You are not currently logged in.

Login through your institution for access.


Log in through your institution.

The Aranda’s Pepa

The Aranda’s Pepa: An introduction to Carl Strehlow’s Masterpiece Die Aranda- und Loritja-Stämme in Zentral-Australien (1907-1920) OPEN ACCESS

Anna Kenny
Copyright Date: 2013
Published by: ANU Press
Stable URL:
  • Cite this Item
  • Book Info
    The Aranda’s Pepa
    Book Description:

    The German missionary Carl Strehlow (1871-1922) had a deep ethnographic interest in Aboriginal Australian cosmology and social life which he documented in his 7 volume work Die Aranda- und Loritja-Stämme in Zentral-Australien that remains unpublished in English. In 1913, Marcel Mauss called his collection of sacred songs and myths, an Australian Rig Veda. This immensely rich corpus, based on a lifetime on the central Australian frontier, is barely known in the English-speaking world and is the last great body of early Australian ethnography that has not yet been built into the world of Australian anthropology and its intellectual history. The German psychological and hermeneutic traditions of anthropology that developed outside of a British-Australian intellectual world were alternatives to 19th century British scientism. The intellectual roots of early German anthropology reached back to Johann Gottfried Herder (1744-1803), the founder of German historical particularism, who rejected the concept of race as well as the French dogma of the uniform development of civilisation. Instead he recognised unique sets of values transmitted through history and maintained that cultures had to be viewed in terms of their own development and purpose. Thus, humanity was made up of a great diversity of ways of life, language being one of its main manifestations. It is this tradition that led to a concept of cultures in the plural.

    eISBN: 978-1-921536-77-9
    Subjects: History
    × Close Overlay

Table of Contents

Export Selected Citations
  1. Introduction (pp. 1-12)

    Around the turn of the twentieth century three outstanding researchers were investigating societies of central Australia. The writings of Baldwin Spencer, Professor of Biology at the University of Melbourne, Frank Gillen, Post and Telegraph Stationmaster in Alice Springs, and the Lutheran missionary Carl Strehlow at Hermannsburg contain unique documentation of Australian indigenous cultures as they may have been pre-contact. Yet, while Spencer’s and Gillen’s work and achievements are a celebrated part of Australian intellectual history, Carl Strehlow’s contribution to our knowledge and understanding of Aranda and Loritja language, oral literature and culture remains almost unknown.

    Spencer and Gillen became central...

  2. Part I
    • On the 23 December 1871 in a little village called Fredersdorf in Northern Germany, Carl Friedrich Theodore Strehlow was born as the seventh child of the village school teacher (Liebermeister 1998: 16). Carl grew up in modest circumstances that offered few opportunities. In the Germany of the late nineteenth century, clerical institutions were the only source of education for the talented poor. The Lutheran Seminary at Neuendettelsau where Carl trained offered a rich and intense intellectual grounding for the bright and gifted student. As Carl Strehlow was finding a calling that would take him to the remotest place on earth...

    • In the context of Spencer and Gillen’s work, and also that of Howitt (1904) for example, two questions should be posed of Carl Strehlow’s text. First, how might one explain his lack of engagement with anthropological debates on the origins and evolution of indigenous Australians? Second, what explains Strehlow’s quite particular focus on myth and song among the Aranda and Loritja when the work of his contemporaries tends to move, in a British vein, from origins, to social organisation, to rite?

      Strehlow, it might be argued, had little contact with his British-Australian contemporaries. Neither Spencer nor Gillen rated the Lutheran...

    • Carl Strehlow is principally known to us through remarks by his son, T.G.H. Strehlow, inJourney to Horseshoe Bend(1969) andSongs of Central Australia(1971), and recently also by his grandson, John Strehlow, inThe Tale of Frieda Keysser(2011). InJourney to Horseshoe Bend,T.G.H. Strehlow records the loyalty of the Aranda and Loritja people to the ailing man and the apparent disloyalty of the Finke River Mission board as it responded in a cumbersome way to his father’s suffering. He also evokes the image of an overwhelming missionary-father. The son’s ambivalence towards the father is readily apparent...

    • The publication ofDie Aranda- und Loritja-Stämme in Zentral-Australienwas the result of the collaboration between Carl Strehlow and his editor and friend, Moritz von Leonhardi.¹ Although his editor understated his contribution in the making of this masterpiece, his contemporaries N.W. Thomas (1909), P.W. Schmidt (1908), Émile Durkheim and Marcel Mauss² were aware of his involvement. Durkheim remarked that it would be ‘proper to add to Strehlow’s name that of von Leonhardi, who played an important role in the publication. Not only was he responsible for editing Strehlow’s manuscripts, but also, by judicious questions on more than one point, he...

  3. Part II
    • It is a given of contemporary Australian anthropology that at the heart of Aboriginal ontology lies the person-land-ancestral inter-relationship (Rumsey 2001: 19), and that this system of belief, glossed in English as ‘the dreaming’, encompasses all dimensions of life (Stanner 2011; Berndt 1970). These elements of Aboriginal cosmology and ontology are taken for granted. Most land claim or native title claim reports, for instance, dedicate a chapter or a substantial section to the dreaming, outlining its main features and key terms, such as altjira, tnankara (tnengkarre/tnangkarra) or tjurunga (tywerrenge), and their translations.¹ They summarise how the landscape was created and...

    • Strehlow’s editor remarked in 1906 that ‘The views of Spencer and Gillen, as well as of other Australian researchers, on the meaning of kinship terms, as well as of the marriage classes, seem still hypothetical.’¹ At the turn of the century the inclination towards evolutionistic theory was prevalent in Australian kinship studies. Reflected in the work of Fison and Howitt, Roth, and Spencer and Gillen, it led to a focus on ‘marriage order’ and kinship terminology. Questions about group marriage, primitive promiscuity, the transition from a four (section) to an eight (subsection) class system, and the origin of human society,...

    • Although Carl Strehlow was not documenting territorial organisation, and did not elaborate on Aranda and Loritja land tenure as such,¹ he made some explicit remarks about an individual’s rights to and affinities with his or her conception site and about mother’s conception site. He took these to be links to places and their dreamings. He also recorded, though less systematically, data on patrilineal descent, inheritance rights through fathers, and rights to ritual knowledge. These data give evidence of a number of pathways to connections to land or place and show the relevance of Carl Strehlow’s work today in the context...

    • Histories of Australian anthropology have had an overwhelmingly Anglophone focus rendering invisible the contribution of the German humanistic tradition. In this chapter I will make some suggestions as to how Carl Strehlow’s work might be positioned in Australian anthropology and the implications of this for a re-assessment of the work of Spencer and Gillen and T.G.H. Strehlow as well as the history of the discipline more generally.

      Old texts or ideas can become the object of current debate and reflection in a discipline (Langham 1981: xxii). Carl Strehlow’s text, for instance, suggests new forms of reflection on contemporary Australian anthropology...

  4. Conclusion (pp. 241-246)

    Perhaps it is fair to say that Carl Strehlow’s masterpiece and its context, demonstrate that every ‘hero’ of past scholarship is but one notable route among others to better understand contemporary thought. This book has been devoted to elucidating his work, both its strengths and its limitations, and the tradition of German humanistic anthropology in Australia. In Part One of this book, I have addressed the wider intellectual context in Germany and in Lutheran Australia that might have shaped his ideas, directly or indirectly. In Part Two, I have discussed his legacy for today’s anthropology, and also the ways in...