The word Aborigine has been part of the English language for almost 500 years, but it was only in the last 100 years or so that it has been used to describe the native inhabitants of Australia.
The term stems from Latin “ab origine – which translates as “from the beginning”. Originally it described the people who lived in and around the area that later became the city of Rome. It was in the 1500s that the word appears first in an English publication – in a work by the multicultural, multilingual, multinational Juan Luis Vives (born in Spain, studied in Paris, taught in Holland, worked in England as teacher to the royal family). Some have called Vives the “father of modern psychology ”but he is most famously known for his account of the life of Catherine of Aragon. Vives commissioned Richard Hryde (a protégé of Thomas More) to translate the work which became Instruction of a Christen Woman. It was in this book that the word aborigine was first used to describe Faunus and Fauna (from which we get the words faun and fauna).
The use of the term to describe natives living in the country was underlined just a few years in the work of James Harrison who wrote that “the old Latins call [ed] themselves aborigines, that is to say: a people from the beginning.”
It was not until the 1700s, however, that the term was first used to describe Native Americans or for the original inhabitants of Tobago and it was only after Australia became a colony of the British Empire at the beginning of the 1800s that it was used to refer collectively to the original population of Australia.
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