If you think there are a lot of extreme claims made in support of pseudoarchaeology, just take the time to become familiar with speculative historical linguistics and put it into perspective. As we will find in theories about the origins of Australian Aboriginal people there are many serious researchers who will take the presumed similarity of words in two languages and construct elaborate and fantastical scenarios about human migration. Others provide a strong and sometimes creepy sub-text of contemporary nationalism and ethnocentricism to act as the motivator for finding some unlikely connections.
One that I think deserves some attention but which is only partly relevant to Australia is the case of Vice Bune, Dalmatian navigator. Although he is historically known from several mentions in records as a ships’ captain and diplomat, a Croatian father-son linguistic team have created a body of speculative literature which claims that he was also active in Southeast Asia and the Pacific in the late 16th century and contributed Dalmatian place names and his own, ahem, genetic legacy to the Solomons population.
What we know of Vice Bune is pretty limited – he came from Ragusa, the independent trading city-state which is now Dubrovnik, and was probably born around 1559 and died in 1612 [Kisić 2007]. His formal name in Latin was Vincente Buneus. Although he was a Regusan, he served in Venetian and Spanish service as a ship’s captain. Little more is known.
The Dalmatian coast at this time was largely controlled by Venice, with Ragusa as a small independent state. The complex ethnic mix that has resulted in so much bloodshed in the 20th and early 21st centuries was no simpler at this time. Along the coast the Dalmatian language was most common in the port cities, a developed Romance language resulting from Roman occupation mixed with Slavic elements, being replaced by Italian dialects and Latin for official purposes and as an indication of status among the elite citizens. The rural language was a more typical Slavic language with less admixture of Roman words. In both survived loan words from the previous pre-Roman occupation population, the Illyrians. Largely restricted to place names in the north, a much greater proportion of the Illyrian language survived to form the basis of Albanian. The rugged island coast encouraged the development of highly specific dialects, often restricted to a single town or island with unique combinations of survivals and loan words.
This situation would be of considerable academic interest, except that it has been tied up in many minds with demonstrating the legitimacy of prior occupation. Using language to provide a connection beyond your immediate modern cultural identity as a Serb, Croatian or Albanian becomes a tool to bolster your rights ahead of others, to find a supposedly objective reason for privileging one ethnicity or cultural construct over another. A comparable example immediately to the south is the furore over the adoption of the name of Macedonia for the independent former Yugoslav republic. Greek objection to the name is partly related to the implied connection it makes to the Alexandrian empire which the Greeks feel is part of their cultural heritage.
The Vice Bune case shows similar cultural chauvinism when it was exploited by Mihovil Lovric. Lovric [1897-1976] was a classicist and linguist who taught in Zagreb. His interest was in the survival of both the Dalmatian language and the presence of the earlier Illyrian languages surviving in a landscape where there was a strong political push to develop Slavic languages to encourage the unity of the post-Great War Yugoslav state, and which became even more imperative following its dissolution during World War II and later expansion.
M. Lovric created a persona as Mitjel Yoshamya, which he claimed was an authentic pre-Dalmatian name. According to his son he learned the language from a small relict population of speakers on the island of Krk and was effectively the last surviving speaker. His son Anrija-Zeljko Lovric, a marine biologist, has continued to promote his father’s claims, sometimes using his pre-Dalmatian name of Zjelimir Yoshamya. When this happens the scholar becomes not just discoverer and interpreter of a set of facts that are also there for anyone else to come along and harvest with the equal facility. Because the connection claimed is intimate and entirely individual, it provides an unassailable authority for the scholar that no others can attain just through academic grind – it is really a code for saying that you were born with the chance of this unique insight that is denied to others. AZ Lovric has systematically expanded the little that was known about Vice Bune to make him a significant figure in 16th century navigation. He has done this by contributing articles to a variety of different wikis, in entries either about Bune himself, Dalmatian placenames in Southeast Asia and so on. As he writes in his own names and various pen-names it was not at all apparent that he was self-referencing his own earlier posts. Almost all written references he cites are Croatian language works in small circulation journals or publications.
The main arguments he makes are that Bune sailed between the Philippines and Vanuatu in the period 1580-1597, including a establishing a trading depot on the Solomon Islands at Vella Lavella, at the same time as the Mendana expedition entered the island group. The Lovrics claim that a result of these voyages many toponyms of Dalmatian language origins can be recorded for Southeast Asia and parts of the Pacific. What commodities would have engaged the efforts of the the trading depot is not clear. One of the disappointments of the 1595 expedition is that it clearly did not provide any goods that supported Mendana’s claims regarding the abundant wealth of the Solomons.
Austalian toponyms in Vice Bune’s Dalmation language that are cited as evidence are:
- Polnebye Australia [literal ‘South land’]
- Polnebne Pustoshi Nullarbor [‘Southland’s desert’]
- Sinyehlami Australian Alps, Blue Mountains [‘Celestial Alps’]
[http://en.wikipilipinas.org/index.php?title=Talk:Dalmatian_Naming_Of_Southeast_Asia, accessed 7.12.2010]
These suggest a rather strange route for any voyaging undertaken by the Dalmatians in their exploratory travels around Australia. AZ Lovric also claims there are direct lineal descendants of Bune, based on the same surname being in current use in the Solomons.
During 2005-2007 a number of challenges were made to these claims in the relevant Wikipedia articles, largely on the basis of the lack of supporting sources, apart from those that were written by the author himself. The responses from Lovric, initially civil, grew more heated and accusatory. Lovric claimed that there was effectively a western-centric denial of the likelihood that a Dalmatian could have achieved the claimed travels, that a similar western bias denied the weight of evidence in non-English language sources [although these were all Lovric-authored entries in foreign language wikis] and that
V. Bune is evident and clear to other independent scientists out of westernized Wikipedia; but you are true ‘wikipedists’ and also Westerners, and so ideologically cannot accept at all that an ‘obscure Dalmatian Slav’ may be prior to the glorious and powerful Western colonialists: this is the essential problem, for you rigidly believe that only victors must write history and create public opinion. [http://la.wikipedia.org/wiki/Disputatio:Vincentius_Buneus]
The result of the disputation was the removal of all entries relating to Vice Bune from the English language Wikipedia and Vicipedia, however there are many other uncorrected entries remaining on the internet, such as on the Philippines version [see references below]. Other linked wikis which appear to be closely associated with Lovric ‘ist nicht verfügbar’.
In this case we can say with reasonable certainty that the only evidence supporting an early Dalmatian encounter with Australia was made up in the recent past. In some respects it was the abundance of the Lovrics’ writings that made it possible to spot the connections that indicated fraud. In coming to the discussion on the various wikis it was also very reassuring how careful the dissection of the claims was, and how much the various sceptics of the Bune story were intent on focussing on the production and quality of independent evidence. I am sure that in cases where it is not so straightforward, or where the author has not been so obliging in providing their own damning evidence, such analysis become quickly unworkable. However, it did provide some reassurance that Wikipedia does have the capacity for self-checking where individual claims are concerned.
Kisić, Anica 2007
‘Vice Bune [1559-1612]’, pp. 34-35. Also available here [accessed 7.6.2011]
English Wikipedia –Liburnian language [discussion relating to its deletion], accessed 7.6.2011.
Latin Vicipaedia – Vincente Buneus [discussion], acessed 7.12.2010.
Philippine Wikipedia – Dalmatian naming of Southeast Asia, accessed 7.12.2010.
Philippine Wikipedia – Dalmatian toponyms in Southwestern Pacific, accessed 7.6.2011.
Philippine Wikipedia – Vice Bune, accessed 7.12.2010.