The literal translation of the word 'Aborigine' is: the people who were here from the beginning. It is not synonymous (doesn't have the same meaning), as the word 'indigenous' as this means originating in an area (latin: indigena = in (in) + ginere (be born) in a particular place.
Recent scientific studies have concluded that the Australian Aborigines were the original Americans! In other words, the theory is that Aboriginal and Torris Strait Islander(ATSI) people were adventurers who arrived in the North American continent before the Vikings or Columbus. This theory states that the ancestors of the American Indians. are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders mixed together.
"Separate studies by both Brazilian and US scholars are revealing that the first humans to enter the New World more than 14,000 years ago were not Mongoloid peoples as has always been thought - but were instead people of the same race as present day Australian Aborigines."
Aborigines have occupied Australia for more then forty thousand years. we came originally from southeast Asia, entering the continent from the north. (Present-day Australia, including Tasmania, was then one continent with what is now New Guinea)
Prior to colonization which began in January 1788, the Australian Aborigines lived a lifestyle based on the Dreamtime beliefs. we have survived as a race for thousands of years and our lifestyle and cultural practices had remained virtually unchanged during that time.
Although we are Homo sapiens, biological isolation has meant that we are not racially closely related to any other people. Because our relative cultural isolation, we were forced to develop our own solutions to the problems of human adaptation in the unique and harsh Australian environment. The result was a stable and efficient way of life. Probably because of its effectiveness, the society was slow to change, especially technologically. This gives the appearance of unchangingness. The archaeological record reveals, however, a number of innovations, among them the earliest known human cremations, some of the earliest rock art, and certainly the first boomerangs, ground axes, and grindstones in the world.
The settlers had arrived in this country to build a new life for themselves and their families and had 'no time for the Dreamtime'. In other words most were not interested in the affects colonization was having on the Aborigines. In fact we were often considered to be a pest and a nuisance. Many were killed by diseases such as influenza. Thousands were massacred to make way for farms and settlements.
On the other hand some Aboriginal people adapted to the Whitman's laws and the new lifestyle. In doing so, many were reduced to pauperism and were beggars. Others broke the traditional tribal lore's by accepting Brass Plates and by moving into the traditional lands of other tribes. In many cases they had no option in doing this as they were facing starvation or the gun.
we went through stages of being conquered through an 'invasion' and taking of our lands. Many adapted to the new lifestyle (when many became reliant on alcohol, tobacco and handouts of food and clothing. However the settlers were often contemptuous of the Aborigines and separated us from their society and the people became the fringe dwellers of society. Others were removed from their families and placed into institutions. From the late 1830s the remnants of the tribes in the settled areas were moved onto Reserves and Missions where they were 'managed' by Whitemen and were forbidden from teaching their children their language and customs
THSES ARE MY PEOPLE AND THIS IS OUR LAW BEFORE THE WHITEMAN CAME INTO EXSISTANCE:
In Aboriginal society every person (particular every initiated male) was considered to be equal. No one had authority over anyone else in the sense of ruling them, but this is not to say that there weren't leaders. There are always leaders in any society - people who have personal qualities that others admire. But there were no elected leaders in Aboriginal society. There were also people who performed particular roles. For example clever men also known as Koradjis and as Doctors by Europeans, had or acquired special skills and were considered to be authorities on certain matters.
There were leaders known as Elders. People whom others listened to, asked for advice and generally obeyed when they issued orders. The Elders were considered to be wise in knowledge of the Dreamtime the law and the lore's of the tribe. An Elder was usually a male but gray hair and old age were not the only criteria to be an Elders. In fact some elderly people were not considered to be Elders.
To understand the role of the Elders it is necessary to understand that the Aborigines lived in small family groups also known as clans, bands and sub-tribes. Within the immediate family groups, the eldest males and females were treated with respect and acknowledged as leaders in the sense that they made decisions about the family. For example they settled disputes and decided when the group would move camp to another area. When a number of blood-line families lived together it is likely that the Elder of the group was the person considered by the members to be the wisest of the older people.
In large groups which may have been comprised of several hundred people, a number of Elders met to make decisions on behalf of the group. This has become known as an Elder's Council, but it wasn't a council in the sense of being a form of government. Instead such councils met for the purpose of conducting initiation, marriage and burial ceremonies
In traditional Aboriginal society females were not considered to be Elders. However, older females often acted as midwives and as authorities on other matters relevant to their gender. The role of female Elders today, as spokespersons for groups, appears to be a phenomena of the 20th century.
The Aborigines had a number of laws that governed their society. They ranged from family discipline (whereby children and others were expected to conform and behave to a code of conduct) to laws about trespassing, food taboos, marriage laws or regulations and breaches of acceptable behavior such as rape, murder and stealing.
The source of the laws were Dreamtime stories that told of the behavior of men, woman and children (sometimes in allegorical forms of animals, birds or reptiles - etc. in which the perpetrators actions were punished by being beaten, speared/killed or by banishment.
Aboriginal Australians were social beings who lived in a number of social groups sometimes called bands, clans, sub-tribes and tribes, but essentially in a family or kinship group who were 1) of the same blood-line and 2) were related to other people through totems
The social groupings of ATSI people meant that their relationships were far more extensive than our own method of identifying people as mother, father, brother, sister and cousins (etc). Aboriginal relationships are difficult to understand but the relationships of an Aboriginal male child are detailed in following script (with western ones shown in brackets), to give some idea of them: The family was usually comprised of father's father (grandfather) and often his brother or brothers who was / were known also known as father's father (no western equivalent); his wife or wives (grandmother); a father (father) and perhaps his brothers (uncles) who was also considered to be an Aboriginal male child's father.
One food that was cooked by the Aborigines was a type of bread which was also popular among early European settlers who called it damper. This is made by grinding seeds into flour, mixing this with water into a doughy paste and cooking it in the ashes of a warm fire.
The Aborigines lived within a tribal territory where they obtained their daily food needs. Some tribes lived in desert country, while others lived in mountain, coastal or timbered areas. This meant that the members of different tribes ate different foods. It also meant that some of them were constantly on the move hunting and gathering. Others lived a semi-nomadic life in areas where there were amply food supplies.
At some indefinite time the creators disappeared, however, many were believed to have remained in secret places in the land - in rivers, caves and other places. In other words, the Aborigines believed that their land had been created by spirits who continued to live in the land.
This was a superstitious belief, but it was very important to the Aborigines. For example, there were never any wars of conquest between Aboriginal tribes. They were too superstitious to do this and living in the land of another tribe would have involved them in living among strange and no doubt hostile spirits.
The Australian Aborigines used a limited variety of implements to make musical sounds. The didgeridoo is probably the best known, but others included rattles, clapping sticks and two boomerangs clapped together. However they do not appear to have used drums. The exception may be the Torres Strait Islander people.
The melodies, tunes, harmonies and rhythms of Aboriginal music included traditional ceremonial songs that were handed down from generation to generation. It was very important in Aboriginal thinking, to replicate the songs that had been first played and sung by the ancestors in the Dreamtime. When the traditional music and songs were used, living men considered themselves to be in the Dreamtime. Particularly during initiation ceremonies.
However 'new songs' were created from time to time. They told of important events in the history of the tribe. Events such as great battles or hunting expeditions. Other songs and music were for general amusement or entertainment and early European observations of the Aborigines included camp life where the people played games and sang songs around their camp fires.
The Aborigines did not dance. They held corroborees in which there were elements of music, song and movement that imitated or replicated animal movements, hunting prowess, battles or ceremonies of initiation that had been conducted for thousands of years. Corroborees are part of Aboriginal culture. They were not simply dances, but were highly significant events and belong to the Australian Aborigines.
Death was always a time of sorrow and supernatural fear among traditional ATSI people. Wailing or crying was a common occurrence among the mourners who often painted their bodies with pipe clay, red ochre, or charcoal when a relative or friend died. In some districts people wore a head covering made of feathers. Others beat their bodies with sticks or clubs, or cut themselves with shells or stone knives to cause bleeding. In these instances the period of sorrow or mourning, was considered to be at an end when their wounds were healed.
Relatives and close friends often sat beside a grave of a deceased person, but this was related to their superstitious beliefs. Sitting beside a grave - sometimes shaded with a hut or covering to provide shelter for the mourner or mourners - involved ensuring that the deceased person's spirit had gone to the 'sky camp' or to its spirit-place. Obviously it is impossible to say 'how' they knew or considered when this happened. However after the mourning period was completed, a deceased person's name was never mentioned again. This often involved inventing new words for totems but was based on their superstitious beliefs in a personal spirit and ghosts.
The belief in a personal spirit was based on the Dreamtime stories that told the people that birth was the result of a spirit-child entering a woman's body. Or in some parts of the country, birth had been an act of the creators. For example in Arnham Land the Djanggau Sisters (who were considered to be daughters of the Sun and arrived in the area in a bark canoe with their brother Bralgu)created the land and gave birth to the first-people to live there. In other words birth and death were great mysteries involving supernatural beings.
The people also believed that a person's spirit could visit living people to harm or warn them of danger. This usually resulted in a 'inquiry' about the death of a person who was considered to have died prematurely or in unusual circumstances. The inquiry - usually undertaken in consultation with an Elder or a Clever Man - looked for actions undertaken by some person that had caused the death of an individual. Any culprit was severely punished. The belief in a person spirit also led the people to take great precautions in the burial or cremation of the deceased.
A number of difference 'races' of people believe or have believed that when a person dies, their soul (or inner spirit) is born again - in the form of an animal, bird, reptile, fish or as another human being. The Eora / Dharawal Aborigines believed in transmigration also known as transmutation or metephsychosis. For example during the 1830s Quaker James Backhouse toured the Illawarra district and recorded that some Aboriginal men were mortified when some Europeans shot and killed some dolphins. The Aborigines of the area believed that after death, their warriors became dolphins. This belief was bolstered by the habit of dolphins to herd fish and to protect people from shark attacks.
Another example of the belief in reincarnation was given by David Collins who noted that when a European was about to shoot a raven, an Aborigine stepped into the firing line to stop him from doing this because 'him brother'. In other words the bird was the man's totem and he was compelled to do everything possible to make sure that the raven wasn't killed.
Aborigial people are spiritual though they had no formal religion.
The word spirit has many different meanings. For example it can be used to refer to the immaterial part of a human being often called his or her soul or to the personality of people when they are said to have a courageous or cowardly spirit. Or to describe qualities of people or (other) animals when they are said to be high spirited. Spirit can also refer to supernatural beings such as a deity (god) or to evil manifestation such as ghosts.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians believed in a number of spirits. In particular to ancestral spirits; a personal spirit; animal spirits, deceased spirits or ghosts and evil spirits. Their beliefs were founded - like every other aspect of their life - on Dreamtime myths which informed them that their world had been created by was filled with the supernatural. This was something to be taken notice of and was the basis of them being very superstitious people.
Animal Spirits: During the Dreamtime the creators made spirits of every living creature including that of every animal, bird, reptile, insect and form of marine life (etc). Wherever they rested the creators left the spirits of living creatures behind them. This was the origin of life. The Aborigines believed they were intrinsically linked to every other 'species' because of the actions of the creators. They also believed that it was their personal responsibility to ensure the continuation of 'animal' life through the concept of taking care. This involved the singing of songs and performing of ceremonies which were believed to ensure the continuation of the birth of each species.
During the Dreamtime the creators had metamorphosed into various forms of animals, birds and other species. Individuals were linked to the creators through totemic relationships and did not eat their personal totem. To do so would be a form of cannibalism. The practice had the effect of providing a safe sanctuary for different species.
ATSI people also believed that particular animal spirits could harm living people. For example they believed that killing a willy-wagtail would result in the spirit of this bird becoming angry and to the creation of storms of violence which could destroy others.
Evil Spirits: A number of Dreamtime stories related stories of evil spirits. One Queensland story recorded by A.W. Howitt told of a group who went to hunt and fish leaving behind two boys in camp, with instructions not to leave the camp: The boys played about for a time in the camp, and then getting tired of it, went down to the beach where a Thugine came out of the sea, and being always on the watch for unprotected children, caught the two boys and turned them into rocks that now stand between Double Island Point and Inskip Point and have deep water close to them. 'Here you see', the old men used to say, 'the result of not paying attention to what you are told by your elders'."
The Thugine mentioned in this story is one of hundreds of evil spirits whose evil deeds were recorded in stories and songs. Along the south-east coast of New South Wales evil spirits were and are known as Goonges. Generally speaking contemporary Aboriginal people still believe in these spirits. For example if they go to a particular area they believe they must be invited to stay there; if they are not welcome they will feel this and to remain there under these circumstances will result in being punished. Punishment may mean death or injury and this may extend to other members of a family. Some areas are forbidden to women because the male spirits that are believed to live there will punish them if they disobey the trespassing laws.
Beliefs in spirits and ghosts among Aboriginal Australians was common to all tribes throughout the continent, although there were a number of variations in the actual names that were used to describe them. Contextually the beliefs were one aspect of Aboriginal culture and need to be understood from their perspective. Modern day Western understanding tends to 'see' body, mind and spirit as separate entities, which we somehow or other manage to unite into concepts of person or oneness. This understanding can lead to skepticism about spirit as this has largely become associated with religious beliefs. Traditional Aborigines did not think this way. They certainly understood the separate concepts of body and spirit, but in such a way that they seen as being united with other people and every other living creature, in a unique oneness. This applied to the past, present and future in an ontology (philosophy) that humanism, rationalism and science cannot understand.
The Australian Aborigines believed that the land they lived in (and owned) along with all it contained (every rock, tree, waterhole and cave), was created for them during the Dreamtime.
In some areas of the continent the creators were all-powerful figures such as Biami. In other areas creation was the result of the actions of ancestral heroes and heroines. In Central Australia the Tnatantja Pole was responsible for forming mountain ranges and valleys.
Because Aboriginal society was very spiritual (in the sense that spirits were thought to have made the land and were responsible for birth and sometimes death),it is not surprising that Aboriginal people 'believed' in magic.
It was practiced in a number of ways. For example through the pointing of the bone (sometimes called singing someone) which was believed to cause death. People who had been 'pointed' often died, not as a result of the magic itself, but because of their belief that they would die ie., death through superstition or imagination. In the same way, people were 'cured' of sickness / illness through the use of magic stones and crystals.
Boys began a period of initiation from when they were 7 or 8 years of age. The first initiation ceremonies they attended were designed to make them independent on their mothers and other females. At other ceremonies and meetings with older males they were informed about the history and customs of the tribe and were taught how to survive and to be dependent on other males. Initiation continued over a number of years and boys gradually acquired knowledge through learning stories, attending ceremonies and through education by initiated males.
Pain endurance was an important part of initiation of males and was considered to be manly. In theEora / Dharawal tribe teenage boys attended a tooth evulsion ceremony when a front tooth was knocked out during the ceremony. In some tribes boys were circumcised at puberty as a pain endurance test.
Initiation was also a time of obedience as boys were expected to comply with food and other taboos during this time. For example Louisa Atkinson reported in her reminiscences of knowing the Aborigines of the south coast of New South Wales (published as A Voice in the Country: Sydney Mail 19th September 1863), that two boys of the Picton area disobeyed a food taboo and were punished by death.
'For some time the lads are not permitted to mingle with the tribe, or eat particular food. The tooth is knocked out by the point of a boomerang...should they disobey the regulations deadly consequences ensue. This report goes on to report that two initiates killed and ate a duck. Mullich (a Koradji or Clever Man of the area)discovered what they had done: in consequence the lads were surprised when asleep, stunned by a blow of a club, and an insidious poison, administered to them, under which they sank in about three months.
Girls did not participate in initiation ceremonies. At puberty they were married and went to live with their husband. However, their mothers and other women prepared them in knowledge about their bodies and sexual intercourse. Ceremonies included ritual bathing, separation from the main tribal group for varying periods of time and food taboos.
Culture is a celebration of beliefs and usually (if not always) includes rites of passage from one stage of life to another. Culture is stories and songs.
Particularly because their stories and songs informed them about creation, the relationship between mankind and nature and were the source of their tribal laws. The tradition of initiation was an expression of Aboriginal culture and was carried out for thousands of years in exactly the way that had been ordered by the ancestors in the Dreamtime. On another level the stories and songs were believed to be important for the preservation and conservation of their land and all it contained. This involved singing Songlines that had been sung by the ancestors and the concept of taking care.
Until 1788 the Aborigines of Australia lived and celebrated a culture that was basically unchanged for thousands of years. Each tribe had their own beliefs - their own songs and stories, but until colonization, they were the oldest surviving race in the entire world. They existed as a race of people well before the Egyptians were building the pyramids, while the Greeks were constructing the Pantheon and while Britain was ruled by the Roman Empire. However the first Europeans to arrive in the continent considered the 'natives' to be primitives. This was largely due to a lack of understanding about the culture of the Aborigines.
A cultural group was comprised of two or more tribes that associated with each other for cultural purposes. For example to celebrate corroborees, barter or exchange goods, conduct initiation ceremonies or intermarry.
Aboriginal lore was an important and vital aspect of community life. Lore means 'the facts and stories about a particular subject or topic'. For example Aboriginal people learned their 'laws' from those Dreamtime stories that informed the listeners about acceptable and unacceptable behavior together with the punishment offenders received.
The lore's / laws were serious as they were considered to have originated from the ancestors and therefore were considered to be the law-givers or law-makers and law was an important aspect of Aboriginal life. On the other hand there were those early colonists who believed that the Aborigines were a lawless race of people. They accused them (as some do today), of having a genetic 'fault' as natural thieves and murderers.
It is certainly true that the Aborigines of the Sydney district stole axes and other weapons from the colonists. But history records this as happening after their own weapons and tools were stolen by the convicts (who sold them to sailors who took them back to England to sell them). This is not a justification. It is a simple fact that the Aborigines considered it quid pro quo ie., good enough to steal from those who stole from them.
They also stole corn, potatoes and other food from the early settlers. Perhaps they were starving. On the other hand the early colonists were struggling to survive in the colony and the Aborigines may have stolen their food as a strategy to drive them out of their land. Murder was also exacted by the Aborigines. They believed that anyone who shot one of them should be punished and exacted this on the Europeans.
Aboriginal lore (in songs and stories about a particular topic) also taught and guided the people to survive. Some stories informed them about the life cycle of birds, animals and insects. Others (often called Songlines) were like oral road maps and identified tracks that the people followed when moving around their tribal territory or when visiting other tribes.
Aboriginal boys and girls played a number of games such as running, wrestling, climbing, throwing and ball games. No doubt they were fun to play but they all had a serious purpose. They were not simply for amusement.
Kicking balls made from grass or fur bound with vines taught people agility, but they also had to effect of forming individuals into teams which taught them cooperation and working with others.
Throwing sticks was a form of preparation for spear throwing. Drawing animal tracks in the earth trained children to observe their environment and provided them with the skills necessary to catch food.
Adult Aborigines were often used by Europeans to track runaway convicts and criminals.
Digging games trained people to collect food such as yams; climbing games enabled people to develop other survival skills - the main purpose behind all the games that Aboriginal children played.