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Australian Aborigines

Australian Aborigines Until this paper, I never even knew there was such a word as “Aborigine” let alone it being a race of people dating back to the prehistoric times. I thought that all Australians were of Anglo decent, but I was wrong about that assumption. The Aborigines were the first and only inhabitants of Australia, until the late 18th century when European settlers came. Because of the Europeans, the Aborigines lives would change drastically. In this paper, I am going to talk about the Aborigines, describing their origins up to the present.

The Aborigines came originally from somewhere in Asia and have been in Australia for at least 40,000 years. The first settlement occurred during an era of lowered sea levels, when there was an almost continuous land bridge between Asia and Australia, allowing them to cross over between the two continents. By 30,000 years ago most of the continent was occupied, including the southwest and southeast corners as well as the Highlands of the island of New Guinea (Mulvaney, 55-56). Archaeologists have found that much of the interior of Australia was abandoned due to severe climatic conditions between 25,000 and 15,000 years ago and reoccupied after the conditions improved. Up until the time the European settlers came in 1788, the Aborigines occupied and utilized the entire continent and had adapted successfully to a large range of ecological and climatic conditions, from wet temperate and tropical rain forests to extremely arid deserts.

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Population densities ranged from about 1 to 8 square miles per person in the more fertile and coastal areas to more than 35 square miles per person in the deserts. Estimates of the Aboriginal population vary from 300,000 to more than 1,000,000 (Kepars, 15). The Aborigines were hunter-gatherers and because of this, they were dependent on their environment. They did not grow crops or domesticate animals so whenever food was scarce, they were forced to move in order to find more (Blainey, 20). They were nomads who traveled from site to site within their home territories.

Most of the time they hunted and gathered in small groups. When the food resources were high, though, they would organize large gatherings. At these gatherings is where social and religious business of the society would be transacted over a two- to three-week period of intense social activity. This pattern of aggregation and dispersal was fundamental, but because of the living conditions, they had no choice but to follow this pattern. Their food supply was not always abundant (Tindale, 31). Even though they were the only ones inhabiting Australia, the Aborigines spoke more than 200 different languages.

Most of the Aborigines were bilingual or multilingual. Both languages and groups of people were associated with stretches of territory. There may have been as many as 500 such named, territories (Broome, 27-28). Their members shared similar cultures and interacted more with one another than with members of different groups. These groups were not, however, politically or economically tied to each other.

While language groups as labels may have commonly used names for one another, individual and group identity differed greatly from how they were labeled by other groups. The Aborigines were not aware that they shared a national identity. However, the Aboriginal worldview tended to be expansive, with a perception of society as a community of common under-standings and behaviors shared well beyond the confines of the local group (Broome, 30). “Aboriginal society was the outcome of interplay between economic, ecological, social, and religious forces” (Goldberg, 144-5). The territories that the different groups of Aborigines occupied were called estates. The estate group was the group that shared ownership of a territory.

These groups consisted of people who traced connections with one another by decent through males (Goldberg, 147). Members of an estate were scattered in bands across their territory. A band consisted of two or more families. Each family cooked and camped separately from the others in their estate. Even though they could function alone, they preferred to live and travel together in bands, probably for survival. The Aborigines religion was centered on Dreamtime. They saw their way of life as already ordained by the creative acts of the Dreaming beings and the blueprint that was their legacy, so their mission was simply to live in agreement with the terms of that legacy (Flood, 7).

Because of this, there was no room for competing dogmas or rebellion against the status quo. Everything that now existed was fixed for all time and all that they were asked to do, in order to guarantee the continuance of their world, was obey the law of the Dreaming and correctly perform all the rituals. Human creativity was not excluded but was explained away. The Dreaming legacy was not a static, dead weight of tradition but was forever being added to and enlivened, despite an ideology that proclaimed non-change and the need only to reproduce existing forms (Flood, 10). This view of the world gave precedence to spiritual powers and explanations over human intellect, and it placed everyone squarely under the authority of Dreaming rather than that of other people.

Because of this, there were no leaders in the Aborigine society. Aborigines were constantly surrounded by proofs of the existence and power of spiritual forces–the landscape itself represented the Dreaming’s reality. Everyday activities were in large measure a reenactment of those of the creative beings, making religion inseparable from the concerns of daily life. Outside the ritual arena, and notwithstanding the superior rights of men over women and of older men over younger men, people valued their personal affairs highly and were likely to react with anger and violence to any attempts by others who denied it (Flood, 15). The Aborigines also believed in totemism. A totem represented each family and even some individuals. They were linked to things of nature and supernatural beings.

Totemic beliefs are more highly elaborated among the Aborigines than among any other people (Tindale, 53). Basically, the totem was a symbol that provided a link between humans and mythical beings. The Aborigines believed that these mythical beings were once human, but then morphed into land features such as rocks or even animals. Totemism connects the Aborigine family to a certain place or event that gives them an account of their origin. It is individual to the family while at the same time linking them to other families that share the same origins (Flood, 22).

They valued their totems very highly, almost as much as their religion. Although not as important as the Dreamtime or totemism, music played a major role in the Aborigine’s lives. Although the songs of each of the tribes sounded similar, they were unique and each tribe knew that their songs were different from other tribes. They really didn’t have any musical instruments. They sang and either stamped their feet or clapped their hands to accompany the singing.

For some songs, they hit sticks together in order to give them rhythm (Tindale, 57). Some tribes used a didgeridoo, which was probably the only real instrument they had. This instrument was made from a hollowed out tree branch and could very long, sometimes up to 15 feet. It originated from the tribes of Northern Australia and eventually spread to the other parts over time. The sound was made by blowing into one end, which would produce a buzzing sound. The didgeridoo became a national symbol for the Aborigines mainly because of its uniqueness.

Their music would be used in performing their rituals for the Dreaming (Tindale, 59). These rituals were usually only performed when the food supply was abundant and they got together with members of other tribes to perform the rituals. In the 1780’s, the Aborigines lifestyle took a turn for the worse. This the period in which Europeans began to explore and eventually colonize Australia. The two vastly different cultures would soon clash and cause a dramatic change for the Aborigines.

The British were the first of the Europeans to start colonies in Australia. The Aborigines were at first very friendly and receptive of the settlers. But as more and more settlers came this would change. “Although the Colonial Office in London prescribed the safeguarding of indigenes’ rights and their treatment as British subjects, friction soon developed between the colonists and local Aborigines” (Blainey, 85). Once the European settlement began to expand inland, it caused conflict because it interfered with the Aborigines’ economic and religious activities. The Europeans …


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