By Julian Lee
Be careful how you use the ‘H’ word’ – it’s the latest taboo in the English language.
A New Zealand scientist has been legally banned from using the word ‘hobbit’ to describe a group of miniature humanoids who lived on an Indonesian island tens of thousands of years ago.
Victoria University’s Brent Alloway has organised a free public lecture on Homo floresiensis, a species closely related to humans which lived on Flores Island, but has been told he is not allowed to call the free public lecture ‘The Other Hobbit’.
The volcanologist wrote to the estate of Hobbit author JRR Tolkein about the event on December 1 as a courtesy, but was told by Wellington lawyers AJ Park representing the estate that he was not allowed to use the word.
Mr Alloway says scientists have been using the term to describe the species ever since its discovery in 2003.
“It more or less coincided with Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings and archaeologists involved just informally named it the hobbit.
“From there on in it’s been widely used in the scientific community to describe Homo floresiensis.”
A replica of a ‘hobbit’ skeleton will be on display at the lecture, as well as some of the tools the species once used.
Mr Alloway says the findings have great consequences for what we understand about human beings.
“The more we know about ourselves the less we seem to know.
“It’s really interesting that the scientific community has found this new line of humans and it suggests a complexity out there that we’re still trying to unravel in terms of our origins and where we come from.”
In a historical coincidence, it just so happens that the hobbit people described by Tolkein were about three feet 6 inches high – the exact same average height of Homo floresiensis.
Indonesian Ambassador to New Zealand Antonius Agus Sriyona says the exhibition is well-timed with the movie’s premiere. He says Indonesians do not refer to the species as hobbits – they use the scientific name.
Mr Alloway is not the only one who has had problems with using the ‘H’ word. Californian film company Asylum has recently been sued by New Line Cinema and the Saul Zaentz Company, who own the rights to the film and the book, for planning to release a ‘mockbuster’ film called The Age of the Hobbit.
Asylum will be releasing the film several days before the premiere of The Hobbit, something it has done with other Hollywood blockbusters in the past.