — and the dry season Mamarika, or southeast wind that blew the boats home again.

“Roderick shared stories passed on from his father and grandfather about their memories of elders meeting with the Macassans.

“At the time, woven mats were laid at the water’s edge to negotiate trade deals for their clan.”

Ms Moncrieff said many students are familiar with Groote Eylandt rock art galleries depicting dugout canoes and sailing boats.

Learning on Country coordinator Roger Fernandes regularly meets traditional owners and land and sea rangers to provide opportunities to increase students’ knowledge about local history.

Tamarind trees brought by the Macassan visitors can be seen on the island.

Teaching trepang and tradition

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