Mabo (Un)Explained

Dampier’s Cape Mabo is a misreading of Tasman’s Cape Maba, derived in turn from the 1616 voyage of Le Maire and Schouten which rounded and named Cape Horn and then crossed the Pacific looking for islands of trade outside the voracious purview of the Dutch East India Company.

Their ships were sequestered by said company upon arrival in Batavia, en route to which they passed along the north coast of New Guinea and saw the northern and eastern coasts of Halmahera, where Cape Maba is, or was. There is still a town, and a provincial district, called Maba on Halmahera and the people of this area – the northern coast of the south eastern peninsular – speak an Austronesian language also known as Maba. The name of the cape would thus seem to originate in local usage.

The Mer Islands, where Eddie Mabo came from, are a world away to the east; they are in fact the most easterly of the Torres Strait Islands, volcanic remnants where the people speak a non-Austronesian language related to those of mainland eastern Papua to the north. There is a form of ancestor worship in the Mer, or Murray, Islands called the Eastern Malo Cult after the originating ancestor; but it is a long stretch to imagine how the labial could have morphed into a voiced plosive.

The Celtic goddess Mabo Mabona, the ‘true lost word’, is in some recensions identifed as masculine, the Irish Apollo, god of music, sports and sex, named in ogam, like his female equivalent, as Mabo or Mabona. In this version of the tradition, his symbol is the phallus, and he is a god of youth. Lost word, god of youth, ancestor, precursor of justice, name, name ...

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