History had to be one of my favourite subjects in high school. I recall in those years i learned a fair bit about
the ancient Egyptians, Romans then moving on to the World Wars and even bizarre history like Jack The Ripper.
When it came to Australian History we were taught the standard table spoon of white pride –
that the Dutch skimmed through parts of Australia’s west yet never settled and that first “contact” occurred when the British came into Australian soil to settle in 1788 with the explorer Captain James Cook and his team.
It always baffled me how such a vast and huge country for such a long time remained undiscovered especially since those were the days and ages of exploration and imperialism. Yet some information had surfaced that shifts Australia’s history- the first people to be in contact with the Australian land and native Aboriginal People were the Muslim Macassans of Indonesia.
That is right ladies and gentleman – approximately anywhere between 70-400 years prior to the British exploration of Australia, the Macassan Indonesians had a strong trade network with the Aboriginal people of Northern Australia.
This exploration always excited me, and no not because they are Muslims- i was also extremely happy to hear Portuguese Ship coins from the 17th century were found in Australian waters too- yet what excites me most is that it takes away from the European Imperialist superiority over the region, we tend to think that prior to the Europeans arriving in Australia it was just a shell of a place with a non productive people isolated from the rest of the world.
The amazing thing about this relationship between the native Yolngu tribe and the Macassan Indonesians is that it was an entirely peaceful and persistent trade. Items that were traded between the parties were; Cloth, Tobacco, Knives, Rice, Gin and Tamarind. Although there were certain scenarios where illness, weapons and alcohol could have been abused, overall it was a mutual trade agreement between the parties that lasted for a long time, and overall a successful communication between two very different people.
Words from the Macassar language still exist in certain tribes of Northern Australia including the word “Rupiah” (money). Aboriginal artists have also incorporated the Macassans into their Music. Famous Aboriginal singer Youthu Yindi released a song titled “Macassan Crew” with lyrics that include:
“Tradewinds blow; The southern cross- taking their prau (boat) across the sea, they came in peace through the Ashmore Reef, smoke and steel and the Tamarind seed, steer it up right- steer it up true, Navigate the morning star brave Macassan crew!” – Yothu Yindi
Now seeming this is an undeniable part of our history, is it not about time they added this to the history curriculum? Don’t we as Australians have every right to know about our nation and its experiences? Are we too ashamed to state that before the Europeans came to “settle” the Blacks and the Asians already had things happening over here with a mutual and consensual root? We know the history of European Settlement in Australia was not the greatest thing-
with the introduction of numerous diseases, massacres, mistreatment and sheer colonization plus many other shameful acts that continued for a long time (The Stolen generation and Aboriginals not being allowed to vote until 1967!).
Is it not about time we shared the hidden history of our beautiful nation? One that is authentic, unique and exotic? A history that proves that whilst the Indoensians had all the power to take over the land and its people just like the
British did, that instead they opted for peaceful trade quests and mutual understanding? Is this not a piece of history that we should be proud of, regardless of our race and creed? It’s time to recognize the Tamarind Seed!
Peace, Salam Alaykum.