Language and Identity
Reality and Belief



May 27 , 2004
Ole Stig Andersen Order a presentation:

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The Danish crown prince Frederik's marriage to Mary Donaldson on May 14th, 2004, will of course create a dramatic increase in the public awareness of her home country Tasmania. 2004 will also witness the celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the foundation of the first permanent British penal colony in the country.

It is a grim tale of how dedicated Christians exterminated Tasmania's aboriginal population within a lifetime. 'The world's most thorough and fastest executed genocide,' it has been called. It happened in the first half of the 1800s. The Christians massacred the indigenous bands, murdered men and abducted the women and children and kept them as toys and slaves. The government offered a bounty for captured Aboriginals, and in 1832 a gigantic chain hunt was held right across the island employing over two thousand men.

Truganini, the Aboriginal princess, was born in 1812, shortly after the invasion of Tasmania had begun. She was the last of her kind when she died, aged 64.

She appears to have been a woman with a radiant sexuality, charming Blacks and Whites alike.

As a young woman she played a vital role in the Christian mission that rounded up the surviving 2-300 Aboriginals and incarcerated them in a desolate, guarded camp on a barren island where they perished, one by one.

She also joined an armed insurrection against the Christians, together with Aboriginals on mainland Australia.

The Danish adventurer Jorgen Jorgenson became a convict and a government-appointed hunter of Aboriginals and one of the colonists who knew the Aboriginal population the best. He wrote a couple of books about them. In Denmark he is mostly known, if at all, for having proclaimed himself sovereign of Iceland for a few weeks in the summer of 1809.

Princess Truganini died in 1876, childless, a queen without a people. She was the last "full-blooded" Tasmanian, and she was the last one who knew the language.

For many years Truganini's skeleton was exhibited at the museum in the capital Hobart. It wasn't taken down until after the Second World War, when it became inescapable to view the Christian extermination of the Tasmanian aboriginals in the light of the Nazi genocide on Jews and Gypsies in Europe.

Truganini's remains were cremated and scattered over her native waters in 1976, 100 years after her death.

Museums and universities all over the civilized world have been compelled to return their collections of aboriginal bones and other body parts. It wasn't until 2002 that Truganini's last remains - her hair and portions of her skin - could finally return from London to be buried.

There are also human remains in Denmark. A couple of years ago the Danish National Museum returned a preserved, tattooed Maori head to New Zealand.
Read also (in Danish) the story about "Hottentot Venus" whose genitalia were displayed in formaline at a museum in Paris for many years.

A minor part in the story is played by the Tasmanian tiger, an unusual marsupial that was exterminated by the same people under the same pretexts and partly by the same means as the Aboriginal population. The last Tasmanian tiger died in Hobart's zoo in 1936.

The Tasmanians and their unique languages and cultures were eradicated in no time at all, but several thousand descendants of Tasmanian women and Christian men survived all the same, together with remnants of their Aboriginal heritage. According to the latest census they comprise about 3% of Tasmania's population. Over the years they have waged a stubborn struggle for the recognition of their rights as descendants of the Aboriginal inhabitants, a struggle that is comparable to those of the Australian Aboriginals, the North American Indians and the Scandinavian Sami, e.g.

During the last 20 years or so they have achieved the recognition of a number of rights. Considerable funds are now allocated to their institutions and organizations by both Tasmania and Australia. But at the same time as they have won official recognition as the legitimate heirs of the Aboriginal population, bitter internal strife has erupted on how exactly these rights and funds should be administered. And who can rightfully claim to be a descendant?

The lecturer Ole Stig Andersen is a journalist specializing in minority issues.

art exhibition




Alias: Truganinni Trugannini Truganninni Trucaninni Trucannini Trucanninni Truggernanna Truggernana Lalla Rookh Ludygee Søgræs Jørgen Jürgensen Jorgensen Van Diemen Diemens Diemen's Land












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© Ole Stig Andersen Jan 14, 2004 (rev May 27)