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Reading and Riding the Waves:The Sea as a Known Universe in Torres Strait

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Document pages: 6 pages

Abstract: This paper describes and evaluates the ways in which Torres Strait Islanders read, work and live with their seascape. As marine oriented people, their cultural and natural heritage is fundamentally connected to their seascape through the trajectories of history, knowledge, beliefs, values, social organisation and resource use. Indeed the connection between self and place, the flow between people, seascape and landscape is crucial to Torres Strait Islander identity. I draw upon long term research and connection with people in the Torres Strait, professional experience in researching marine hunting and foraging practices, and knowledge systems, my continuing involvement since 1996 in debates about knowledge and use of seascapes; and the study of small island societies (McCall 1996; Hay 2006; Hviding 2003) in order to demonstrate some of the techniques by which the sea is rendered visible and knowable to Torres Strait Islanders and thus to ourselves. In particular I discuss the flow between landscapes, seascapes and people, and the socio-cultural dimensions of marine knowledge and use. I present this case study on how a specific seascape redolent with meaning and activity is understood by Islanders, to exemplify a means by which some of the ‘intangible heritage’ (UNESCO 2003) of other seascapes might be approached or revealed. It is through understanding the ways in which people ‘know’ and live in this watery realm, as an essential attribute of who they are, that we can see its significance as a primary dimension of their cultural heritage.

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