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Tasmanian Aborigines - Parlevar (Eng:Palawa)
A picture of the last four
Tasmanian Aborigines c. 1860s.
, the last to survive, is seated at far right.
) are the
of the island state of
. Before British colonisation in 1803, there were an estimated 3,000–15,000 Parlevar.
Much of the
__Indigenous Tasmanian languages__
have been lost. Currently there are some efforts to reconstruct a language from the available wordlists. Today, some thousands of people living in Tasmania and elsewhere can trace part of their ancestry to the Parlevar, since a number of Parlevar women were abducted, most commonly by the sealers living on smaller islands in
; some women were traded or bartered for; and a number voluntarily associated themselves with European sealers and settlers and bore children. Those members of the modern-day descendant community who trace their ancestry to Tasmanian Aborigines have mostly European ancestry, and did not keep the traditional Parlevar culture.
Other Aboriginal groups within Tasmania use the language words from the area where they are living and/or have lived for many generations uninterrupted. Many aspects of the Aboriginal Tasmanian culture are continually practised in various parts of the state and the islands of the Bass Strait.
Before European settlement
The Shoreline of Tasmania and Victoria about 14,000 years ago as Sea Levels were rising showing some of the human archaeological sites
People are thought to have crossed into Tasmania approximately 40,000 years ago via a
between the island and the rest of mainland Australia during the
__last glacial period__
. According to genetic studies, once the sea levels rose flooding the
, the people were left isolated for approximately 8,000 years until European exploration during the late 18th and early 19th centuries.
In 1990 archaeologists excavated materials in the Warreen Cave in the Maxwell River valley of the south-west proving Aboriginal occupation from as early as 34,000BCE. In 2010, following protests that the construction of the Jordan River valley bridge that was part of the new
bybass would disturb a tradition Aboriginal meeting place that had been identified in 2008, the government agreed to an archaeological investigation although stating that while artefacts would be protected the construction would go ahead. Archaeologists excavating a 600 metre long section of river bank found a large number of stone tools and later estimated that the bank contains up to three million artifacts. Preliminary dating indicates that the site was continuously occupied from 40,000 BCE to 28,000 BCE.
After the sea rose to create Bass Strait, the Australian mainland and Tasmania became separate land masses, and the Aborigines who had migrated from mainland Australia became cut off from their cousins on the mainland. Because neither side had ocean sailing technology, the two groups were unable to maintain contact.
It has been a long held view that because of the ocean divide, and unlike other populations around the world, the small population of Tasmania was not able to share any of the new technological advances being made by mainland groups such as barbed spears, bone tools of any kind,
, hooks, sewing, and the ability to start a fire thus making Tasmanian Aborigines the simplest people on Earth. However, they did possess fire with the men entrusted in carrying embers from camp to camp for cooking and which could also be used to clear land and herd animals to aid in hunting practices. Another school of thought holds that because food was so abundant compared to mainland Australia the Aborigines had no need for a better technology, pointing out that they did in fact originally possess bone tools which dropped out of use as the effort to make them began to exceed the benefit they provided.
It has been suggested that approximately 4,000 years ago, the Tasmanian Aborigines largely dropped scaled fish from their diet, and began eating more land mammals such as
. They also switched from worked
. The significance of the disappearance of bone tools (believed to have been primarily used for fishing related activities) and fish in the diet is heavily debated. Some argue that it is evidence of a
(not able to adjust to new situations) society while others argue that the change was due to large areas of scrub at that time changing to grassland providing substantially increased food resources. Fish were never a large part of the diet, ranking behind shellfish and seals, and with more resources available the
of fishing may have become too high. Archaeological evidence indicates that around the time these changes took place the Tasmanian tribes began expanding their territories, a process that was still continuing when Europeans arrived.
It is now believed that they also constructed basic wooden shelters and small domed 'huts' to protect themselves during chilly winter months, although it seems they preferred to live in cave dwellings.
Very little is known about the nature of social, cultural or territorial history of the Tasmanian Aborigines, but archaeological research has provided debunking many long-held myths.
Tasmanian Aboriginal Tribes
Map of the Tasmanian Tribes
The social organisation of Tasmanian Aborigines had three distinct levels: the domestic unit or family group, the social unit or band which had a self-defining name with 40 to 50 people, and collections of bands comprising tribes which owned territories. Even though territories were owned there was substantial movement and migration by bands to utilise and share abundant food resources in particular seasons.
Estimates made of the combined population of the Aboriginal people of Tasmania, before European arrival in Tasmania, are in the range of 3,000 to 15,000 people. Genetic studies have suggested much higher figures which is supported by oral traditions that Aborigines were "more numerous than the white people were aware of" but that their population had been decimated by a sudden outbreak of disease prior to 1803. It is speculated that early contacts with sealers before colonisation had resulted in an epidemic.
The Tasmanian Aborigines were a primarily nomadic people who lived in adjoining territory, moving from area to area not only based on seasonal changes in food supplies such as seafood, land mammals and native vegetables and berries but also to allow food resources to regenerate for future use. The different tribes shared similar languages and culture. They socialized, intermarried and fought 'wars' against other tribes.
The population of Tasmania was separated into nine tribes made up of six to fifteen bands each, with each band having two to six extended family units (clans) who were distantly related to each other. Individual bands had a specific home range with elaborate rites of entry required of visitors. However, the band was a land using group not a land ‘owner.’ There were more than 60 bands before European colonisation, although only 48 have been located and associated with particular territories. The Eastern and Northern group consisted of the Oyster Bay Tribe, North East Tribe, and the North Tribe. The Midlands Group consisted of the Big River Tribe, North Midlands Tribe and Ben Lomond Tribe. The Maritime Group consisted of the North West Tribe, South West Tribe and South East Tribe.
Oyster Bay (Paredarerme)
The Paredarerme tribe was estimated to be the largest Tasmanian tribe with ten bands totalling 700 to 800 people. The Paredarerme Tribe had good relations with the Big River tribe, with large congregations at favoured hunting sites inland and at the coast. Relations with the North Midlands tribe were mostly hostile, and evidence suggests that the
region may have been a dangerous borderland rarely visited. Generally, Paredarerme tribe bands migrated inland to the High Country for Spring and Summer and returned to the coast for Autumn and Winter, but not all people left their territory each year with some deciding to stay by the coast. Migrations provided a varied diet with plentiful seafood, seals and birds on the coast, and good hunting for kangaroos, wallabies and possums inland. The High Country also provided opportunities to trade for ochre with the North-west and North people, and to harvest intoxicating gum from
, found only on the plateau. The key determinant of camp sites was
(the lie of the land and the vegetation). The majority of camps were along river valleys and on gentle slopes bordering a forest or marsh.
The North East tribe consisted of seven bands totalling around 500 people. They had good relations with the Ben Lomond tribe, who were allowed access to the resources of the north east coast.
The North tribe consisted of four bands totalling 200–300 people. Their country contained the most important ochre mines in Tasmania, accessed by well defined roads kept open by firing. They traded the ochre with all adjacent tribes. They would spend part of the year in the country of the North West Tribe to hunt seals and collect shells from
for necklaces. In return, the North West Tribe had free access to the ochre mines.
The Ben Lomond tribe consisted of three and possibly four bands totalling 150-200 people who occupied 260 km2 of country surrounding the 182 km2
__Ben Lomond plateau__
. Until 12,000 years ago, the plateau was covered by an ice cap, leaving it largely devoid of soil and lacking in resources.
The North West tribe numbered between 400 and 600 people at time of contact with Europeans and had at least eight bands.They had good relations with the North tribe, who were allowed access to the resources of the north west coast. South West Coast
Risdon Cove, the first Tasmanian settlement, was located in South East country. There is eyewitness evidence that the South East tribe may have consisted of up to ten bands, totalling around 500 people. However, only four bands totalling 160-200 people were officially recorded. Their country contained the most important
mines in Tasmania.
was a Nuenonne from
, which they called
Tasmanian Aboriginal shell necklace art
Making necklaces from shells is a significant cultural tradition among Tasmanian Aboriginal women. Necklaces were used for adornment, as gifts and tokens of honour, and as trading objects. Dating back at least 2,600 years, necklace-making is one of the few Palawa traditions that has remained intact and has continued without interruption since before European settlement.
Spears are used for hunting, fishing and fighting. Some are made from single pieces of wood. Tasmanian Aborigines had very long spears, about six metres in length.
Many spears have to be made from light wood. Oyster Bay pine saplings grow tall and straight. With the lightness, tallness and straightness of them, you rarely had to work them over a fire. We used to bind the spear shafts with yacca [grass tree, Xanthorrhoea] gum sap and kangaroo sinews. Apart from fighting spears, we had six-metre-long canoe spears, and short stumpy spears for spearing seals.
Brendan Brown, Rocky Point, Cape Barren Island, 2000
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