Did the Dutch Teach Aborigines How to Cultivate Yams?
Mr Pascoe, in Dark Emu and in his lectures, waxes lyrical about the Western Australian explorer George Grey’s sightings of a,
“tract of light fertile soil quite overrun with warran [yam]..…and now for three and a half consecutive miles traversed a piece of land, literally perforated with holes the natives made to dig this root; indeed we could walk with difficulty across it on that account whilst the tract extended east and west as far as we could see”, and “the frequent wells...altogether executed in a superior manner”,
which he quotes from one of his main sources of evidence, the scholar Rupert Gerritsen. This description by Grey in Dark Emu (2018 reprint, p17) leads the reader to convince himself of the existence of a pre-colonial, “sophisticated Aboriginal agriculture complete with an irrigation system for the production of yams” on a vast scale.
What Mr Pascoe doesn’t tell the reader however, is that he has lifted this isolated section from the brilliantly detailed work of Gerritsen, and totally omitted any reference to the crucial paragraphs before, and after, this section. These paragraphs detail Gerritsen’s theory that Dutch survivors from the Batavia shipwreck and mutiny landed on the West Australian mainland and befriended the local aboriginal tribe, the Nhanda, inter-married with them, and introduced them to the cultivation of the Asian yam variety that the Dutch were most probably carrying as supplies.
Figures 1 to 4 below are from the Gerritsen reference, which is quoted by Mr Pascoe, with the paragraph selected for inclusion in Dark Emu highlighted in yellow. Readers will see the whole context if they read all four pages, or download a more detailed paper by Gerritsen on his theory : here.
A fascinating story of how the Dutch introduced yam agriculture to the aboriginal Nhanda tribe in Western Australia in 1629, some 200 years prior to the arrival of the British explorers and settlers.
“Up to 16% of the Nhanda language would appear to have been derived from Dutch.”- Gerritsen