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      Aborigines: (Indigenous Australians).

Indigenous Australians migrated from Africa to Asia around 70,000 years ago, and arrived in Australia around 50,000 years ago. (5) Dispersing across the Australian continent over time, the ancient peoples expanded and differentiated into hundreds of distinct groups, each with its own language and culture. Four hundred and more distinct Australian Aboriginal groups have been identified across the continent, distinguished by unique names designating their ancestral languages, dialects, or distinctive speech patterns. (4)

The Australian Aborigines represent the oldest example of continuous human culture in the world. The remarkable longevity of their culture is unique in the modern world, and raises several fundamental questions about the path that 'Western civilisation' is currently following.

Quote by: The Venerable E. Nandisvara Nayake Thero. Dr, PhD.

"To those who judge the degree of a culture by the degree of its technological sophistication, the fact that the Australian natives live in the same fashion now as they did thousands of years ago may imply that they are uncivilised or uncultured. However, I would suggest that if a civilization be defined by the degree of polishing of an individual's mind and the building of his or her character, and if that culture reflects the measure of our self-discipline as well as our level of consciousness, then the Australian Aboriginals are actually one of the most civilized and highly cultured peoples in the world today." (1)

 

   Australian Aborigines:

The Origins of Australian Aborigines:

In a genetic study in 2011, researchers found evidence in DNA samples taken from strands of Aboriginal people's hair, that the ancestors of the Aboriginal population split off from the ancestors of the European and Asian populations between 62,000 and 75,000 years ago - roughly 24,000 years before the European and Asian populations split off from each other. These Aboriginal ancestors migrated into South Asia and then into Australia, where they stayed, with the result that, outside of Africa, the Aboriginal peoples have occupied the same territory continuously longer than any other human populations. These findings suggest that modern Aboriginal peoples are the direct descendants of migrants who arrived around 50,000 years ago (3)

Both archaeology and the genes of aboriginal Australians suggest that a mere 15,000 years were required for humanity to spread from its initial toehold outside Africa, on the Arabian side of the straits of Bab el Mandeb, to the Australian continent. The first Immigrants thus arrived about 45,000 years ago. A recent study by Irina Pugach of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, in Leipzig, and her colleagues, which has just been published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has apparently resolved the matter. About 4,000 years before Europeans arrived, it seems that a group of Indian adventurers (from the same time as the great Indus Valley Civilisation) chose to call the place home. Unlike their European successors, these earlier settlers were assimilated by the locals. And they brought with them both technological improvements and one of Australia’s most iconic animals, the Dingo. (2)

(More about the Indus Valley Civilisation)

 

The Arrival of Europeans:

The first recorded outside contact with Aboriginals was with Dutch sailors such as William Janszoon and Dirk Hartog in the early 1600’s. They were travelling from Holland to the Dutch Colonies in Indonesia, (the Spice Islands), and decided to leave the 'Island' alone. Captain Cooks 'discovery' of 'Terra Nullius' (Uninhabited Earth) was over 100 years later  in 1770. It was estimated over 750,000 Aboriginal people inhabited the island continent in 1788. (8) with over 700 languages spoken (11)

 

As is seen in many of the European colonisations, warfare wasn't a necessary strategy for domination as the locals had no resistance to the deadly viruses carried by the sailors and convicts such as smallpox, syphilis and influenza. In less than a year, over half the indigenous population living in the Sydney Basin had died from European diseases.

'Every boat that went down the harbour found them lying dead on the beaches and in the caverns of the rocks… They were generally found with the remains of a small fire on each side of them and some water left within their reach'. (Lieutenant Fowell, 1789).

 

The prevailing attitude of the time was that 'indigenous peoples' were regarded as being soul-less creatures, closer to animals than people. The American Indians had already suffered the same disgrace, and without resistance the following centuries brought about the almost complete cultural decimation of the aborigines. In 1804, settlers were authorised to shoot unarmed Aboriginal people, following which the wholesale slaughter of Aborigine culture began. (13)

'I have myself heard a man, educated, and a large proprietor of sheep and cattle, maintain that there was no more harm in shooting a native, than in shooting a wild dog. I have heard it maintained by others that it is the course of Providence, that blacks should disappear before the white, and the sooner the process was carried out the better, for all parties. I fear such opinions prevail to a great extent. Very recently in the presence of two clergymen, a man of education narrated, as a good thing, that he had been one of a party who had pursued the blacks, in consequence of cattle being rushed by them, and that he was sure that they shot upwards of a hundred. When expostulated with, he maintained that there was nothing wrong in it, that it was preposterous to suppose they had souls. In this opinion he was joined by another educated person present'. (Bishop Polding, 1845)

 

In 1920, the resident population of Aborigines was calculated as low as 60,000, and by 1940, Europeans composed 99% of Australian population. (13). In 1967 after a federal referendum on the topic, Aborigines became citizens and were allowed to vote in state and federal elections. Recent government statistics counted approximately 400,000 aboriginal people, or about 2% of Australia's total population. (9) (517,000 / 2.5%) (12)

 

   Aboriginal Culture:

Descriptions and images of Aboriginal lifestyle at the time of the European 'arrival' reveals a unique look at the way humans survived around the ancient world before complex 'civilisations' became the norm for people living in across the larger Eurasian continental landmass. However, in contrast to this system, the Australian Aborigines had retained the same similar practices, tools, methods etc as were being found in archaeological digs from around the ancient world from 50,000 years and before.

The traditional Aboriginal way of life was nomadic hunter-gathering, with small groups moving around the land depending on the season and availability of resources. The nomadic lifestyle has certain restrictions associated with it such as the number of possessions one can carry, and a strong dependence on natures harvest but it also restricts the development of industry, agriculture, townships, cities and many of the most important foundations upon which complex civilisations are built. The intimate connectivity with nature and the land is one of the reasons for the length of their survival, as seen in other similar cultures such as the North American Indians who bear several striking similarities in terms of their relationship with the land. The European perception of Australia as 'Terra Nullius' clearly extended to the Aboriginal population for a long time as their near annihilation proves. However, the fact that their culture has existed for such an incredibly long time has not gone unnoticed by everyone, and our judgement of their wisdom is now in question as the civilisations of the modern world are being tested by their veracity for consumption and greed.

A former professor of comparative religion at Madras University, as well as director of the Maha Bodhi Society of Sri Lanka, chief Sanghanayaka of the Theravada Order of Buddhist monks in India and secretary general of the World Sangha Council, Dr. Nandisvara had recently returned from a research expedition with an anthropological team in Australia, where he had lived for some time with a native Aboriginal community. In his report, Dr. Nandisvara makes the following statement:

"To those who judge the degree of a culture by the degree of its technological sophistication, the fact that the Australian natives live in the same fashion now as they did thousands of years ago may imply that they are uncivilized or uncultured. However, I would suggest that if a civilization be defined by the degree of polishing of an individual's mind and the building of his or her character, and if that culture reflects the measure of our self-discipline as well as our level of consciousness, then the Australian Aboriginals are actually one of the most civilized and highly cultured peoples in the world today." (1)

 

 

Aboriginal Art:

Contemporary Aboriginal art is typified by 'dotted' painting, a system which was developed in the 1970's and which became an immediate and lucrative seller in the international market. It has been suggested that this type of art was designed as a means of disguising the 'sacred' or 'restricted' parts of their stories, but whatever the truth, it is now recognised as the dominant modern form of Aboriginal art. In contrast, the Australian continent is covered with Aboriginal cave art dating back tens of thousands of years. The oldest art is currently accepted as being over 28,000 years old.

Article: The Guardian Online. (June, 2012)

'Australia's Oldest Artwork Found'

'An archaeologist says he has found the oldest piece of rock art in Australia and one of the oldest in the world: an Aboriginal work created 28,000 years ago in an outback cave. The dating of one of the thousands of images in the Northern Territory rock shelter, known as Nawarla Gabarnmang, will be published in the next edition of the Journal of Archaeological Science.

The archaeologist Bryce Barker, from the University of Southern Queensland, said he found the rock in June last year but had only recently had it dated at the radiocarbon laboratory of New Zealand's University of Waikato. He said the rock art had been made using charcoal, so radiocarbon dating could be used to determine its age; most rock art is made with mineral paint, so its age cannot accurately be measured.

Barker said the work was "the oldest unequivocally dated rock art in Australia" and among the oldest in the world'.

 (Link to Full Article)

 

The Rock-shelter known as Nawarla Gabarnmang, shows occupation for over 40,000 years.

The ancient sites which mark the resting place or activity of the supreme beings in the Dreaming have become special or sacred places. These are the places of the spirits of creation, where their spirit lives on, totem sites, with meaning described by the stories for that place, and the place from which the spirit of the new born child comes. Through the totemic site an Aboriginal person comes to have identity, an understanding of his/her relationship with the natural world and other human beings.

 

Other Examples of Aboriginal Art.

Platypus Totem at Ubirr (left). Lightning God, Kakadu c. 6,000  BC (right)

Note the Hand-prints, common in Aboriginal Art, as in Cave-art around the Palaeolithic world. The European tradition of having missing fingers is noticeably absent Aboriginal Hand-prints.

 

For thousands of years Aborigines have recorded their culture as rock art. Their art shows images of the environment, such as the plants and animals, including images of animals believed to have become extinct 20,000 years ago. For example, in the Wellington Range, the thousands of Aboriginal artworks adorning cliffs and caves include a painting of the extinct dog-like creature, the thylacine, made in a style that is at least 15,000 years old. (14)

Extinct Thylacine rock art at Ubirr: c. 15,000 BP.

 

Aboriginal Script.

Although lacking a formal written language, aboriginal art contains a series of iconograms with specific meaning. These symbols are included into paintings which describe events or stories from the dreamtime, and can be seen as a basic form of language to those who understand their meaning.

Symbols used in Aboriginal art used to convey meaning.

Many of these symbols can be seen to share similarities with the Palaeolithic set of symbols recognised by Von Petzinger, following her innovative study of common Palaeolithic symbols in European rock-art.

(More about Palaeolithic Writing)

(Cave Art Homepage)

 

Healing:

'In almost all Aboriginal belief systems, each person has three aspects which make up his or her whole being. Those are the body, the mind and the spirit. It is said that for Aboriginal people to heal from whatever ails them, all aspects of their being need to be treated—not just one. In that respect, the Aboriginal belief is in the holistic treatment of the person. Aboriginal healers, when called upon to minister to a sick person, do not only administer medicines to the body, but also conduct spiritual ceremonies for the spirit and counsel the person to help clear his or her mind of the effects of the sickness.

In Aboriginal beliefs, if only the body is treated, then healing cannot take place properly. If the body becomes ill, then the spirit and mind also are affected. In the same way, it is believed that before the body becomes sick, there are often signs of the impending sickness apparent in the mental or spiritual status of the person. Preventive steps thus can be taken by addressing the person’s spiritual needs early on. Keeping the spirit strong was seen as practising preventive medicine. Elders, and people who know of traditional ways of healing, are considered very important and are respected highly by Aboriginal people.

Some Aboriginal elders believe that Aboriginal people who are ill must have all three aspects healed fully in the Aboriginal way. Some have said that if an Aboriginal person goes to a non-Aboriginal doctor, then that person cannot be healed properly in the traditional way, since traditional healing methods and modern medicine do not mix. Others believe that if medical doctors are treating the person’s body, then traditional Aboriginal healers can and must attend to the treatment of the person’s mind and spirit. In the same way, if the person is receiving psychiatric treatment from a psychiatrist, then his or her physical and spiritual needs still can be met through traditional healing methods. In this way, elders believe that there is always room for traditional methods of healing to take place'.  (7)

(Healing Homepage)

 

Rituals of Death: 'Sorry Business'.

The primary traditional burial practice is to leave the corpse laid out on an elevated wooden platform, covered in leaves and branches, and left several months for the flesh to rot away from the bones. The secondary burial is when the bones are collected from the platform, painted with red ochre, and then dispersed. (10) Some Aborigines bury their dead some cremate them, some place the bodies on platforms or in trees or caves to conceal them. Many different practises are performed to ensure that the spirits of the dead would not cause mischief or sadness within the language group. In many places mounds of dirt, bark, sticks and other natural objects were built between the grave and campsite to ensure that the bad spirits of the dead didn't haunt the living.

A person's possessions and weapon's are often disposed of or buried with them during the ceremony. In some areas burial poles are erected at burial grounds or stencil markings and paintings would show where loved ones were buried in caves. Ceremonies last days, weeks and even months depending upon the beliefs of the language group. During these ceremonies often strict language rules apply. With close family members restricted to not being able to talk for the whole period of mourning. Members of the family with the same name as the deceased were required to change their names.

The tradition not to depict dead people or voice their (first) names is very old. Traditional law across Australia said that a dead person’s name could not be said because you would recall and disturb their spirit. After the invasion this law was adapted to images as well.

 

 

 

   Aboriginal Mythology:

The Origin Myth:

The common underlying thread of all Aboriginal origin myths is a reference to the 'Dream-time' or 'creation period'. At the beginning of time the earth looked like a featureless, desolate plain. Nothing existed on the surface. Baiame, or the Maker of Many Things as some called him, called the Dreamtime ancestors from under the ground and over the seas. With them, life came to the barren, flat plains. Some of the Dreamtime ancestors looked like men or women, others like the animals or creatures, which descended from them, but the Dreamtime ancestors could also change their shape from one form to another. After emerging from their eternal slumber, the beings – referred to as totemic ancestors (such as Wallaby Dreaming and Emu Dreaming etc) – moved about the earth bringing into being the physical features of the landscape. Mountains, sandhills, plains and rivers all arose to mark the deeds of the wandering totemic ancestors. Not a single prominent feature was created which was not associated with an episode of the supernatural beings.

Biame, the Awabakal Supreme Being.

For the Awabakal, the supreme being who created their world is Biame, part human and part kangaroo or wallaby. In a rock cave on Bulgar Creek near Singleton Biame is depicted in a drawing approximately eight feet high as if his legs and arms are lying on the ground (See below). The perpendicular lines drawn under the arms, three on right and four on the left, represent the seven tribes of the region for whom this supreme being had great significance: Worimi, Awabakal, Wonarua, Gamillaroi, Darkinjung, Gringai (Matthews 1893; Heath 1998).

 

The Dreaming:

The Dreamtime is a widely used, but not so well understood term describing the key aspects of Aboriginal spiritual beliefs and life. It refers not to historical past but a fusion of identity and spiritual connection with the timeless present. The Aboriginal concept of time connects past actions and people with present and future generations. Time is circular, not linear, as each generation relives the Dreaming activities. There were many myths and rituals connected to both the ancestors and the creators of the world, none of whom ever died but merged with the natural world and thus remained a part of the present. These myths and rituals, signifying communion with nature and the past, were known as the Dreaming or the Dreamtime, and reflected a belief in the continuity of existence and harmony with the world.

The term 'Dreaming' in reference to Aboriginal religious philosophy was adopted by the English anthropologists Spencer and Gillen from their research published as The Native Tribes of Central Australia (1899). Arrente elders had endeavoured to explain the basis of their religious philosophy to them by describing the alcheringa, their religious philosophy, as the mythic times of the ancestors of the totemic groups. They had not initially grasped its full meaning and later Spencer explained that this past mythic time was only a part of the meaning of alcheringa, that it also meant "dream". Since then it was commonly adopted by Aboriginal people across Australia that the ancestral heroes, their past times and everything associated with them is encapsulated in the English language word "Dreaming". Thus Aboriginal philosophy comes from the time of creation when the world was "mixed up" and not at all like it is in modern times. Supreme beings, great ancestors who were human, animal and bird all at the same time, anthropomorphs, were powerful enough to create order in this chaos. These ancestral heroes are responsible for life itself; life that arose in a time when all the natural species, the land and humans, were part of the same ongoing life force. They had powers to turn themselves into geographic or natural features, they descended into the ground and reappeared as a species of bird or animal, or as a waterhole, or they ascended into the sky and became constellations. As they moved around they created all the species, humans, the landscape and all the features of it, then they tended to settle down and remain as a feature of the landscape. (6)

 

Aboriginal Mythology as a Historical Narrative:

An Australian linguist, R. M. W. Dixon, recording Aboriginal myths in their original languages, encountered coincidences between some of the landscape details being told about within various myths, and scientific discoveries being made about the same landscapes. In the case of the Atherton Tableland, myths tell of the origins of Lake Eacham, Lake Barrine, and Lake Euramo. Geological research dated the formative volcanic explosions described by Aboriginal myth tellers as having occurred more than 10,000 years ago. Pollen fossil sampling from the silt which had settled to the bottom of the craters confirmed the Aboriginal myth-tellers' story.

'It is said that two newly-initiated men broke a taboo and angered the rainbow serpent Yamany, major spirit of the area ... As a result 'the camping-place began to change, the earth under the camp roaring like thunder. The wind started to blow down, as if a cyclone were coming. The camping-place began to twist and crack. While this was happening there was in the sky a red cloud, of a hue never seen before. The people tried to run from side to side but were swallowed by a crack which opened in the ground'....

After telling the myth, in 1964, the storyteller remarked that when this happened the country round the lakes was 'not jungle - just open scrub'. In 1968, a dated pollen diagram from the organic sediments of Lake Euramoo [Ngimun] by Peter Kershaw (1970) showed, rather surprisingly, that the rain forest in that area is only about 7,600 years old'. (15) Further investigation of the material by the Australian Heritage Commission led to the Crater Lakes myth being listed nationally on the Register of the National Estate, and included within Australia's World Heritage nomination of the wet tropical forests, as an "unparalleled human record of events dating back to the Pleistocene era."

Since then, Dixon has assembled a number of similar examples of Australian Aboriginal myths that accurately describe landscapes of an ancient past. He particularly noted the numerous myths telling of previous sea levels, including:

  • The Port Phillip myth (recorded as told to Robert Russell in 1850), describing Port Phillip Bay as once dry land, and the course of the Yarra River being once different, following what was then Carrum Carrum swamp. This was an oral history that accurately described a landscape from 10 000 years ago.
  • The Great Barrier Reef coastline myth (told to Dixon) in Yarrabah, just south of Cairns, telling of a past coastline (since flooded) which stood at the edge of the current Great Barrier Reef, and naming places now completely submerged after the forest types and trees that once grew there. This was an oral record that was accurate for the landscape 10 000 years ago.
  • The Lake Eyre myths (recorded by J. W. Gregory in 1906), telling of the deserts of Central Australia as once having been fertile, well-watered plains, and the deserts around present Lake Eyre having been one continuous garden. This oral story matches geologists' understanding that there was a wet phase to the early Holocene when the lake would have had permanent water.

 

The Flood Myth:

In Aboriginal mythology there are beings called the Wondjina. They were rain spirits who were also involved with creation. They are said to come from the sky and paint pictures of themselves on cave walls.

At one point in time it is said, the Wondjina were angry at how people were behaving in the world, so they caused a worldwide flood. This was caused by them opening their mouths, and when they did this rain would never cease. After the floods had killed all the humans, the Wondjina recreated everything.

Obviously the Wondjina had to keep their mouths shut so that the world wouldn’t flood again. After doing this so long, their mouths disappeared, which is why in most images of them they have no mouths. The Wondjina eventually they lost their form and became more like the spirits that you and I think of. They are said to still exist in waterholes, ponds.

(Other Versions of the Great Flood Myth)

 

 

The Rainbow Serpent:

The Rainbow Serpent  is a common motif in the art and mythology of Aboriginal Australia. There are innumerable names and stories associated with the serpent, all of which communicate the significance and power of this being within Aboriginal traditions. The Rainbow Serpent's mythology is closely linked to land, water, life, social relationships and fertility. It is known both as a benevolent protector of its people and as a malevolent punisher of law breakers.

The Arnhem Rainbow Serpent.

The Rainbow Serpent is seen as the inhabitant of permanent waterholes and is in control of life's most precious resource, oils and waters. The Rainbow Serpent has been understood as male by some traditions and female by others. The sometimes unpredictable Rainbow Serpent (in contrast to the unyielding Sun) replenishes the stores of water, forming meandering gullies and deep channels as the Rainbow Serpent slithered across the landscape. Dreamtime stories tell of the great spirits and totems during creation, in animal and human form they moulded the barren and featureless earth. The Rainbow Serpent came from beneath the ground and created huge ridges, mountains and gorges as it pushed upward. The Rainbow Serpent is known as Ngalyod by the Gunwinggu and Borlung by the Miali. The Rainbow Serpent is understood to be of immense proportions and inhabits deep permanent waterholes.

Serpent stories vary according to environmental differences. Tribes of the monsoonal areas depict an epic interaction of the Sun, Serpent and wind in their Dreamtime stories, whereas tribes of the central desert experience less drastic seasonal shifts and their stories reflect this.

 

 

Song Lines:

There are many different methods of pre-literate navigation that have been documented around the ancient world. The Aboriginal fusion of navigation and oral mythological storytelling is likely to have been a common method in the past and goes a long way to explaining the development of sacred landscapes.

Song-lines, also called Dreaming tracks, are paths across the land (or sometimes the sky) which mark the route followed by localised 'creator-beings' during the Dreaming. The paths of the Song-lines are recorded in traditional songs, stories, dance, and painting. By singing the songs in the appropriate sequence, Indigenous people could navigate vast distances, often travelling through the deserts of Australia's interior. The continent of Australia contains an extensive system of songlines, some of which are of a few kilometres, whilst others traverse hundreds of kilometres through lands of many different Indigenous peoples.

A knowledgeable person is able to navigate across the land by repeating the words of the song, which describe the location of landmarks, waterholes, and other natural phenomena. In some cases, the paths of the creator-beings are said to be evident from their marks, or petroglyphs, on the land, such as large depressions in the land which are said to be their footprints.

Since a Song-line can span the lands of several different language groups, different parts of the song are said to be in those different languages. Languages are not a barrier because the melodic contour of the song describes the nature of the land over which the song passes. The rhythm is what is crucial to understanding the song. Listening to the song of the land is the same as walking the Song-line and observing the land.

In some cases, a song-line has a particular direction, and walking the wrong way along a song-line may be a sacrilegious act (e.g. climbing up Uluru where the correct direction is down). Traditional Aboriginal people regard the land as sacred, and the songs must be continually sung to keep the land "alive".

 

(Prehistoric Pacific Islanders)

(Palaeolithic Wisdom)

 

References:

1). http://www.sharedwisdom.com/article/australian-aboriginal-wisdom
2). http://www.economist.com/news/science-and-technology/21569688-genetic-evidence-suggests-four-millennia-ago-group-adventurous-indians
3). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aboriginal_Australians
4). Lourandos, Harry (1997) "New Perspectives in Australian Prehistory," Cambridge University Press, United Kingdom
5). "Aboriginal Australians descend from the first humans to leave Africa, DNA sequence reveals"
6). http://www.newcastle.edu.au/school/hss/research/publications/awaba/culture/aboriginal-wisdom-and-philosophy.html
7). http://www.ajic.mb.ca/volumel/chapter2.html
8). http://www.aboriginalheritage.org/history/history/
9). Aboriginal Australia: History, Culture, and Conflict | Infoplease.com
10).  http://www.aboriginalculture.com.au/index.shtml
11). http://australianmuseum.net.au/Indigenous-Australia-Introduction
12). http://www.abs.gov.au/ausstats/abs@.nsf/Lookup/by Subject/1301.0~2012~Main Features~Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population~50
13). http://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/history/aboriginal-history-timeline-1770-1899
14). http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/mar/08/australian-uranium-discovery-art
15). Dixon, Robert M. W . 1972. The Dyirbal language of North Queensland. Cambridge University. Cambridge. Page 28

 

Further Research: 

Aboriginal Heritage.org

 

 

 

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