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Indigenous Australians: History, Culture, Identity Essay

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What role does kinship play in Aboriginal life?

Anthropologists of Australia have been interested in the way of Aboriginal life for generations. They spent decades researching the way their tribes are built, the hierarchy, typical food and occupations, leadership and spiritual beliefs, customs and traditions. Social structure of the groups of Aborigines is very special. To understand it the scientists had to research multiple small habits and behavioural patterns typical for certain situations. The meaning of a group, a family, the importance of partnership and the way these people percept co-existence – all of these aspects are included into the studies of kinship.

According to Sahlins (2011), kinship is determined by the mutuality of existence, which means that it unites people that are naturally present in each other’s lives (para. 2). It is worth mentioning that kinship does not only mean family ties and people related by blood. This concept also spreads towards other kinds of partners, for example, members of a group united by decision making or the same occupation and due to that spending a lot of time together. Besides, Barbara McMahon (2007) in her article called “Scientist Debunks Nomadic Aborigine Myth” mentions that the settlements of Australian indigenous people had quite extended architecture (para. 2).

The members of communities were arranging their houses according to the climate. For example, for the period of wet season, when people had to spend a lot of time inside, the Aborigines invented interconnected houses so that they could interact with each other without leaving their homes (McMahon 2007, para. 2). This proves the importance of partnership for these people. Besides, the term of kinship had an even wider meaning; the Aborigines had a tendency to relate to creatures and objects of non-human world such as trees or birds. This phenomenon is called “sex totemism” (Stanner 1953, p. 66).

Moreover, the Aboriginal society is based on the relationship of kinship. The special feature of this kind of society is that its people feel relatedness towards everyone they meet in their life. To my mind, this approach contains some primordial wisdom. The connectedness of all people, the relationships within this collective mutual being resemble the philosophy of Buddhism, where the whole Universe is considered as a whole and people are parts of the whole, so basically, it seems that the Aborigines share the idea of global connections between all beings in the world.

What are some of the sources of Aboriginal identity?

Indigenous people of Australia are very closely connected to the area they live in. For them, the process of self-identification and self-understanding is linked to the concept of own country or, in other words, of Motherland. The land where these people grew up and spent their whole lives means everything to them. To my mind, this completes the thought from the previous question. The Aborigines feel unity with their territories.

According to Swain and Trompf (1995), the self-understanding of Indigenous people of Australia is based on a belief that they are not only people that were born from other people, but that they are all the creatures that were produced by their land (p. 42). The land literally is the mother for the Aborigines. The connection between the people and the land in this understanding is unbreakable. People and the land are one. People are the land.

Besides, Indigenous people were quite logical to establish that all other creatures living on the same territory, sharing the land with people, must be related to them somehow, because they were also produced or born from the land. This is why Aboriginal religion was based on totemism, where people are identified with their totemic species. Moreover, according to Aboriginal spiritual beliefs, there is no afterlife, heaven or hell of any kind. The power of Aboriginal devotion to the land is massive; this is why Indigenous people were sure that after death they must return to being the part of their powerful land. The original beliefs of these people identified the humans collectively, without separating them and focusing on their individualities (Swain & Trompf 1995, p. 42).

Today the nation’s or people’s right for self-identification and determination is crucial and goes without saying (Dodson 2003, 31). The recognition of self must be free from all kinds of manipulations from the side of people that do not belong to this particular group. The laws of the contemporary world give the Indigenous people all the rights to define themselves the way that is natural for them and that fits their understanding of the world around and their nation. They also have right to be called Indigenous because they lived on the territory of Australia “before the English arrived and before the Dutch landed” (First Footprints n. d., para. 1).

The issues of historical change and cultural continuity

Australian cultural development and history is not much different from the developments and histories of any other colonial states. The colonists arrived to the territory that was inhabited by Indigenous tribes with their own beliefs, customs and traditions. Of course, the new comers from more advanced nations took over the culture of the Aboriginal settlers. Their legacy became endangered because of the influences of the new people and their approaches and understandings.

The Aboriginal population of Australia had to deal with serious changes, dangers and diseases. Due to the fact that European colonists had a long history of handling multiple epidemic infectious sicknesses, they also turned out to be the carriers of viruses, which were normal for the bodies of Western people, but happened to be lethal for Indigenous people of Australia (Perkins & Langton, n. d., p. 12).

Wolfe (1994) states that the process of colonisation always creates negative impacts on the people that are being colonised (p. 93). Besides, the nation ends up being damaged in all aspects – the pure landscape is destroyed, the people are infected or oppressed, the culture and religious beliefs are neglected and forgotten. The colonists took over the Indigenous life. The individuality of Aborigines started to be recognised only in 1970s, this was the time when Indigenous Australians received the right for land and self-identification (Wolfe 1994, p. 102).

These legislative changes brought a new tendency – the Aboriginality of Australians started to be a countable matter. The per cent of Indigenous blood in an individual could be calculated by means of mathematical formulas. Yet, cultural codes could not be calculated. Australian natives spent decades being repressed, before their authenticity received recognition, but even after that the Native Title needed to be supported by facts in order to be confirmed (1994, p. 122). This is where the formulas would be very useful.

For decades Australia has been viewed as a homogenous state. Only lately the scientists started to separate the points of view of settler-colonisation and the Aboriginal resistance. These are two absolutely different histories and ideologies and they should not be mixed together. Through all this time the remains of the Aboriginal culture, language and religious beliefs, as well as folklore and art were preserved by Indigenous people so that the history of this nation was not erased and forgotten. People had to fight for their identity, resist the processes of forceful assimilation and oppression of the more dominant European culture.

Native Australians have been through very hard times of confrontation and carceration. Today they finally are recognised as unique culture that needs to be protected, yet it is still under a threat of the white money makers trying to create a business on the base of another culture’s authenticity (Sleath, 2014, para. 15).

Reference List

Dodson, M. (2003). The End in the Beginning: Redefining Aboriginality. In M. Grossman (Ed.). Blacklines: Contemporary Critical Writing by Indigenous Australians (172-224). Melbourne, Australia: Black Inc. Web.

First Footprints. (n. d.) ABC. Web.

McMahon, B. (2007). . Web.

Perkins, R. & Langton, M. (n. d). First Australians. Melbourne, Australia: The Miegunyah Press. Web.

Sahlins, M. (2011). What Kinship Is (Part one). Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, 17, 2. Web.

Sleath, E. (2014). . Web.

Stanner W. E. H. (1953). The Dreaming. In R. Manne (Ed.). The Dreaming and Other Essays (172-224). Melbourne, Australia: Black Inc. Web.

Swain, T. & Trompf, G. (1995). The Religions of Oceania. London, United Kingdom: Routhledge. Web.

Wolfe, P. (1994). Nation and Miscegenation: Discursive Continuity in the Post-Mabo Era. Social Analysis 36, 92-153. Web.

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