Dabu – The Baby Dugong, by Selena Solomon

Reviewed by Tash Hughes

Although not a happy story, this book is a vivid recounting of a baby dugong’s growth to adulthood.

Dabu is born and finds comfort in his mother’s presence. His mother teaches him survival means and the strength of family, as Dugongs travel in great family herds.

Each page is predominantly blue, with clear pictures to enhance the story. The first half of the text is in English, followed by a repetition of the story in Kala Lagaw Ya. This language is the traditional language of the Western Torres Strait and is slowly becoming extinct.

The Dugong, or sea cow, is also facing extinction. Traditionally, hunting the dugong was dangerous but very prestigious, and young men still hunt them with traditional methods today.

As Dabu grows, he learns about the dangers of mankind and actually sees his mother speared by men. She cries, tells Dabu to get away, and swims for her life. Dabu stays with his mother until the end, before finding his family again and realising he is no longer afraid of the ocean.

Although this story could happen anywhere tropical, Solomon set it in the Western Group of Torres Strait Islands. The Dugong was named, via an anagram, after Badu Island.

The book includes a full list of Kala Lagaw Ya words used in the story with an English translation beside each word.

Dabu – The Baby Dugong (kazi dhangal), by Selena Solomon, Illustrated by Dennis Nona, Translated by Ephraim Bani Magabala Books, 1992