Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Aboriginal people - Chapter One

First of all, let's clear out the space that's usually crowded by people debating on names, nomenclature and political correctness (which is known to have turned backwards on those who pushed it).

The name Aborigines comes from the Latin ab origo, meaning from the beginning or from the root. It was simply an expression for those who have been here from the start, but its usage has (as usually) been a bit changed.

What is accustomed today, especially in Australia, is the word Indigenous, which then automatically refers to the country one finds himself in. I have to say that Australia has made a great step forward considering this issue (and many more), but I'll talk more about that later.

The Australian Aborigines refers to about 750,000 people who used to live around Australia before Captain Cook "discovered" it in 1770. Wrong! It is wrongly thought (even in schools) that James Cook discovered Australia, but he only claimed its territory to be under the British rule. Yes, it was obviously that easy in those days...

The first Englishman to visit Australia was William Dampier in 1688, and it's been speculated that the Portuguese had arrived there even earlier, in the 1500s, but there's no records of their visit. There was also Willem Janszoon, a Dutchman who was the first European to step foot on Australia's shores in 1606, but he thought that Cape York was part of New Guinea, so it wasn't charted as a separate continent back then.

Before them it was some more non-Aboriginal people, Malay and Indian traders from Indonesian islands (which are rather close to Australia), who traded slugs with the Chinese. And before that, it was Aboriginal people. Even before that, it was Torres Strait Islanders. And this is where it gets interesting.

Torres Strait Islands is a set of hundreds of little islands located at the far tip of Australia, just north of Cape York Peninsula. It is thought that they have been residing in Australia from even before the Aborigines did, but being separated by all that water, they developed different relationships, regulations and customs.

The Torres Strait Islands on a map

Being that this area is located really close to New Guinea's islands, their customs and languages resemble those of New Guinea more than Australia. The intricate web of family relations, taboo, secret languages, ancient handiwork, complicated rituals and much more have made the Islanders the perfect investigation topic for European anthropologists.

Some of them have luckily have a more than a beneficial influence, taking some items back to Europe during the 20th century and thus preserving them (and the culture that lays behind it) from those who invaded and wanted the culture crushed.

Living in such an isolated area, people have gotten used to handling their lives as well as they could. Depending on the sea and the weather that much, they have developed a system of beliefs, ritual dances, initiation rules and mind-blowing ways of passing the knowledge on to the next generations.

The other Aborigines, who have roamed the vast areas of the Australian deserts, have lead even harsher lives for millennia, moving from a water hole to a water hole, a bit like nomads, but still well aware of the ways and paths they were supposed to take.

Being that they have no written language (aside from linguists' attempts to write it down in order to preserve it), it was of utmost importance to save the knowledge for future generations. They have therefore developed a system of remembering through song, reciting thousands of words in order to remember and locate billabongs, water holes or good hunting grounds. It's an amazing achievement which is still (although less than before) being practised in Aboriginal settlements around Australia.

A billabong in the Northern Territory

Another thing that Aborigines cherish and practice is the Aboriginal art. There's, naturally, all kinds of "art", so it's not all really Aboriginal (especially in contemporary and tourist-orientated art), but there are certain hints to that as well. Being that I listened to a lecture by an Australian professor who lived with a tribe for more than a decade, she really enlightened me about some things.

I guess you've run into some of their art, specific for its dotted artwork, colourful spectre and seemingly abstract theme. Well, it's not like that, since all the traditional art forms imply a certain amount of tradition, storytelling, orientation and remembrance. Remember that it takes as little as eight hours to die of thirst if stuck in the desert, so it's really important to know how to find water and food. It is often necessary to dig as deep as 2 meters to reach a bucket of water.

It's therefore implemented in the Aboriginal psyche to memorize certain gathering and hunting locations, which has later on developed into various form of art. Most of the paintings (according to prof. Christine Nicholls, PhD from the University of Adelaide) should be presented and observed looking from above, since it shows what we would regard as areal maps, with details of deserts, water holes and other important characteristics of one's area.

Kathryn Nakamarra's painting

Aside from that, the cave art that was found around Australia had been dated to as far back as 40,000 (and even as far as 60,000 to 80,000) years! Being that it has always kept the same purpose, it's considered as the longest living art form on Earth. Crazy, I know.

All in all, the Australian government has finally started working on recognizing the Indigenous tribes and people and trying to preserve their art, culture and language. It makes one sad when one realizes that out of the 250 languages that were spoken around Australia, only around 30 are still alive. It's therefore of utmost importance to preserve what those who have come from the source preserve and share their knowledge and wisdom.

I guess that's enough for now. Ask away if there's something you find interesting or want to know more...


  1. Replies
    1. Ajde, baš mi je drago!

      Planiram malo više pisati na ovaj način, a malo manje rantati, pa ćemo vidjeti kako će mi ići, hehehe... ;)

      Sad zzz...



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