Last night’s Foreign Correspndent featured a short report about the Amaraic language of the village of Malula, Syria.

The story goes that Aramaic was the language of Jesus and was spoken in a fairly large region of the Middle East, until the 7th and 8th centuries when Arabic spread with Islam. Aramaic speakers – both Christian and Muslim – were apparently persecuted by Arabic-speaking Muslims and anyone who dared speak Aramaic would have their tongue cut out.

As a result, Aramaic was soon restricted to Malula, and survives today with a community of about 5,000 people, split down the middle into Christian and Muslim, but who live in complete harmony with each other. Even the head of the local Coptic church reckons that the Muslims speak better, more traditional Aramaic than the Christians do.

Aramaic is of course the language made famous recently by Mel Gibson’s Passion of the Christ, except that according to a Malula shepherd, a Muslim who has seen the film a dozen times, the Aramaic is ‘broken’ and they apparently speak too slow1.

The video of the report is up already, so if you have a spare ten minutes and are interested in this language, which sounds fantastic by the way, take a look.

  1. In keeping with the theme of accurate depictions of languages in films, I wonder if anyone knows whether the Mayan language in another of Gibson’s epics, that monstrosity Apocalypto, is at all accurate. I doubt it to be honest, as the film isn’t even consistent as to their location. At one point they’re in Guiana, at another they’re in Yucatec, and later on they’re in Brazil. []

It’s a busy time for indigenous arts and culture, as long as you live in the South-East of the country, that is.

In Sydney, as part of the Sydney Festival, the Belvoir St Theatre in Surrey Hills is showing Ngapartji Ngapartji, a story about a Pitjantjatjara man’s life that doubles as a language and culture course. Indeed, the audience is invited to learn some Pitjantjatjara beforehand, to fully appreciate the performance.

More on the Ngapartji website, or also check out the Ninti Ngapartji online Pitjantjatjara language course.


If you’re in Canberra however, you would normally receive my condolences. But not today, since you can go down to the National Gallery of Australia to see the inaugural National Indigenous Art Triennial, titled Culture Warriors (which I wrote about back here). It’s a collection of indigenous art produced in the last three years from thirty artists, and comprises both traditional works and modern art from right across the country (only Tasmania is unrepresented, it seems).

One artist that features prominently in this exhibition is Lofty Bardayal Nadjamarrek,  a prolific artist from western Arnhem Land. The work below, Dulklorrkelorrkeng and Wakkewakken, which depicts two evil spirits associated with Bardayal’s dreaming, is featured on the NGA website with an audio recording of the story that inspires it.


Wakkewakken, the legless women, is associated with the ancestral honey in areas around where Nadjamerrek lives – his country Kabulwarnamyo. Dulklorrkelorrkeng has legs, arms, an ‘arse like a monkey’ and the pushed backed face of the ghost bat.

In conjunction with Culture Warriors, the NGA is holding an indigenous film festival, comprising some 20 short films produced in the last two-to-three years, all being shown for free. There’s also be a screening of Ten Canoes, one of my personal favourite films, at 6pm on the first of February, although this will cost you $20/$15, but if you haven’t seen it yet, this is a golden opportunity to see an amazingly shot film on the big screen.

Culture Warriors has been on already for three months, but will close on the tenth of February. I, for one, am going to take a weekend off sometime soon and drive down to Canberra, despite my instinctive aversion to the place, to see it.