The “Kaurna people” or the “Gana people”
Now the “South Australian History Festival” comes to the end. But one very important question was not even touched: How to pronounce correctly “Kaurna”. Some months ago I read an article “How one Indigenous man found identity through the almost-lost Kaurna language” on the ABC in South Australia, written by Brett Williamson.
Almost-lost? The language of the Kaurna people got completely lost. But nobody in South Australia has the courage to say this because of excessive political correctness regarding the Aboriginal people. I wrote to the ABC in South Australia and to the South Australian Museum in Adelaide and I did not get any answer.
My name is Maike Vogt-Luerssen. I am a historian and I was born in Germany. When I was 39 years of age, my family and I emigrated to Australia. We are now German-born Australians. For the first two years we lived in Alice Springs and a friend introduced me to her aboriginal friend who had a book in his hands. When I opened it and read it with a loud voice, he was so astonished that I was able to speak his language. But the only thing I really did was reading the letters like I would have done if this had been a German text. This was indeed my first encounter with the German Lutheran Missionaries of the 19th century who wrote down the languages of the Aboriginal groups “in German”.
Since we have been living in Adelaide, I have always been irritated when the Kaurna people call themselves “Gana people”. I am writing the name like a German missionary would have done it in the 19th century. As you can see, “Kaurna” is not “Gana”. Christian Gottlieb Teichelmann (1807-1893), the great German Lutheran Missionary in South Australia, wrote “Kaurna”. Nowadays everybody, Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal, says “Gana”. Although the real pronunciation can be found not only in the books of Teichelmann, but also in our extraordinary South Australian Museum. Here you read the following :
When Europeans arrived in 1836 to the Adelaide area, it was occupied by an Aboriginal group identified as the Kaurna (pronounced cow-r-na) people. ...”
By the way the German language in contrast to the English language does not allow any interpretation of the pronunciation. We have a strict rule to pronounce a word! The letters “au” in Kaurna sound like “ow” like in “now”. And a “K” sounds as “c” like in “cold” and not as a “G” like in “good”. In German you write what you speak and you speak what you write.
If you ask me as a historian whom do I believe regarding the pronunciation of the word “Kaurna”, an Aboriginal of the Kaurna people of today who never met one of their forefathers of the first half of the 19th century or Christian Gottlieb Teichelmann, the foremost European authority on the Kaurna language of the Adelaide region, who had met the Kaurna people in person when he had arrived in Adelaide in 1838, who had spoken to and with them for so many years and who had written down their language, I think you all know my answer.
Are we really not any longer able to correct this mistake so that everybody knows the right pronunciation is “Kaurna” and not “Gana”?
As a historian I see the many mistakes our forefathers did and our contemporaries do and how difficult it is to correct them, which frustrates me so much. Is it in this case political correctness which makes it impossible to do the right thing?
If you would like to know more about this topic, please read the following book: Aborigines of South Australia – Illustrative and Explanatory Notes of the Manners, Customs, Habits, and Superstitions of the Natives of South Australia by C. G. Teichelmann. Adelaide 1841 (you find this book in our wonderful Barr-Smith Library of the University of Adelaide).