Found in Translation
Many Meanings on a North Australian Mission
Found in Translation is a rich account of language and shifting cross-cultural relations on a Christian mission in northern Australia during the mid-twentieth century. It explores how translation shaped interactions between missionaries and the Anindilyakwa-speaking people of the Groote Eylandt archipelago and how each group used language to influence, evade, or engage with the other in a series of selective “mistranslations.” In particular, this work traces the Angurugu mission from its establishment by the Church Missionary Society in 1943, through Australia’s era of assimilation policy in the 1950s and 1960s, to the introduction of a self-determination policy and bilingual education in 1973. While translation has typically been an instrument of colonization, this book shows that the ambiguities it creates have given Indigenous people opportunities to reinterpret colonization’s position in their lives.
Laura Rademaker combines oral history interviews with careful archival research and innovative interdisciplinary findings to present a fresh, cross-cultural perspective on Angurugu mission life. Exploring spoken language and sound, the translation of Christian scripture and songs, the imposition of English literacy, and Aboriginal singing traditions, she reveals the complexities of the encounters between the missionaries and Aboriginal people in a subtle and sophisticated analysis. Rademaker uses language as a lens, delving into issues of identity and the competition to name, own, and control. In its efforts to shape the Anindilyakwa people’s beliefs, the Church Missionary Society utilized language both by teaching English and by translating Biblical texts into the native tongue. Yet missionaries relied heavily on Anindilyakwa interpreters, whose varied translation styles and choices resulted in an unforeseen Indigenous impact on how the mission’s messages were received. From Groote Eylandt and the peculiarities of the Australian settler-colonial context, Found in Translation broadens its scope to cast light on themes common throughout Pacific mission history such as assimilation policies, cultural exchanges, and the phenomenon of colonization itself.
This book will appeal to Indigenous studies scholars across the Pacific as well as scholars of Australian history, religion, linguistics, anthropology, and missiology.
Grounded in a deep appreciation of the local landscape, social organization, and cultural persistence of the Anindilyakwa people, this work offers a sensitive treatment of the relationships between language, power, and identity. It is a fascinating read, offering a deep history of a particular set of cultural struggles, while simultaneously illuminating a broad range of intellectual questions about language, indigeneity, and colonialism across the Pacific.
Laura Rademaker presents here an impressive piece of scholarship—an insightful and nuanced analysis grounded in meticulous research and extensive contextual literature. Clearly a sympathetic interviewer, Rademaker elicited invaluable narratives from mission residents, both Anindilyakwa and ex-missionary, to form the core of this original study. This book makes a substantial interdisciplinary contribution to the history of encounters of Anglican missionaries and Aboriginal people in Australia.
Functioning both as a metaphor and a focus for concrete historical investigation, Rademaker’s interest in translation proves an inspired choice. While delving into the specifics of intercultural contact on Groote Eylandt, this generous interdisciplinary work thoughtfully illuminates wider themes. Readers will learn about the history of missions, midcentury assimilation policy, the phenomenon of settler colonialism and an Indigenous people’s efforts to negotiate its impact – all while appreciating Rademaker’s dazzling use of oral history and glowing prose.
In this account, Rademaker moves beyond the narrative of the colonizer and the colonized, beyond the idea of victimhood, by highlighting the complexities of real relationships between people and how these relationships shifted during the last century. Despite the book’s Australian focus, its themes are likely to resonate with experiences of mission and colonization in the Pacific Islands more broadly.
Rademaker’s mature and very well researched analysis of the history of mission in nineteenth-century colonial Australia is both insightful and comprehensive. She is right to position this history within the broader context of missions to the Pacific Islands as Sydney became the hub for these networks. . . . Rademaker has brought this history to life with a sure and confident touch rare in such a young scholar. . . . [She] brings her wide reading and deep knowledge to produce a significant contribution to Aboriginal history and the analysis of mission. This is an important book and a true crosscultural study.
Throughout her account, Rademaker shows that Anindilyakwa people—whether they identified as Christian or not—repeatedly refused to allow their language and law to be reduced by translation to the categories that the missionaries introduced. Through this refusal, Anindilyakwa people asserted the ontological primacy of their ways of knowing. In this sense—although Rademaker does not use precisely these terms—this book is a powerful account of Anindilyakwa sovereignty.
Rademaker’s poignant and sometimes unsettling account of cross-cultural exchange reflects her ability and willingness to go beyond binary descriptions of the missionary-Indigenous encounter. . . . This book provides insight into Australian history, colonialism, mission history, translation, and religion. . . . Rademaker has produced a detailed and nuanced ethnographic account of the Anindilyakwa and missionary encounter. She not only interviewed and interacted with the Anindilyakwa people, but also gathered ethnographic data from current and former missionaries and government representatives.
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