Strait Talking
Australian Geographic Magazine|September - October 2019
The Winds of Zenadth festival is one of Australia’s most vibrant celebrations of song, dance, language and history.
Aaron Smith
Torres Strait Islander culture is loud and proud. At the Winds of Zenadth Cultural festival on Thursday Island, dancers strut with painted faces, wearing elaborate headgear that ranges from traditional white-feathered dhari headdresses and dark crowns of cassowary feathers to contemporary depictions of constellations, totems, and even boats and planes.

The Torres Strait islands are an archipelago of more than 274 islands lying in the narrow passage of water that separates Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula and New Guinea. The sound, colour and movement of their biennial festival vividly illustrates the renaissance of an ancient culture. Named after Zenadth Kes – the Islander name for Torres Strait – the event has been going from strength to strength for 32 years. Its dance teams are well-oiled machines, performing local stories of mythology, astronomy, totems and the four winds of Zenadth in perfect unison to the resonating thump of the long, wooden warup drum. The air is filled with the haunting wail of singers belting out ancient songs in language. (Two Indigenous languages are spoken on Torres Strait islands – Kala Lagaw Ya and Meriam Mir. There are also six dialects of Creole, which blends English with the local language.) The dancing starts early in the morning and goes until late at night.

One of the architects of the festival, the late Ephraim Bani (chief of the Wagadagam clan and a renowned cultural adviser and linguist ), once said: “The past must exist, for the present to create the future.” The phrase is engraved on a boulevard on the waterfront at Thursday Island (TI), one of Torres Strait’s main islands.

Fanning the flames

Ephraim’s son Gabriel Bani likens his culture’s revival to a fire. “Dad said the wisdom of the Elders is the firewood, and he said his job was to push the wood into the fire and fan the flames,” says Gabriel, a cultural adviser and councillor of the Torres Shire Council, which organises the festival. “Now he’s gone, that job falls in our lap.”

​Torres Strait life changed forever in the early 19th century. European ships began passing through en route from Brisbane and Sydney to Asia (see Putting Australia on the map, page 86); the sea cucumber and trochus shell industries arrived; then missionaries, colonisation and the pearling industry swiftly followed. Intermarriages took place and aspects of traditional culture were lost. “Our Torres Strait Islander culture was in serious danger,” Gabriel explains. “And that’s why Dad and the other Elders put on the first festival in 1987. Their main aim was to revive our culture.”

Like much of Aboriginal culture, Torres Strait Islander culture was profoundly affected by colonisation, and later by legislation such as the Aborigines Protection Act 1909, which allowed the Protection Board to remove children from their families – a policy that led to the Stolen Generations and fractured many Torres Strait and Aboriginal families. “With the missionaries taking over, all the cultural practices were seen as pagan,” Gabriel explains. “They got rid of the traditional meeting places, the sacred places, known as the kwods, and they put curfews on us at night.”

Continue reading your story on the app

Continue reading your story in the magazine

MORE STORIES FROM AUSTRALIAN GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINEView All

The Good Earth

There’s a growing mound of evidence that spending time in a habitat with healthy soil can be very good for you.

10+ mins read
Australian Geographic Magazine
November December 2019

Saving Our Sea Lions

A radical trial treating a sinister parasite in newborn Australian sea lion pups could help rescue the species.

8 mins read
Australian Geographic Magazine
November December 2019

Rescuing The Reef

Justin Gilligan joins scientists on an expedition to the far northern Great Barrier Reef to witness the annual mass coral spawning spectacle and to look for ways to help this ecosystem under pressure.

10+ mins read
Australian Geographic Magazine
November December 2019

Flying Far

The centenary of the 1919 England to Australia Air Race provides a chance to remember this largely forgotten chapter of aviation history and honour the courageous men who pioneered modern international flight.

10+ mins read
Australian Geographic Magazine
November - December 2019

Bush School

Nature-based schools are gaining momentum in Australia as more and more kids are swapping the classroom for the bush and proving that quality learning can take place in non-traditional settings.

10 mins read
Australian Geographic Magazine
November December 2019

Seeing The Good For The Trees

The future of Australia’s fast-disappearing forests lies in the hands of our farmers.

10+ mins read
Australian Geographic Magazine
September - October 2019

Birds Struggling To Be Heard

Noise pollution in urban environments is drowning out birdsong, making it ever harder for birds to communicate.

2 mins read
Australian Geographic Magazine
September - October 2019

The Old Wool Road

From its beginnings as an Aboriginal songline to its heyday as a busy stock route, the Wool Road offers a fascinating journey between Canberra and the coast with plenty of reasons to tarry along its twists and turns.

6 mins read
Australian Geographic Magazine
September - October 2019

Swing Time

Miniskirts, beehives and boaters made for a memorable image that captures the spirit of an era.

1 min read
Australian Geographic Magazine
September - October 2019

Strait Talking

The Winds of Zenadth festival is one of Australia’s most vibrant celebrations of song, dance, language and history.

9 mins read
Australian Geographic Magazine
September - October 2019
RELATED STORIES

GIG APPS FOR A PANDEMIC ECONOMY: PART-TIME, NO COMMITMENT

For months, Gabrielle Walker had been looking for a part-time job. She applied to restaurant chains and retailers like Nando’s and Primark, and she scoured the job search site Indeed.

6 mins read
Techlife News
Techlife News #513

‘We're constantly trying to evolve'

For more on what’s happening within Buffalo’s offense, here are some highlights from offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s recent press conferences.

6 mins read
Bills Digest
August 29, 2021

CATCHING ON QUICK

Emerging young catchers Gabriel Moreno and Francisco Alvarez were gaining helium in prospect circles for their immense offensive upside

10 mins read
Baseball America
August 2021

FRANCE WEIGHS CYBERSECURITY MOVES AFTER SPYWARE REPORTS

French President Emmanuel Macron held an emergency cybersecurity meeting Thursday to weigh possible government action after reports that his cellphone and those of government ministers may have been targeted by spyware.

1 min read
Techlife News
Techlife News #508

Fantasy – Bet The Farm

A team of breakout prospects poised to build value in dynasty leagues

7 mins read
Baseball America
June 2021

In Treatment

SERIES PREMIERE 9/8c and 9:30/8:30c, HBO

1 min read
TV Guide Magazine
May 10, 2021

REMEMBER the ‘Resolve' in Resolution Before Setting New Goals THIS NEW YEAR

Several years ago, my son Gabriel was brainstorming ways to make money.

5 mins read
Natural Solutions
February 2021

HALLE COMES OUT SWINGING!

Rages against child support & claims she can’t keep a man

1 min read
Globe
March 01, 2021

The National Interest: Gabriel Debenedetti

The Gentle Generalists A Biden style of government is emerging: lowest drama possible.

6 mins read
New York magazine
December 21, 2020-January 3, 2021

PLAYING FAVORITES

PLAYING FAVORITES

1 min read
Bills Digest
November 15, 2020