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Wangga: The Linguistic and Typological Evidence for the Sources of the Outrigger Canoes of Torres Strait and Cape York Peninsula.

BP    Before Present
CYP   Cape York Peninsula
GYim  Guugu Yimidhirr, a Paman language of southeast CYP
ISEA  Island South East Asia
PMP   Proto Malayo-Polynesian
POc   Proto Oceanic
PPT   Proto-Papuan Tip
PT    Papuan Tip languages, a subgroup of Oceanic languages of the
      Central District of Papua and the Massim region in the eastern
      tail and islands of Papua
TS    Torres Strait
WCL   The West-Central Language of Torres Strait inclusive of all
      dialects such as Kala Yagaw Ya, Kala Kawaw Ya, and Kaurareg

For readers unfamiliar with linguistic conventions, an asterisk
(e.g.*w[a.sup.[eta]]ga) before a word indicates that it is a
reconstructed proto-form. Square brackets (e.g. [wak:a]) represent the
phonetic form, distinct from italicized phonemic forms (e.g. waga), and
colon denotes length. In Oceanic words r represents an alveolar flap,
but in Pama-Nyungan words r represents a retroflex glide similar to
English r, while rr represents an alveolar flap or trill.

For present purposes Cape York will mean the top of Cape York Peninsula
north of Newcastle Bay. Gudang is originally the name of one group in
this area, although it is now locally used as an umbrella label for
that group and several others in 19th century records such as
Kuukirayga, Kachalayga, Yaragalayga, Unduyam(u) and Gumakudiny (Brierly
1848-50, Kennett 1868, both in Moore 1979). Near Oceania consists of
New Guinea and eastward island chains as far as the Solomon Islands.
Papuan refers to non-Austronesian languages and their speakers in Near
Oceania and in eastern Indonesia. The Sandbeach region is the east
coast of Cape York Peninsula south of Newcastle Bay to Stewart River.
Pama-Nyungan, generally considered a single family of Australian
languages, occupies some 80% of the continent (McConvell 1996). Paman
is the subgroup of this family occupying Cape York Peninsula.


While many of the Oceanic material culture elements in Cape York Peninsula (CYP) and Torres Strait (TS) result from diffusion via speakers of Trans-Fly Papuan languages adjacent to the Strait, I show here that there has to have also been direct contact with Austronesian speakers, the material culture and linguistic signature of which is the Austronesian canoes and loan words of the CYP-TS region.

I first discuss the single outrigger canoes of southeast CYP, with evidence drawn from their structural traits and accompanying terminology to show that speakers of the Papuan Tip (PT) subgroup of Oceanic languages of the Central District of Papua and the Massim region in the eastern tail and islands of Papua were the direct source of these canoes. I then examine the double outrigger canoes of the rest of CYP and TS, and adduce that the simpler variants of the Sandbeach and western CYP coasts on which the outrigger floats were directly lashed to the booms are the likely earliest type. Evidence is then introduced to show that the complex double outriggers of Cape York, and especially those of TS--the largest and finest canoes for hundreds of kilometres in any direction--incorporate later refinements from the PT region, including indirect attachment of the float, a deck, and large sails. The paper concludes by suggesting that accidental drift voyaging cannot alone account for all this, especially the diversity of these canoes, and that episodic interest by Austronesian speakers in the small islands of CYP and TS and their resources is implicated.

Canoes have a special bearing on whether other technology such as shell fishhooks, or the taboo words to be discussed in a forthcoming edition of Oceania, belong to ancient Sahul substrata or arrived later from Oceania. If the latter, they have to have come in canoes.

The comparative method of historical linguistics provides a tool by which to adduce the likely contact languages for Austronesian loan words in TS-CYP. Material culture is important co-evidence because of its materiality, that is, the canoes are visible evidence that interaction substantive enough to transfer a complex technology, and in diverse forms, occurred. This is the more striking given the distance between the TS-CYP region and the major distributions of the outrigger canoe complex in Island South East Asia (ISEA) and Oceania. TS-CYP lies between these two arms of Austronesian expansion which, by 3,000 years ago, had curved around the west and east ends of New Guinea, but never filled in the wide gaps of marshy coast either side of TS. This means these canoes cannot be accounted for by relay diffusion from Trans-Fly Papua, and it is likely the other way around, while the single outriggers of fully Oceanic type of southeast CYP indicate direct Oceanic contacts independent of whatever occurred in TS.


For Australianists unfamiliar with Austronesian prehistory, or with that of TS and those parts of CYP engaged with it, I provide a thumbnail sketch of the picture emerging from archaeological and linguistic reconstruction. (1)

Neolithic Austronesians who migrated from aboriginal Taiwan to the northern Philippines ca. 4000 BP are the immediate source of the Malayo-Polynesian subgroup of Austronesian languages of southeast Asia, Oceania, and Madagascar. From the northern Philippines, speakers of early forms of these languages expanded rapidly throughout the Philippines and western Indonesia, colonized Maluku by ca. 3500 BP, struck out into the open Pacific to the Mariana Islands at dates variably calculated between 3500 and 3085 BP, and appeared in the Bismarck Archipelago lying off the northeast of New Guinea in the period 3350-3250 BP. (2) The Oceanic subgroup of Malayo-Polynesian emerged in its proto-language phase in the Bismarcks in association with the 'Lapita cultural complex,' whose best-known archaeological signature is the dentate-stamped and white-infill ceramics known as Lapita-ware, along with extreme littoral villages, jar burials, and a distinctive suite of shell tools, shell valuables, and Bismarck obsidian and other trade-circulated lithics. This assemblage connects Lapita archaeologically with the Philippines, northeast Indonesia, and the Marianas, and so do the human genetics, while comparison of the Proto Malayo-Polynesian (PMP) and Proto Oceanic (POc) lexicons similarly attests to a sea-borne material culture and language package highly continuous between the Lapita complex and its ISEA precursors. (3) The nearest extant ISEA relatives of POc are languages in northeast Indonesia, specifically Halmahera and west New Guinea's Cenderawasih Bay. (4)

From the Bismarcks, bearers of Lapita developed a strong south-eastward trajectory, and in a period of 250 years or less occupied the previously uninhabited islands of Vanuatu, New Caledonia, Fiji, and western Polynesia. Others diffused around littoral eastern New Guinea, including the forebears of speakers of the present PT subgroup of Oceanic languages who colonized both the Massim region--the Louisiade and Trobriand Islands and the mainland tail of Papua--and, by ca. 2700-2900 BP, had established settlements in Papua's Central District as far as Cape Possession northwest of Port Moresby. (5)

Meanwhile, on the tropical Queensland coast marine forager sites on the Whitsunday, Keppel, Flinders, and other islands and in TS attest to Australian marine hunting and island occupation by ca. 3800 BP, preceding acquisition of outrigger canoes, with such sites in the western islands of TS dating to ca 3600 BP. (6) Pottery, some of it red-slipped like Lapita-ware, registers influence from eastern Papua whether by settlers, trade, or diffusion by at least ca. 2000 BP, and rock art of Papuan character dating to ca. 1200-1400 BP registers movement of Trans-Fly Papuans onto the islands, probably starting well before these dates (McNiven 2004, 2017).

The linguistic outcome in TS is that WCL has a Pama-Nyungan base with a heavy Papuan lexical and partly typological and phonological overlay. Meriam has an East Trans-Fly base and Gudang a Paman base, and both have a high percentage of loans from WCL, which was a lingua-franca from Mawatta in Papua to Cape York and the Eastern Islands. (7) These languages thus form something approaching a regional Sprachbund. There is also Oceanic and Indonesian input of canoe and ritual terms, and according to Mitchell (2015:342) there are also Austronesian horticulture, mythological, and navigational terms. Sandbeach Paman languages too have WCL loans borrowed in the context of a ceremonial culture that partly overlaps with that of WCL speakers and Trans-Fly groups (see Fig. 1).

The cultural phylogeny outcome is that, despite a history of attempts by writers to draw a line dividing littoral groups of TS and northern CYP into demic 'Papuans' and continentally genericized 'Aborigines', none of these groups is well cast in such tightly scripted roles. They all present Australian and Papuan blends if in varying measures, plus Austronesian influence, a blend that the linguistic situation reflects (Alpher et al. 2008; Mitchell 2015). Within the Strait, gardens and village parochialism were offset by canoe mobility and Australian-like semi-nomadic, seasonally cyclical marine hunting and foraging, and by regional inclusiveness and exchange scripted in affinal links, mythology, and totemic siblinghood common to late Holocene Australia and parts of Melanesia's Oceanic littoral alike. (8)

A distortion in the secondary literature is a presumption that littoral Australian groups had weak marine orientations and skills. This conflicts with eye-witness accounts. For example, the anthropologist Thomson described CYP Sandbeach marine hunters he lived among, and whose clan estates extend out into the sea, notionally to the outer Barrier, (9) as:
... a very distinct type of Australian ... essentially fishermen and
dugong hunters, and often great seafarers ... skilled canoe builders
and navigators [who] make adventurous voyages among the coral reefs and
sand banks of the Great Barrier Reef, in search of dugong and turtle,
and the eggs of turtles and sea birds. (Thomson 1933:457).

Likewise, by Brierly's (1848-50a) (10) account the Gudang and their Cape York neighbours half-lived on their canoes, and Brierly later wrote that:
At Cape York (North Australia) we found the natives had large canoes,
with double outriggers and mat sails, with which they stood boldly out
in a strong breeze with as much sail as our own boats would carry under
the same general circumstances: indeed, the Australians generally upon
all parts of the coast that I have visited, show little fear of the
water... (Brierly 1861).

Coasts that Brierly had visited include southern NSW where he had been impressed by Aboriginal offshore ocean fishing in bark canoes. Austronesian outriggers and harpoons gifted fuller marine specialization to Australian peoples already striving in that direction, as far south as the Whitsunday Islands where harpoons were used with complex, seagoing bark canoes, and where there are also firm early reports of Oceanic outrigger canoes. (11) In my own experience, Sandbeach, Arnhem Land, and southeast CYP people in whose canoes and dinghies I have ridden are cut from the same cloth as those I have ridden with in TS and the Philippines. Their deportment on the water is alike, they all share a seemingly implanted compass, wind gage, and tidal clock and an indifference to salt spray and wind burn in small boats on a rolling sea in pursuit of dugong or turtle.

The most developed marine complex in Queensland arose in TS where, despite a light demography and distance from Austronesian marine trade networks, a related situation arose (compare Lilley 2017 and McNiven 2017), largely enabled by the cargo capacity of big canoes. At early stages in the Strait's prehistory, the Australian-Papuan melting pot has to have been in the mid-western islands. By European contact it was in the Kaurareg Islands--which may represent something of early WCL culture--and at Cape York where the Gudang and their neighbours, while still subject to the continental cultural pulse at their backs, were undergoing island acculturation and borrowing the large canoes of Kaurareg affines (Brierly 1848 in Moore 1979: 100, 103, 198). The Sandbeach and Mapoon coasts too were quite engaged with the Strait and influenced by its culture, while in southeast CYP canoe-based marine specialization developed from a centre near Cape Bedford on the Guugu Yimithirr coast.

The typology of TS and CYP canoes

Most existing accounts of the typology of CYP-TS canoes, including Roth's (1910:13-5) original attempt, are uninformed by the considerable volume of early pictorial data on far northern CYP canoes that I present samples of below, and fail to clearly distinguish them from those of TS. Despite some intermediate forms, five core types can be identified:

Type 1

A single outrigger canoe of 6-9 m in length in southeast CYP from Princess Charlotte Bay to south of Cairns. This canoe featured indirect attachment of multiple booms by pegs embedded in the float. Those between Mossman and Flinders Island had a mat sail.

Type 2

A two-boom double outrigger 6-8 m long, with direct lashed attachment to the float, and boom to hull attachment incorporating thwarts through the gunwales under each boom, to which it was lashed. Distribution was discontinuous, with a Sandbeach variant from Cape Grenville to Port Stewart with four short thwarts, and a continuum of others on the west coast from Mapoon southwards, some with a continuous boom thwart and pegs in the float to keep the lashing from slipping.

Type 3

A complex two-boom double outrigger combining indirect peg and lashed attachment interrupted the distribution of Type 2 from Cape Grenville on the east coast north to Cape York and down the west coast to Mapoon. These were 5 to at least 10 m in length, with a high pointed prow, complex attachment of booms to hull by rails along the gunwales and thwarts, a deck and a hearth, and one to two rectangular sails mounted in the prow on two masts (Brierly 1848 in Moore 1979:30). Wash strakes--boards sewn to the gunwales--and luggage crates on the deck were irregularly used, and the prow or the whole hull were sometimes painted red or red and white. The float was cut high in the centre but raked upward to pointed ends. (12) Overlap and hybridization of this type and Type 2 occurred around Mapoon.

Type 4

This is the complex canoe of TS, including the Trans-Fly coastal villages of Mawatta and Daru where it is still used. Some examples were of enormous size, built on hulls 10-14 m in southern TS and 16-20 m in the eastern islands. The hulls were cut on Dibiri and Wubada islands in the northern Fly River delta and traded to islanders, who fitted them with two boom double outriggers, a deck, luggage crates, a prow splashboard, double sail set in the prow, and usually wash strakes. The booms were each in pairs lashed together over the hull. The float was the same as Type 3 and attached by either two pegs and lashing or four pegs. Red and white paintwork, pandanus streamers, and prow engraving were added. A few small hulls were locally made from Bombax ceiba. The boom-hull attachment included a thwart as in Types 2-3. McNiven (2015) provides a very detailed and richly illustrated description of these canoes.

Type 5

In the Fly Delta and Trans-Fly Oriomo River, a continuum of plain, two-boom single outriggers, with indirect attachment by multiple pegs and often a lashing are part of the Cape York-TS sequence, but I do not cover these canoes in this paper.

Roth (1910:13), the earliest systematic researcher, presumed that types 1-4 derived as local innovations within a single continuum diffused from Papua, but Haddon (1935:305-13) realized that the diversity of outrigger structure must reflect a more disjunctive chronology. His and others' attempts to unravel it, without the Austronesian lexical etymologies now available, relied on concentric wave diffusion models and ad hoc appeal to resemblances in canoe vocabularies cutting across Austronesian language subgroup divisions. Haddon took the single outrigger (Haddon and Hornell 1937:192-3) as the most recent because of its Austronesian loanwords wangga 'canoe' and tharrman 'outrigger float' discussed below, while Davidson (1935:71), based simply on distance from New Guinea, concluded the opposite--that it was the earliest, followed by direct attachment double outriggers. Golson (1972:394-5) proposed that the latter arrived first from Indonesia, and that indirect peg attachment was a later improvement from east Papua ca. 2000 BP. More recently, McNiven (2015:132) links the arrival of double outrigger canoes with the ca. 2500 BP pottery in TS, without considering the disjunction with the multiple boom single outriggers in his proposed east Papua source area. Nonetheless, Haddon's spotting of Austronesian loan words and Golson's surmise that peg attachment arrived later were insightful, and McNiven is likely correct to the extent that this later improvement and the pottery are linked and that east Papua is the ultimate source of both (Fig. 2). (13)


These canoes had a single outrigger, usually as long as the hull, indirect attachment by pairs of tall pegs, multiple (5-8) booms from prow to stern, sloping slightly upwards, and two cords from gunwale to float often accompanied by a long peg from the float to a point between the booms near the gunwale to prevent the float spreading (see Fig. 4). A small lip at the stern seated the steersman. They were used over a 500-km coastline from Stewart River in Princess Charlotte Bay--where they overlapped with Type 2 direct attachment double outriggers--and southwards through the Wet Tropics to the Cape Grafton-Frankland islands area, with scattered use further south. (14)

There were three main variants. The northern form from Cooktown to Princess Charlotte Bay had wash strakes lashed to the outer gunwales, with tightly coiled plant fibre packing, often continuous across the stern, and the booms were passed through the stakes (Roth 1910:13-4). The prow was usually pointed, but the taste of a few boat-builders ran to a rounded styling (see Fig. 4, Hale and Tindale 1933:119-120). Most canoes south of Cooktown lacked wash strakes. On the southern variant from Mossman to south of Cairns both ends were cut off squarish with a projecting lip at both ends, with no obvious stern or prow. There were prescriptions as to the precise timber to be used for canoe parts, and the two northern variants had a mat sail for which calico was later substituted. (15)

These canoes had a feature unique in the outrigger world: the booms were not singular but were pairs of variably withy rods--often a double pair second from front--and one of each pair under-crossed and the other over-crossed the pegs. All other canoes both of ISEA and Oceania that I have identified from the literature and online have single booms either under-crossing or, more commonly, over-crossing the pegs. This is either a CYP innovation, or a feature of the original, anciently introduced Oceanic model that is now lost in Near Oceania.

These canoes were not all locally produced. People on the rocky coasts of Cape Melville and Flinders Island, which lack large trees for hulls, obtained most of their canoes by contract with builders in Princess Charlotte Bay who used Bombax ceiba, a buoyant softwood of riparian rainforests, and paid for them with stingray spears, shell products, and iron from a wreck (Hale and Tindale 1933:117-8, 122). Roth (1910:14) says canoes were also traded from Cape Grenville south to the Endeavour River at present Cooktown, and there is indirect evidence that Kuku Yalanji canoe builders of the Bloomfield River also supplied the Endeavour River area, in that the Kuku Yalanji word for canoe, marrakan, was borrowed into the southern GYim dialect of the Cooktown area. Marrakan 'canoe' is an extended use of the name of the tall softwood Red Cedar (Toona ciliata), abundant in the rainforested Kuku Yalanji country and favoured by Yalanji boat-builders for the hull, although Blue Quandong (Elaeocarpus grandis) and other trees were also used (Doreen Doughboy and the late Harry Shipton, pers. com.). My inference is that marrakan typified Yalanji canoes, and that the latter were sought after. Just north of the Bloomfield River at the south end of Cedar Bay, named after its cedars, there is a canoe mythological site.

Lexicology of the single outriggers

Associated with this canoe in the Guugu Yimithirr (GYim) language of the Cape Bedford area, and only in this language, are three words of which the first two are unambiguous Oceanic loanwords, and probably also the third, although a puzzling one:
wa[eta]ga 'canoe,' an apparent reflex of POc *w[a.sup.eta]ga 'canoe' in
which the prenasalized voiced stop [.sup.[eta]g] was a unitary phoneme
(Andrew Pawley pers. com. Dec 14, 2017);

tharrman [tarman] 'outrigger float,' which reflects what I argue below
was a PPT form *sar(i)man. (16) GYim lacks fricatives, and most
Pama-Nyungan languages replace s in foreign loans by either a
lamino-palatal or lamino-dental stop, the latter written in the GYim
orthography as th, hence *sarman > tharrman.

waga 'prow of canoe.' This is phonetically [wak:a] due to fortition and
lengthening of intervocalic stops common in Pama-Nyungan languages.

Among the next several Paman languages northwards on the same coast, there are also the following words supplied to me by Sutton (2018):
thurrumun 'prow,' recorded by Haviland (n.d.) in the Barrow Point
language, suggesting a vowel and semantic shift from GYim tharrman;

thorro 'sail,' which Sutton recorded in the Flinders Island language.

Of this small corpus, GYim warjga 'canoe' corresponds to POc*w[a.sup.[eta]]ga, now transformed to waga and reflexes after loss of the pre-nasalization in most extant languages of Near Oceania, and in all languages of the PT subgroup except for that of Sudest Island, which retains a prenasalized stop series and the form w[a.sup.[eta]]ga 'canoe' (Crowley et al. 2011:327, Anderson 1990, 1992). Thus, GYim wa[eta]ga reflects archaic Oceanic, potentially as old as Lapita although not necessarily so, nor even as old as Proto-Papuan Tip (PPT) if the Sudest case raises the possibility that other survivals of the prenasalized form of the voiced stop persisted into post-PPT periods.

Tharrman likewise reflects archaic PT. Based on the prevalence of sama 'outrigger float' in extant Oceanic languages, the POc reconstruction usually given for outrigger float is *saman, a descendant of PMP *(c,s)a(R)man (Pawley and Pawley 1998:181). The medial R and final n are now lost in most Oceanic languages under their impetus toward open syllables, but a POc dialect strand retaining them has to have existed, since forms retaining the liquid--salima, darima, and ralima--persist in many PT languages, while haliman 'outrigger float' in Misima, another PT language, retains the final nasal. Pawley & Pawley make a note of this:
Oceanic languages of the Papuan Tip subgroup reflect *sarima rather
than *saman (e.g. Motu darima, Suau (Daui) salima, Dobu salime, Molima
salima. The *sarima forms possibly continue PMP *(c,s)a(R)man with
irregular insertion of i. A similar insertion occurs in the PMP verbal
prefix *paR-, continued as POc *paRi-. (Pawley and Pawley 1998:192).

GYim's tharrman further adds to the evidence that retention of the r and n persisted in variants of POc after its breakup and continued into PPT after its split from other Oceanic subgroups to the north. The PPT subgroup was unified by innovations shared and retained throughout its member languages, which include mergers of POc *R and *r and *c and *s as reconstructed by Ross (1988: 193, 196):
POc *r and *R merged as PPT *r. (18)
POc *s and *c merged as PPT *s.

This together with the irregular insertion of *i allows for a PPT form *sar(i)man, but a long-developed PT bias towards open syllables has now eliminated the possibility of *sar(i) man being realized as *sarman. (19) GYim, by contrast, lacks this bias, and has numerous closed syllables and three-syllable stems, permits syllable-final rr and n, and has many words with medial liquid-vowel-m sequences (more than its medial--rrm- sequences). (20) GYim thus has no phonotactic animus for syllable reduction or eliding medial i and could readily accommodate *sariman.

This argues that the word was not introduced to GYim as *sariman--as GYim would have preserved all three syllables--but was introduced as *sarman before the PT *i insertion and loss of final n consolidated under the PT consolidation of open syllables. The form *sarman thence tharrman thus fits snugly into GYim's native phonotactics and *s > th sound change.

More problematic is the GYim word waga [wak:a] 'prow,' because it looks confusingly like the Oceanic word waga 'canoe,' now phonetically [waga] in most languages of Near Oceania, including the PT Cluster, and which like GYim wangga 'canoe' also descends from POc *wa[eta]ga (see Table 1). Repeated searches of GYim and wider Paman lexicons, including Alpher's (2017) voluminous manuscript of Pama-Nyungan etyma and their proto-forms, have eliminated the possibility that GYim's waga 'prow' was generated by GYim's own resources or by loan from neighbouring Paman languages. (21) This, plus the fact that GYim waga 'prow' denotes an item of foreign material culture I take as evidence that it reflects intrusive lexification.

Finding the source is quite like looking for a needle in a 3,000-year old haystack. It is possible that it results from a semantic split in GYim, especially if the PT contact languages included some using waga and others *w[a.sup.[eta]]ga for 'canoe.'

Another hypothesis is suggested by PT languages of the D'Entrecasteaux Islands that have waga 'canoe,' but also vagavaga to denote a carved headboard with an amulet function mounted at the prow of voyaging canoes. (22) There is also 'solub wok-wak,' 'prow figurehead' in parts of the Solomons, suggesting that a form of this order has a prehistory in languages of Near Oceania wider than the Papuan Tip subgroup alone (Haddon and Hornell 1937:27-9).

It may also be that vagavaga and 'wok-wak' derive not from *w[a.sup.[eta]]ga but from the separate POc word *paka 'large ship, foreign vessel' (Pawley and Pawley 1998:179-90), via semantic shift and a phoneme split in PPT that Ross (1988:196) identifies:
POc *p split into (fortis) PPT *p and (lenis) PPT *v, with all
languages agreeing on their reflex of POc *p in a given item. PPT *v
occurs far more often than PPT *p.

Ross (1988) also presents numerous examples from Near Oceania, including PT data, in which stem reduplication--a multiplier/intensifier?--in one language has a singular reflex in another, and some of which also include the *p > v sound change; for example:
POc *paRa '(sun) shine' > PPT *vara > Bwaidoga (Iduna) vala-vala 'sun,'
Molima vala 'sun,' Duau, Bunama hala 'sun,' Nimoa para(e) 'sun,' Sudest
vara (e) 'sun' (Ross 1988:59).

Any parallel extant or reconstructed case in PT or other Oceanic languages of *paka(paka) > *vaga(vaga) 'carved prow', but in which the reduplication was either lost or never present, would obviously present a plausible source for GYim waga 'prow'. Just how plausible depends partly on whether the production of the v in the PT source was rather open or the lips were close together, and whether GYim speakers would hear it as closer to b or to w. (23)

This is a slim hypothesis that I do not press too hard, but I note that canoes bearing such carved figureheads were made throughout the D'Entrecasteaux and Louisiade archipelagos and visited Brumer Island while MacGillivray (1852) was there in 1849-1850, and Brierly (1848-50) drew rafts and canoes with small carved prows there and in nearby Redscar Bay.

Flinders Island thorro 'sail' is a good match for a word for a temporary sail made from two interwoven palm fronds recorded as 'doro' in 1849 by MacGillivray (1852:257, 322) at Brumer Island, within the Suauic area of PT. However, 'doro' has not been recorded since that time for Suauic, so perhaps it did not exactly mean sail but something like, for example, 'palm frond.' It may be Papuan substratum, not Oceanic, but if the latter, it just possibly belongs to the following set: POc *layaR 'sail,' Motu lara, and a word recorded by MacGillivray (idem) in the Louisiade Archipelago, part of the PT region, as 'badiara' 'sail' (badiyara? badayara?) (see Pawley and Pawley 1998:195 for *layaR and lara).

Narrowing the provenance of CYP single outriggers

Not all extant Oceanic languages retain reflexes of both *w[a.sup.[eta]]ga and *sar(i)man, but as shown above, PT languages do, as an example of which MacGillivray (1852: 321-2) recorded 'waga' (canoe), 'sarima (float),' and 'doro' (sail) together at Brumer Island, correspondences to GYim's contact words w[a.sup.[eta]]ga and tharrman and Flinders Island thorro. MacGillivray found the nearby Dufaure Island language to be closely similar to that of the Brumer Islands. (24) This together with the fact that canoes with carved headboards traded across the PT islands and adjacent mainland makes the PT region by far the most likely source of southeast CYP's Oceanic contact language(s).

This is reinforced by the structure of the canoe. Out of all of Near Oceania with its very diverse canoes, the PT-speaking region--most specifically the Massim in far eastern and island Papua--is that where a float as long as the hull, multiple slender booms from prow to stern, and tall peg connectives co-occur. We cannot expect that, since the introduction of canoes to southeast CYP, we would find an exact match today between the recipient and source regions, but those of the PT region are by far the closest:

(1) The canoes of the D'Entrecasteaux and Louisiade archipelagos, as an online search and Brierley's (1848-50) sketches of them both show, have exceptionally tall pegs, some also have upward-inclined booms, more so than on southeast CYP canoes, and a rod running from the float to the gunwales to prevent spread of the float similar to the combination of cord and rod on southeast CYP craft (see Fig. 4). Carved headboards are common on the larger blue water canoes of these islands, but absent from most smaller canoes; and

(2) Turning west around the mainland tail of Papua to Brumer Island and Dufaure (now Bonabona?) Island and Redscar and Orangerie Bays, Brierly (1848-50) made many sketches of modest local canoes of ca. 8-10 m with a long float and multiple booms, seven to eight in number, extending the length of the hull. Some had a carved prow, but most were plain. Lindt (1887) photographed plain canoes in Bertha Lagoon on Papua's South Cape. An Internet search reveals that both Suauic-speaking groups of the PT and Louisiade groups have plain canoes to the present day, with several to numerous booms from stern to prow which, like the northern variant of the CYP canoes, pass through the wash strakes. (25)

Two other factors support a PT source hypothesis: this region is, by a wide margin, the nearest part of Austronesian-speaking Oceania to southeast CYP, and from the Massim there are a significant number of days with good winds both for outbound sailing to southeast CYP and for return in the following season (Dousset and Di Piazza 2018).

Putting some sort of time frame to initial contact depends on two kinds of data. The first is linguistic. Although most PT languages today permit only open syllables, a few tolerate some final nasals and laterals. (26) This indicates that, even though an open-syllable bias was already active in the PPT founder language or dialect cluster, it was less advanced than now (and had it not been, the existence of GYim tharrman would require that other POc speakers with closed syllables appeared in southeast CYP prior to the PPT split from POc). Elimination of closed syllables in PT has been achieved by a mix of vowel insertions and consonant deletions, (27) as Pawley and Pawley (1998:192) suggest of exactly the word for outrigger float, which exemplifies variable transformation to *sarima as in Suauic and haliman in Misima, or alternatively *saman thence to sama in other PT languages. Any comparative evidence internal to the PT cluster that might hint at when the change from *sar(i)man > sarima and *w[a.sup.[eta]]ga > waga consolidated would bear on the time frame of PT-GYim contact--the later that occurred, the later the possibilities for initial contact and vice versa.

The other relevant data are archaeological. Whenever canoes first arrived in southeast CYP, some more durable material culture has to have been in them, such as lithics, pottery, and shell or bone artefacts. The Lapita sites ca. 2700-2900 BP excavated by McNiven et al. (2011) on the southeast coast of Papua are presumably sites occupied by speakers of early PT. In the event, although unlikely, that any materials such as stone, shell, or turtle shell artefacts in Papuan sites could be identified as sourced in CYP and to some degree dated, that would obviously be informative. Much more likely, in the event that Oceanic materials are found in southeast CYP, or that dating and compositional analysis of the reportedly Oceanic pottery fragments already found some time ago at Lizard Island--part of the Guugu Yimithirr homeland--are eventually published, this may bear on dating of PT-GYim contact. (28)


Here I present reasons to support a view that, unlike the single outriggers of southeast CYP which derive from the Massim region, the two-boom double outriggers of northern CYP and TS shown in Figs. 7 to 9 are of mixed sources. I argue that the Type 2 simple canoe with direct lashed attachment of boom to float is likely to be the earliest form, and that it may have first arrived in the TS-Cape York area from ISEA, via the south coast of west New Guinea. The more complex Type 3 and 4 canoes of northern CYP and TS feature indirect attachment, a deck, large sails, and other features that appear to be later improvements, some in situ and some from the Papuan Tip, evidence for which is again a mix of canoe structure and PT loan words.

The twin outrigger structure with only two booms is generally homologous to that almost universal in nearer ISEA, and typologically distant from the single outrigger and three to multiple booms close to universal in Near Oceania. There is neither direct evidence of an ISEA source, nor is there evidence for an Oceanic origin, and the typology argues more for an ISEA founding source. The simple pole structure and lashed attachment on Type 2 canoes of CYP's middle coasts bear strong affinities to a form widespread along a north-to-south corridor from the southern Philippines through eastern Indonesia as far as the Aru Islands (in co-existence with larger complex craft, Roth 1910:12-3; Haddon 1920:71, 89-91, 106-7). In the CYP east coast variant, the rear boom was set at the stern (see Fig. 6 above), (29) as it also is on small canoes of the Philippines' Sulu Archipelago which 'may have but two booms and the outrigger may be placed at the aft end of the canoe' (Haddon 1920:113). I have seen similar canoes paddled about by children in intertidal Badjao villages in the southern Philippines, and also seen canoes with their rear boom at the stern at Pangandaran on the south coast of Java. (30) Similar canoes with pole floats are common in the Lesser Sundas such as at Alor Island, but there is only a single case of a small double outrigger in Near Oceania, on Nissan Island near Bougainville. (31) These simple direct lashed double outriggers of ISEA and Nissan are mostly inshore and lagoon paddlers, as Horridge (2008:90, 93) and Haddon (1920:122, 124, 126) note, whereas in central CYP use of similarly constructed canoes was extended to marine hunting often at considerable distances from land.

The Types 3 and 4 double outriggers of TS and northern CYP are more anomalous. Instead of direct attachment or U, Y, or hoop connectives as in ISEA, they have typically Oceanic attachment by pegs sunk into the float. (32) As mentioned, Golson's (1972:394-5) hypothesis is that they are a case of hybridization: that the base form was the direct lashed attachment double outrigger, and that it came from the west and was later improved by peg attachment and other features introduced from east Papua. A further layer in the TS case is that this is combined with large hulls obtained from tall Fly River riparian rainforest.

Pointers to the chronology of direct lashed attachment

The broken distribution of the Type 2 direct attachment outriggers on the middle coasts of CYP but not around the top of the Peninsula or TS argues that the latter areas were the centre of their original range from which they were displaced by the rise of Types 3 and 4 with indirect peg attachment, a deck, and a sail. Intimating that all the CYP-TS double outriggers derive from a single original proto-type, are two shared features: the thwart through the gunwales below the boom to which the boom is lashed, and the retention on both northern CYP Type 3 and all TS Type 4 double outriggers of float-to-boom lashing, despite the addition of pegs, as shown in Figs. 8 and 9. This combination peg plus indirect lashing is also found in eastern Indonesia on outriggers with elbow or rod connectives, especially those with one direct lashed boom and one with a mixed indirect rod attachment and lashing, and features on single outriggers of the Andaman Islands and the Marianas, other periphery sites of early Malayo-Polynesian expansion or contact (Haddon 1920:86, 90, 93). This perhaps indicates that peg attachment developed directly from lashed attachment (Fig. 10).

The TS canoe, the most complex in the double outrigger series, was at the other end of the chronology. It was already achieved by at least 1606 (410 BP) when seen by Torres, the first European to enter TS, and probably much earlier given the rock art depictions of decorated canoes of the general form on Dauan Island in the northern TS and south to Cape York (Brady et al. 2007). Although this art has not itself been directly dated, dates of charcoal associated with it are indicative of 1200-1400 BP (McNiven 2015:132).

The lexicography of the double outriggers

Structural hybridization in the TS-CYP double outriggers is paralleled by lexical hybridization from Papuan Tip, probable ISEA, and local autochthonous sources. Of the following words, the first set are variants of the same PT word as GYim tharrman, but less archaic, the second is of likely PT origin, and the third may be so but is more likely of ISEA origin:
Outrigger float: WCL sarim(a)/sayim(a), Gudang charrima/chayima, Meriam

Regarding these variants, the Gudang language lacks s and speakers changed most of them to ch. The WCL and Gudang forms include the common Pama-Nyungan lenition r > y, absent in Miriam, a Papuan language, where instead m has undergone fortition to b. These are clear derivatives of still extant PT *salima/sarima, and ultimately from PMP *(c,s)a(R)man (Pawley & Pawley 1998:197-8). (33)
Peg connectives: WCL sayu pat(i) or sarim pat(i) (34).

The second component suggests POc *patot and PT patoto 'connective stick attachments' and extant reflexes, and sarim is 'float' (Haddon 1912:208; Pawley and Pawley 1998:193).
Steering oar: WCL kuli, Meriam 'korizer or kor user' as rendered by
Haddon (1912:208) (35).

Kuli compares to PT kuliga and POc *quli[eta] 'steering oar' (Pawley and Pawley 1998:197-8), and Miriam kor looks like a probable reflex of WCL kuli. However, guli 'rudder' also occurs in Yolngu languages on the Arnhem Land coast, and (an-)goli in neighbouring Burarra, where they are thought to be among the many ISEA loans acquired on this coast through past annual contact with Makassarese and Buginese trepangers, both of whose languages have guli[eta] 'rudder' (Alpher 2017:133). It is unlikely that both the Arnhem Land and TS languages would have independently reduced *quli[eta]/kuliga/guling to two-syllable k/guli/goli, and more likely that that both the Arnhem Land and TS incidents of the word came from the same ISEA source. There was contact between the Strait and Arnhem Land, first via a little Macassan traffic, and in the 20th century trepang and pearling luggers--which, unlike Arnhem Land canoes, have a rudder--were active in both Arnhem Land and TS.

Another word, WCL nath(ar) 'canoe deck,' has an identical meaning to POc *pataR 'deck of house or canoe.' As the initial nasal contradiction cannot be accounted for I set it aside, but a little uncertainly, considering comparable Austronesian cases like the highly variable mola, hore, kole sets of canoe words raised below, and other cases within the TS region such as WCL gar 'hull' and Gudang and Trans-Fly gara 'canoe' versus Meriam nar 'canoe' discussed below featuring the same irregular exchange of an initial stop for an initial n. (36)

Unlike these words for the superstructure, those for the canoe itself and its hull, stern, and prow in TS regional languages are not obviously Oceanic. These are WCL and East Trans-Fly guul(a) 'canoe,' gar(oe,a) 'body, hull,' Meriam nar 'canoe,' and Gudang gara and angganya 'canoe.' (37) The early linguist Ray (1907:99 in Kennedy 1992:13) recorded 'gar gul' as 'large canoe' (gar-guul? [full-]body canoe?). Haddon (1912:207) recorded 'guguba wake' as a type of canoe in a WCL folktale, where 'wake' may reflect POc * w[a.sup.[eta]]ga, but a single and unclear record of what was not an everyday word is hard to assess. (38)

An Austronesian source for guul(a) and gar-guul is possible due to their resemblance to two suites of words, one widespread in ISEA as korakora, karkola, kolekole, kolek, kole, kolay and ku, all denoting either 'boat' or 'hull,' including in Maluku languages and Malay. (39) Like Oceanic words are mola, hore, iola, ora, and kuo 'canoe' in Solomons and Santa Cruz Islands languages (Crowley et al. 2011: 484, 555, 585). Pawley and Pawley (1998:181-2, 186) relate some of these to POc *tola 'large canoe' and some perhaps to POc *qora 'wash strake,' which possibly fell together in some languages in favour of the latter meaning. Forms of this general shape with an initial velar stop are more numerous in ISEA where they denote 'boat' or 'hull' not 'wash strake,' but I have found no data by which to test whether these are related to guul(a) and gar-guul or are chance resemblances.

Cautionary cases of such resemblances are, first, Gudang angganya [a[eta]ga[eta]a] 'canoe,' recalling PMP *(v,w)a[eta]ka[eta] 'canoe, boat' and POc * w[a.sup.[eta]]ga 'canoe.' Gudang initial-dropping and vowel-final predilections readily account for the missing w and final a. (40) But apart from a Gudang final [eta] > [eta] shift left to explain, a more terminal problem for a PMP *(v,w) a[eta]ka[eta] > angganya derivation is posed by Gudang anka 'mouth, lips' and akanya 'well, hole'. This points to an autochthonous etymology for angganya of angka 'mouth/excavation' (lips= > gunwales?)' + nya (derivational suffix?), especially as Roth recorded reflexive 'churongganna' (phonemically churangga + na?) for both 'canoe' and 'any excavation or hollow' at Batavia River. Multiple similar reflexes of Proto-Paman *[eta]a[eta]ga 'mouth' (Alpher 2017:329) sprinkle Paman languages. This brings to notice a resemblance between guul(a) and gud(a) 'mouth' in WCL, perhaps an ancient semantic split, but more likely accidental. (41)

The second case is tama 'outrigger float' in Yadhaykenu, a Paman language just south of Gudang (Haddon 1913:629). This is the same phonological form as an extant reflex of POc *(c,s)a(R)man in some languages of Near Oceania, viz. tama 'outrigger float' (Pawley and Pawley 1998:191-2). However, the root meaning of Yadhaykenu tama is 'hand/finger', with cognates in neighbouring Paman languages: artemma 'little finger' in Roth's (1910:15) records of a Mapoon language, and arta 'hand/fingers' in Gudang (MacGillivray 1852:296).

Hence Gudang angganya and Yadhaykenu tama fit a dominant pattern in CYP and TS south of Cape York where words for canoe, hull, and the outrigger assembly are anatomical analogies. An example in both Gudang and WCL is kun(a) 'stern,' a word meaning 'back, behind.'

ISEA loans are, however, undoubtedly present in TS-CYP languages. Mitchell (2015:340) nominates several possible loans, of which I include the three most likely below and add two others:
adhi WCL, ad Meriam 'honorific for mythological heroes.' Mitchell
suggests that this derives from Indonesian adi which he translates as
'regal, great,' and states is ultimately from Sanskrit. I am aware of
Indonesian use of adi as 'superior' or 'precious,' meanings consistent
with WCL usage of adhi in my TS experience.

kood(a) WCL, ku'uul Sandbeach Kuku Ya'u 'fenced sacred ground,' which
Mitchell suggests is derived from ISEA kota 'city' and ultimately from
Sanskrit kostha 'city, sacred enclosure' (often walled). (42)

thurik/thuyik/thuri(ya) WCL, Gudang 'iron, tomahawk,' from Seramese
turik/turi 'iron, tomahawk' (Mitchell idem).

moerap(i) WCL, marrapi Gudang 'bamboo tobacco pipe,' reflecting ISEA
forms like Makassarese marapdwo 'bamboo.' Reflexes are widely diffused
southward in CYP languages where they variably denote 'bamboo' or
'bamboo pipe' (Alpher 2017:215).

sara WCL 'seagull' from ISEA sources with forms like c.sara,
exemplified in Makassarese tare 'seagull' and reflexes like carra
'seagull' in other Australian ISEA contact areas in northwest Western
Australia and Arnhem Land (Alpher 2017:63-4).

Most of these words obviously postdate the rise of Indianized kingdoms in Indonesia ca. 1600-1700 BP and of courtly Malay containing Indic loans, the spread of trade Malay to Seram in the (pre-colonial) spice trade context, and Seramese trade on the New Guinea south coast from the 15th century. Bamboo pipes were used to smoke tobacco, which only arrived in Trans-Fly Papua and thence was traded into CYP after its introduction to Seram by the Portuguese. If adhi and kood/ku 'uul are ISEA loans, the ritual domain they pertain to perhaps implies contacts intimate enough for ISEA visitors to have seen the kood rites. (43)

As these are not Neolithic loans, they do not contribute to resolving whether the words guul(a) and gar-guul in TS are of autochthonous, archaic ISEA, or archaic Oceanic sources. Whatever the sources, their co-occurrence with reflexes of PT sarima 'float' and other Austronesian loans still adds up to a hybrid canoe lexicon matching the hybrid canoe typology.

Sourcing the TS-CYP double outriggers

TS-Cape York double outriggers may have initially arrived in the area from Near Oceania, as direct lashed single outriggers in Polynesia and the Nissan Island double outriggers must have. Haddon & Hornell (1937:254) pictures a model of a double outrigger recalling TS canoes, even with luggage crates, in the Oxford Museum and attributed to the PT Louisade Islands. However, no such real canoe was ever seen or recorded there, and all Louisiade canoes are entirely unrelated in structure, making it likely that the model has other explanations. (44)

Eastern ISEA as a possible source cannot be dismissed, given the prevalence there of simple, lashed double outriggers mentioned. Austronesians, having occupied Maluku and the Lesser Sunda Archipelago well before the Oceanic settlement of southeast Papua, are perhaps unlikely not to have explored further eastwards, skimming the mangrove morass of the west New Guinea coast until finding the islands and sandbeaches of TS and Cape York in their path. Other Austronesians skimmed the north New Guinea coast to the Bismarcks.

Haddon (1920:122) was the first to recognize the ISEA affinities of both TS-CYP and Nissan Island double outriggers and thought that a 'scattered marginal distribution of this kind suggests antiquity'. He noted that TS-CYP is 'not geographically remote from Indonesia', but he was 'strongly of the opinion that it is culturally remote and that the double outrigger came there [to CYP-TS] by the western Pacific route [i.e. via Lapita and Near Oceania]'. However, Indonesia as it became after the rise of Indianized kingdoms is not the Neolithic Indonesia of ca. 3000 BP, which was far less culturally remote from Oceania. Fifteen years later Haddon (1935:313) was more prepared to entertain a direct Indonesian source, but still felt deterred by the cultural distance between Indonesia and Oceania:
There is the very plausible alternative that the canoe came directly
from Indonesia, where double outriggers are almost universal, but I do
not know of any evidence for direct Indonesian influence in south-west
and south New Guinea, or in Torres Straits. The stick [peg] attachment
appears to be entirely absent from the Indian ocean and
Indonesia ... (Haddon 1935:313).

The following year, Haddon's (mistaken) belief that peg attachment was confined to Oceania and that double outriggers were the original Austronesian canoe led him and Hornell (1937[1975]) to settle on the notion that a once wide Oceanic distribution of double outriggers had been swept away by leveling in favor of single outriggers throughout Oceania, leaving double outriggers orphaned in TS-CYP and Nissan Island. However, it is generally accepted today that single outriggers played the primary role in Austronesian expansion into Oceania (e.g. see Horridge 2006:143-58). Colonization of the Marianas occurred by at least ca. 3200 BP in single outriggers with peg attachment, which are also present in the Nicobar and Andaman Islands in the opposite direction and where an Andaman language has charigma 'canoe,' a likely cognate of PMP *sa(R)(i)man (Haddon 1920:86). This requires their presence as blue water sailing vessels in early Austronesian ISEA. Assuming also that great variation in an artefact, like a genus or a language, indicates antiquity, the great diversity of single outriggers in Near Oceania speaks to their early presence there. The co-presence of small, cheaply made direct attachment double outriggers serving as inshore work boats in Nissan does not require typological levelling or late pulses from the Philippines as Haddon (1920:122) proposed, but merely that their blueprint was carried east by those who settled the Bismarcks in single outrigger sailing canoes, and was likewise carried south into eastern Indonesia.

Whatever the initial source of TS-CYP double outriggers, the hybrid structural traits and terminology appear to entail later adoption of indirect attachment, which I infer was named by a foreign word, *sarima, rather than by a local anatomical word like kuna 'stem (back)' or gara 'hull (body)' because it was a foreign introduction from Papuan Tip languages.

Two other such PT improvements are, first, the raised boxed prow with a frontal splash board on TS canoes (see Fig. 9), a feature found on many PT canoes. Second, as shown on Fig. 1 la, b, and c, the sails of both TS and Cape York canoes were tall, rectangular and vertically mounted, stretched between two masts stepped in the hull and supported by guys and stays. Brierly (1848-50) sketched many canoes in the Papuan Tip region with a very similar sail and rigging, although with masts set further back from the prow.

The chronology and epicentres of oceanic contact

The sites of Austronesian loan words suggest focal areas of contact. To the north and south of GYim, the Oceanic loans fade-out and are replaced by local words, indicating that these areas are downstream of initial canoe introduction. The only Austronesian loan word in the Barrow Point language just north of GYim is thurrumun 'prow', reflecting GYim tharrman 'float' but with semantic and phonological shift, while thorro 'sail' is the only item on Sutton's (2018) Flinders Island marine lexicon readily identifiable with a PT word. No languages further north nor any south of GYim, even its immediately neighbouring language Kuku Yalanji, used the terms wangga, waga, and tharrman, but have terms of their own devising, mostly anatomical analogies: 'hull' = body, mouth; 'prow' = head/forehead; 'outrigger float' = finger; 'stern' = back; 'hull walls' = ribcage. In GYim itself the booms are dabul 'nose pin, boom,' and in Kuku Yalanji dakildakil 'arms, booms' (Doreen Doughboy, personal communication). GYim is the language located in the geographical centre of the canoe's distribution, and Roth (1910:14) states that 'the best specimens of canoe are to be seen' at Cape Bedford, which is in the centre of the GYim area. This combines to make the GYim area the likely epicentre of the canoe's introduction and diffusion.

A similar rapid fade out of Austronesian words also occurs in Paman languages south of Cape York: while Gudang has the Oceanic reflex charrima 'outrigger float,' Uradhi, just to its south, has mata 'hand,' 'outrigger float,' and as mentioned Yadhaykenu has tama 'finger/hand,' 'outrigger float.'

Hence Austronesian contact and canoe diffusion has been concentrated in two areas: in the GYim region and perhaps Flinders Island, and in the TS-Cape York area. However, two cautionary qualifications are required. First, we cannot be sure that light contact did not also occur on coasts in between, but not substantial enough for Austronesian loanwords to adhere or to prevent their quick replacement by anatomical words. Second, a few canoe words on these coasts appear at this stage to be non-anatomical. Examples are Yadhaykenu atu 'canoe' and Sandbeach Kuku Ya'u tangu 'canoe,' and, most strikingly, the Flinders Island canoe lexicon recorded by Sutton is mostly non-anatomical (Sutton 2018; 2018).

The existence of these two separate contact epicentres requires direct contact across the Coral Sea to southeast CYP rather than via TS. The distinctively Massim typology of the southeast CYP single outrigger and its congruence with accompanying words is what a direct introduction from a single source in a concentrated contact episode, or series of them, looks like. It brings into sharper relief the hybrid nature of the structure and terminology and thus likely layered prehistory of the northern double outriggers.

Because GYim tharrman is an earlier derivation from PMP *(c,s)a(R)man than the WCL, Meriam, and Gudang derivatives of PT sarima, the arrival of the latter in the Strait region must post-date the arrival of *sarman thence tharrman in GYim. This hints at a chronology as follows: (1) very early introduction of direct attachment double outriggers in the TS-Cape York area from unknown sources, possibly including eastern ISEA, (2) introduction of single outriggers from the Papuan Tip region, primarily the Massim, into southeast CYP at an early date, and (3) introduction of later improvements to canoe superstructure and other refinements to the Strait region from the Papuan Tip (Fig. 12).


When considering the transfer of a complex technology from one society to another, we have to ask what social context could have made it possible. I have often heard unintentional drift voyaging suggested. Although the prospects for a canoe washing up with live occupants on the Peninsula after a period adrift in the vastness of the Coral Sea for which they were not provisioned requires a string of rare luck with winds and currents, and on arrival on a coast where male castaways were not always spared, it could have occurred. That such a group then stayed in CYP rather than return home, and that the boat-building and sailing skills became established in a castaway's lifetime with a single canoe as the model, and then spread over a great length of coastline is a more strained scenario. In my assessment, the contact context has to have involved more time, deliberation, and personnel.

This can be seen by analogy with how the Sulawesi inshore work dugout carried by Macassan praus was acquired on the Arnhem Land coast and converted into a sailing and marine hunting boat. Some of the canoes made on this coast were very large, others small because the available trees were small, as on the sand-dune coastline of southeast Arnhem Land. Yet even there, competence in them was such that, from the fire tower at the settlement of Numbulwar I once counted seven small canoes, picked out by the blanket used for a sail, miles out in a sea full of white caps in a hard southeast wind, dugong hunting, all day. (45) The north Arnhem Land coast has to have sporadic encounters with ISEA fishermen and marine foragers and castaways from such places as Timor and the Aru and Tanimbar Islands in the millennia since Austronesian expansion, yet dugout canoes became established only after the advent of annual Macassan visits from the late 18th century. It was in this context of 120 years of participation in the trepang harvesting season falling between the northwest to southeast reversal of the winds that Arnhem Landers acquired the skills of building and sailing canoes.

A community not only has to learn how to make a canoe but acquire a motive to engage in the labour, which I suggest requires awakening to the possibilities the canoe opens up through experience and tuition in the company of people already in command of it. The literature indicates that these motives and possibilities were, for CYP-TS peoples, similar to some of those motivating early Austronesians themselves, and for Papuan groups influenced by them: the canoe multiplied access to high volume marine protein, shell wealth, mobility, and male prestige competition in the fields of marine hunting and trading. Thomson (1934) paints a vivid picture of the Sandbeach example of the prestige factor and there is a volume of unanalysed data from further north and south that I leave for a later paper, but suffice it to say that the outrigger canoe held out the offer of a more unfettered and adventurous life and of celebrious careers for individuals analogous to what the horse presented in many parts of the pre-modern world.

In southeast CYP, acquiring the skills of making canoes and going to sea required apprenticeship with good canoe builders, and an initiation into the sea of which one aspect was being taken out in wild weather and made to overcome a fear of the deep. The late Harry Shipton of Bloomfield River told me that a prominent seaman, King Doughboy, sternly told the shivering initiates 'No! [no fear/crying permitted] That's jalun [sea]. We Jalunji [Sea People]. You gotta face 'im, sea! We belong to [the] sea, can't be fright for jalun.' Knowledge of the behaviour of sea animals, fish, sea birds, waves, currents, and wind also had to be acquired, and of supernatural forces at coastal and offshore reef sites and how to negotiate with them, and in some areas the use of marine hunting charms had to be learnt.

More probable social contexts for canoe acquisition than incorporation of castaways are, first, trade and/or resource harvesting in southeast CYP by PT speakers who laid over a half season until the winds reversed, and second, Lapita or later attempts at new colonies on the south Papua mainland model. The Oceanic communities which by ca. 2700-2900 BP dotted southeast Papua have to have been aware that a landmass lay to the south. Clockwise surface currents in the Coral Sea wash the CYP coast then link with the east-flowing Hiri Current along the south Papuan coast which then encircles the Massim. (46) The wave patterns of these currents, their flotsam, and the movements of seabirds and clouds convey information.

The archaeology indicates that the founding sites of PT colonies, like those before them in the Bismarcks, were extreme littoral, on small islands and peninsulas and stilted villages in the intertidal zone. Port Moresby's Hanuabada village has remained of this nature into modern times, and I have seen very similar intertidal stilt villages of the Badjao and other landless fishing groups in the southern Philippines, even on insular sandspits right out in the sea between Mindanao and Bohol. Cape Bedford, where Roth saw the finest canoes, and Cape Flattery to its north provide anchorage in the lee of the southeast trade winds, while offshore are coral cays and the continental islands of the Lizard Island group with an enclosed coral lagoon, the features often sought out by Oceanic colonists.

However, the better such sites are much farther south, between Cairns and Townsville and near Mackay, and overall the Queensland coast, compared to Near Oceania, offers far fewer of the sort of sites that drew Lapita colonists. In any case, the main tide of Lapita expansion went south-eastwards from the Bismarcks, led onwards by island chains the peaks of which were only out of sight to sailors for relatively short distances, and by seasonal reversal of the winds that facilitated safe exploration and return to home supply bases as the corridor extended in stages (Felgate 2007; Irwin 2008:21-2, and his Fig. 5). This consolidated further once bearers of the Lapita culture moved into Remote Oceania and settled previously uninhabited Vanuatu, New Caledonia, and Fiji. From this southeast reach for more unoccupied lands, a constellation of communities formed into a world of established destinations and routes for trade, further fixing attention within Oceania and away from lands already inhabited by Australo-Papuans.

Of the Lapita populations that remained behind in the Bismarcks, one colonized the Papuan Tip region, and so became one of the few Lapita groups to develop a westward directional, that is, along the Papuan south coast. This, however, has been characterized as 'Lapita writ small' (Allen and Summerhayes 2007), and it petered out as the sand beaches, islets, and coral lagoons ran out to the northwest of Port Moresby and were replaced by the muddy coastline and mangrove walls running for hundreds of kilometres across the Papuan Gulf and the vast Fly Delta, and on into west New Guinea. The islands of TS and CYP were small, and to reach them entailed long, unsheltered open sea voyaging. Once there, the main horticultural potential is on CYP mainland alluvial sites. To expand to them from island beachheads entailed resource competition with incumbent CYP populations who, while not horticulturalists, maintain a tight net of descent group tenures somewhat analogous to horticultural holdings. These estates extend into the intertidal zone and to proprietorship of the wild resources that Lapita colonies often heavily relied on in their founding years (Chase and Rigsby 1998). Even TS islanders, notwithstanding their own partly CYP roots, considered, and mythologized, CYP groups as formidable in certain ways (Thomson 1934:238).

The presence of Austronesian-speakers in TS-CYP may not have been as early as the Lapita era, although reaching the western end of attractive sites on the Papuan coast may well have been the stimulus for looking southwest for further opportunities. I do not know if limits to population growth or political room at the top in, say, the Louisiades could have been triggers, or the 'Papuan hiccup' ca. 1200-800 BP (Summerhayes and Vilgalys 2016), a period of dramatic cultural change possibly entailing population movements within the PT-speaking Central District.

In the event that the search for Lapita or later analogues on the Queensland coast now barely commencing results in finds, will they prove to be settlement sites, or something more like seasonal trading or resource harvesting camps? If settlements, a problem for their survival has to have been the much greater distance from supply lines and parent colonies in Papua than any of their predecessors faced in much smaller leaps along the Papuan coast and islands. The second must have been securing the horticultural resource base and raw materials to consolidate and form the inter-reliant and reproductive network of related settlements typical of the Oceanic mode of colonization. This has to have been affected by what colonists had to offer the existing occupants, and have entailed high exposure to decline of the Oceanic cultural package and eventual assimilation, which Allen and Summerhayes (2007:116) see as revealed in two excavated Lapita sites on the Papuan coast itself:
A striking feature of both colonisations is an initial elaborate
material culture that becomes less elaborated through time. This
decline is particularly rapid in the case of [the] EPP [site]. It has
sometimes been argued that the early elaborate material is a reflection
of the homeland culture, and at some level it must be--no group can
invent a new and elaborate material culture instantaneously and in
vacuo. But the fact that these 'homeland cultures' remain elusive
demonstrates that this explanation is at best only a partial one.

If trading bases, what were the participants exchanging? Shell materials come to mind, considering the prominence of shell valuables in the trading circuits of the Papuan Tip region which includes the famous Kula ring, and the high profile of shell valuables, some with supernatural attributions, in intra-Australian continental trade, and in the partially analogous but more materialistic TS trading system. Stone is another possibility, given that Laade (1973) was told at Mer in the eastern TS that TS parties travelled to Lizard Island in the GYim part of southeast CYP to trade for lithics-quality stone, raising the question of whether they inherited a trade circuit established much earlier by PT speakers. In the TS case, white TS Pigeon and seabird feathers, and turtle shell, both available in high quantities on the CYP mainland were also involved. There is also the question of what comparative DNA sampling of the PT and CYP regions might reveal. (47) There remains also further comparative screening of TS, CYP, and PT lexicons to be done, for it is likely that other items of Oceanic origin are present in CYP and TS languages.


I am grateful for the stimulus gained from the working meetings and email circuitry for a forthcoming volume led by Patrick McConvell and Rachel Hendery on cultural overlaps between the late Holocene Oceanic and Australian worlds, and for Patrick's discussion, and especially for Rachel Hendery's time and generosity in preparing the maps. I also thank Frank Deemal, John Haviland, and Doreen Doughboy for their help with Guugu Yimithirr and Kuku Yalanji language matters, the two anonymous reviewers, and especially Nancy Williams, Jean-Christophe Verstraete, and Peter Sutton for their encouragement and comments on early drafts. Peter also supplied me with the Flinders Island, Barrow Point, and Alpher (2017) lexical data. I also thank Jonathan Schlossberg for his comments and supply of most of the Papuan Tip lexicons used. The paper is partly written in memory of the late Alex 'Babaji' Olbar and Harry 'Mawuja' Shipton of Bloomfield River, and the late Brian 'Amboy' Namai of Horne Island, who taught me something of the life of fishing and hunting on the open waters of the Coral Sea.


(1.) The archaeology and linguistics are both required. For example, McNiven (2015:130) suggests that insight into canoe antiquity in TS, and in ISEA and Oceania, is limited in 'the absence of direct archaeological evidence for canoes beyond 1,000 years ago'. However, the main evidence for canoe antiquity will never be directly archaeological but lies in the high continuity in PMP and POc canoe lexicons, linked to the archaeological dating of PMP and POc expansion and the canoe ethnohistorical record.

(2.) Athens and Rieth (2017), Bellwood (2013:195-6, 2015:287), Spriggs (2010:128-130, 2011:512, 523), Kirch (2017:153-6), Blust (2000, 2013:25-7), Petchey et al. (2016:12), Carson (2015:315), Lipson et al. (2018), Specht and Gosden (1997).

(3.) O'Connor et al. (2006:13), Pawley and Pawley (1998), and Cox (2015).

(4.) See footnote 2, and Spriggs (2011: 515-6, 523, 2015:308-11), Hung et al. (2012), and Hung and Carson (2018:911-2). This literature is not easily summarized due to ongoing and as yet not fully integrated revision of the archaeology to younger dates, e.g. Kirch's (2017:154-6) conflict as to pre-3500 BP Marianas evidence. Athens & Rieth (2017:9) posit a Halmahera source and late contemporaneous dates for the Marianas and Palau, passing over the lack of common linguistic source and contemporaneity between these islands (Blust 2013:113).

(5.) McNiven (2017:325).

(6.) McNiven et al. (2006:66), Barker (2004), McNiven et al. (2012, 2017:321-2), David et al. (2004), David et al. (2011), Carter (2004), and Carter & Lilley (2008:74-6). Rock art of Papuan character on Dauan is estimated to ca. 1200-1400 BP (McNiven 2015:132).

(7.) Alpher et al. 2008. Mitchell (2015:350-1, 336-7, 347), who has done the fullest study of WCL, believes that the lexical overlap is ca. 20% and more.

(8.) Haddon (1935:381-409) and Rumsey and Weiner (2001).

(9.) Thomson (1934) and Chase and Rigsby (1998).

(10.) Brierly in Moore (1997: 44, 50, 56, 74, 83, 87, 93).

(11.) Roth (1910: Plate V, 2). I do not cover the Whitsunday outrigger records, which begin in 1770 and include an 1840s illustration of a two-boom, single outrigger canoe with a long prow quite unlike any of those of TS or CYP, as set out by Rowland (1986).

(12.) Type 3 is established principally from Brierly's (1848b-50), Baines (1855), and Roth's (1910:12) illustrations. While MacGillivray (1852:15-6) states that most were 'small', 6-9 m, Brierly's sketches include some that appear to well exceed 9 m, and Jardine (1867) says some were up to 15.5 m (50 ft).

(13.) Notwithstanding Golson's accompanying idea that this introduction might have occurred around 5000-6000 years BP and the agents were the first Papuans, arriving in New Guinea from the west only at this time.

(14.) We know the canoes long precede contact with Pacific islanders in the Queensland cane and marine industries from the 1860s: Cook (Haviland 1973:220), King (1837, Vol. 1:208-09, Vol. 11:14, and in Curr 1887, II: 392), and MacGillivray (1852) all saw them at Endeavour River and MacGillivray saw them at Bloomfield River, and Brierly drew one at Fitzroy Island near Cairns in 1848 (Brierly 1848-50).

(15.) Kuku Yalanji people told me in 1995 that their canoes had a sail, and Hershberger & Hershberger (1986:106) list 'mararr "cloth". Originally a sail made of plaited palm leaves'. The Flinders Island PT loan word for sail thorro discussed below further indicates that sails were in use and had a prehistory in the region. Roth (1910:14) says that at Cape Bedford, a special timber called 'dadetchin' in GYim was used for the pegs, 'while the floats are cut from a peculiarly light wood caste up on the beach and preserved until required'.

(16.) In extant PT words r represents an alveolar flap, but represents a retroflex glide in Paman languages which have two rhotics--the glide usually written as r and a tap/trill written as rr.

(17.) Records for these items respectively are 'wangga', 'darman', and 'wagga' (Roth 1910); 'wanka', 'tarrman', and 'wakka' (Thomson 1935); wangga, tharrman, and waga (Haviland 2017). GYim speaker Frank Deemal (pc to Wood, October 2017) has recently confirmed them with me. Waga is now also used for the bonnet of a car.

(18.) POc *R was possibly a uvular trill, and *r an alveolar tap which in some PT languages now alternates with [1].

(19.) I notice rama in Manam and Kiribatese, although the derivation may differ (Pawley and Pawley 1998:192).

(20.) In 4 of the 25 the vowel is i and the liquid is a rhotic, e.g. GYim jirimathi 'small sparrow bird (sp.)';jirimandi 'coconut; garriman 'spearthrower'; mirrimbal 'cockatoo crest' (Haviland 2017:15, 25).

(21.) E.g. Flinders Island woka 'head hair' could suggest the extension of 'head' to 'canoe prow' which is common in other CYP languages, but this word derives from a Proto-Paman word meaning not 'head' but 'grass' thence 'hair' (Alpher 2017:505-6). Likewise, Umpithamu wayngkarrangka 'canoe,' derived from Proto-Paman walngga 'belly,' could superficially suggest that GYim wangga might descend from a related proto-form (idem:478). However, the l > y lenition in the Umpithamu word is an Umpithamu-specific process (Jean-Christophe Verstraete, pers. com.), and neither Flinders Island nor Umpithamu are plausible loan sources for GYim.

(22.) See Haddon & Hornell (1937:273, 277), and Jenness & Ballantyne (1928:383) on Goodenough Island.

(23.) Many Pama-Nyungan languages further south have a bilabial fricative allophone of b, but it appears that GYim does not. Whether the word arrived in GYim with the stop as k [vaka] or g [vaga] is immaterial, as it would be realized in GYim as [wak:a] due to Pama-Nyungan fortition and lengthening of medial stops, and both Roth and Thomson heard and recorded the medial stop as geminated (lengthened).

(24.) McGillivray published only the Brumer list, apparently as a representative of both islands and because his Brumer corpus was larger.

(25.) E.g. see canoe photograph at

(26.) Muyuw is the only lexicon of those I have had access to that has no closed syllable bias, but I assume that is the result of having engaged at some stage in a burst of final vowel deletions.

(27.) This is readily apparent from a comparison of extant Papuan Tip lexicons, but is also explicitly discussed by Schlossberg (2012:13-4) in his reconstruction of PPT.

(28.) Lentfer et al. (2013:141). A University of Auckland site ( states that one sherd contains volcanic sand temper of possible Papuan Tip origin.

(29.) See Roth (1910:11-4), and a clearer account in Haddon (1935:310-2).

(30.) Badjao is the Philippine cognate of Indonesian Bajau, in reference to people sometimes called 'Sea Gypsies' and who are among remnants of various 'Sea Peoples' (Malay Orang Laut, southern Philippines Tawu Laod) who once ranged more widely in ISEA (Haddon 1920:116).

(31.) Haddon (1920:122, 1935:311).

(32.) Haddon (1920:75, 89). I exclude semi-direct attachment of eastern Polynesian canoes which have a different prehistory.

(33.) Kennedy (1992:175), MacGillivray (1852:291). The languages of the Samoans, Vanuatuans, and Filipino marine industry workers and missionaries who came to colonial era Torres Strait do not feature this form for outrigger, which in any case was recorded in the 19th century well before their arrival.

(34.) MacGillivray (1852:291), Haddon (1913:628).

(35.) This large steering oar is used like a rudder, but is held at, or lashed to, one side of the stem.

(36.) Because we do not do not know of an etymology does not mean there is not one. Nathar is also one member of a doublet, which I take as a further indicator for one being a loan, in this case Brierly (Brierly 1848-50 in Moore 1979:96) often heard WCL 'kotsie' (kochay?) for 'deck.' For nathar see Haddon (1912:207), Haddon & Hornell (1937:193), and Ray (1907:113), and Pawley & Pawley (1998:190-91) for Austronesian forms.

(37.) Guula with the final vowel is reported from Tudu Island (Curr 1887:III, 685). Final vowel deletion is common in WCL dialects. Brierly (1848) has both a[eta]ganya and gara as 'canoe' on his sketches of Gudang canoes.

(38.) Mitchell (2015:343) suggests that guul(a) may descend front 'POc *qaluwa[eta] "sailing canoe'", but which I cannot find on any PMP or POc lexicons, and Mitchell does not identify his source for it.

(39.) Haddon (1920:110-1, 117, 118). Haddon (1920:117-8) refutes the notion that this great stock of kora-like words in Indonesia derive from Arabic qorqor via Portuguese. Barnes (1996:201-4) discusses the terms used by Moluccan marine hunters to the present. In Maluku korakora, and in the Philippines karakaw, came to mean a largish boat, but elsewhere in ISEA these words denote simple canoes. Reduction of reduplicated forms like korakora to singular stem and final segment deletion that a derivation for guul(a) requires occurs in WCL. Mitchell (2015:341) gives the examples goeyga 'day' and Meriam gerger from Proto-Paman *karri 'sun'.

(40.) For anganya see Brierly (1848-50, 1848-50) and MacGillivray (1852:291). Wa[eta]ka(ng) in Indonesia and bangka? in the Philippines are derivatives of PMP *(v,w)a[eta]ka([eta]), but Pawley & Pawley (1998:180) provide reasons to doubt that POc *waga is, despite the deceptive closeness of form.

(41.) MacGillivray (1852:Part II, Appendix 1, items 40, 333, 449, 450); Roth (1910:15).

(42.) In TS loans to Kuku Ya'u, /o/ is reflected as /u(u)/, and Kuku Ya'u does not permit final stops, hence *d > l).

(43.) Mitchell (2015:340) suggests that WCL koedhal 'crocodile' derives from Malay kadal 'garden lizard'. This could only be so if kadal had been used in a wry sense in place of Malay buaya 'crocodile'. If so, its co-presence with sara 'seagull' plugs into major, conjoined CYP-Torres Strait crocodile and seagull cults in kood and ku'uul rites, for which see Thomson (1933), Haddon (1935:224ff), and McConnell (1939). Examples of kota in ISEA include toponyms such as Sarawak's Kota Kinabalu and Mindanao's Cotabato ('stone city/wall').

(44.) E.g. it was made by either a colonial-era Louisiade visitor to TS, or it is mis-identified in the Museum. No canoe with wattled luggage crates occurs in Oceania except in Cendarwasih Bay.

(45.) At the close of that day they brought in a dugong almost as big as the canoe from which it was caught.


(47.) Such as Y-Chromosome Oceanic DNA in southeast CYP and CYP mitochondrial DNA in southeast Papua?

(48.) Sources for the POc forms on Table 1 are Ross (1988:91-2, 1998:15-16) and Pawley & Pawley (1998:178-9, 192-5).

(49.) I include this form on the grounds discussed, namely, that it has to have been present among POc forms to account for the current PT forms retaining the medial liquid or final nasal, and the GYim form with both.

(50.) McNiven's (2015:164) otherwise fine paper on Torres Strait canoes misidentifies Brierley's sketch of the boom to rail attachment from which the top right picture is cropped as that of a Torres Strait canoe. It is a Gudang canoe, which unlike those of the Strait islands lacked built-up and decorated gunwales and prow as seen on Brierly's illustration of a Kaurareg (Prince of Wales Island) canoe in Figure 9.

(51.) This canoe contained two leading Gudang men, Tchiako and his son Tomagugu, who exchanged fish for ship's biscuits, as recorded in Brierly's journal for November 15, 1848 (in Moore 1979:112).


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Ray Wood

Independent Scholar

DOI: 10.1002/ocea.5193
Table 1 Lexical comparisons of southeast CYP languages with POc, PPT,
PT (48)

Boat   Guugu      Other CYP    Extant PT
word   Yimithirr  languages    languages

canoe  wa[eta]ga               waga, waka, vaka
prow   waga       thurrumun    vagavaga
                  (Barrow Pt)  'prow headboard'
float  tharrman                salima, darima

sail   ?          thorro       doro (Suauic)
                  (Flinders    lara (Motu)
                  Isl)         'badiara'

Boat   PPT           POc

canoe  * wa[rta]gal  *wa[eta]ga
ship   *vaka?        *paka
prow   *vaga(vaga)?  *muqa-
float  *sar(i)ma(n)  *saman
                     *sa(r)(i)man (1)
sail   ?             VayaR

(1) I include this form on the grounds discussed, namely, that it has
to have been present among POc forms to account for the current PT
forms retaining the medial liquid or final nasal, and the GYim form
with both.
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