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Yothu Yindi Foundation: A New Direction in Arnhem Land

In 1990, Mandawuy Yunupingu, lead singer of the Australian rock band Yothu Yindi and former principal of the Yirrkala Community Education Centre, was among the Yolngu (indigenous people of North East Arnhem Land) leaders who formed the Yothu Yindi Foundation1 with the aim of establishing a “bush university”—the Garma Cultural Studies Institute—in the region in order to enhance the education of…

The Underside of a Miracle: Industrialization, Land, and Taiwan's Indigenous Peoples

Taiwan’s rapid economic development of the 1970s and 1980s inspired an entire development discourse on the "Taiwanese miracle." It was hoped that other developing countries, from Mauritius to Bolivia, could learn from development policies of the Chinese Nationalist Party (KMT) on Taiwan and bring prosperity to their own peoples. Such studies overlooked three important facts: 1) that rapid…

The Power of Connection

No one has yet been able to define the sacred; the powers in the world are larger than the parts, larger than the sum of the parts, and much larger than any dictionary. Few people have spoken as mysteriously and provocatively about the sacred as the late David Burrumarra (p. 10). He tells us that Motj is power, that it is the flow of life toward growth, of stories toward the real, of a person…

The First Nations of Taiwan: A Special Report on Taiwan's indigenous peoples

Taiwanese history has been shaped by its geography. In the shape of a tobacco leaf, the island is about 85 miles across at its widest point and 260 miles long, with an area of just under 22,500 square miles. The terrain varies widely between the relatively flat west and the mountainous and heavily forested east. The island’s position just more than 100 miles off the southeast coast of China and…

The Fight for Tasmania

Despite popular belief in the extinction of Tasmania’s Aborigines (Palawa) after Truganini’s death in 1876, the genocidal policies of the British were unsuccessful in completely clearing the land of its indigenous presence. Palawa--descendants of those remnant populations deported to Flinders Island in Bass Strait and those who fled to the rugged interior of the island to escape the violence--…

The Cycad Speaks Through Me: Wangurri Garden Project Update

Arnhem Land’s most famous gardener, Wangurri Garden Project Coordinator Timothy Buthimang, brings a new dimension to discussions about Aboriginal self-determination. Since the 1970s he has facilitated the movement of Yolngu back to their homelands by creating gardens to supplement store foods and traditional hunting and gathering. Buthimang is concerned that Yolngu adhere to the laws of old and…

Teachings from Ancient <i>Gwion</i> Art

We call it now Pathway Projectbecause where all the tracks … everything that walked … [they] put their track and that is the project now, we following the history Banggal Ngarinyin people describe cultural knowledge as a pathway of learning along which individuals progressively acquire education throughout life. The Pathway Project was started in 1992 by the late David Mowaljarlai Banggal, Paddy…

Spirit of Anchor

Reviewed by Ian S. McIntosh Arnhem Land Aboriginal (Yolngu) narratives regarding the female Dreaming entity Bayini and her husband Birrinydji have puzzled anthropologists and historians since the first sketchy recordings of ceremonies for Allah, anchors and flags, etc., were made by visiting scholars in the 1920s. Inspired by the presence of Indonesians from Macassar (who fished the coastal…

Putting the Pieces Together

In his recent book, Reconciliation. A Journey, journalist Michael Gordon descends into an Aboriginal Australian "heart of darkness" to discover the relevance of the federal government’s campaign for reconciliation to tortured and dysfunctional indigenous lives. With an open heart and mind, Gordon describes in horrific detail the impact of the majority population on a colonized people. His…

Obituary: George Dayngumbu, Black Crusader

Wangurri clan elder and Uniting Church leader George Dayngumbu died peacefully in his Galiwin’ku home at Elcho Island in Australia’s northeast Arnhem Land in July 2001. An astute village chairperson and head of the Aboriginal Benefits Trust of the early post-Mission period in the 1970s and 1980s, George quietly guided the 1500-strong community of Galiwin’ku through the great transition from bush…

Nurturing the Sacred through Yolngu Popular Song

As you said earlier, Aaron, … your people want to know about this music because it’s contemporary or rock ’n’ roll. Well, we mix things too. We can mix clapsticks [bilma] and didjeridu [yidaki], our main instruments, and the lyrics of our songs [manikay]. See, if we want to make an album or write songs, then we are able to bring our cultural things to the rock ’n’ roll world. We can do that. You…

Nurturing the Sacred in Western Arnhem Land: The Legacy of Shaman, Healer and Mentor Paddy Compass Namadbara

Western Arnhemlanders, today predominantly speakers of either Kunwinjku or Iwaidja (as well as English), have faced a flood of change over the last 70-80 years. While they are now legal owners of this former Arnhem Land Aboriginal reserve, the location and population mix of their community centers is largely a product of past government and mission and also big industry influence. Located on…

Nurturing Galiwin'ku Youth in Northeast Arnhem Land: Yalu Marrngikunharaw

They call themselves yalu, an Aboriginal (Yolngu) word meaning "bird’s nest." But in this case yalu is a metaphor for the learning or nurturing place that six unemployed Yolngu women--Lawurrpa, Garngulkpuy, Bepuka, Yungirrnga, Djalingirr, and Wirriny Wirriny--have created at Galiwin’ku to help community youth grow and "teach them to fly." Representing the Warramiri, Birrkili, Wangurri, and…

Motj and the Nature of the Sacred

"The Bible and the Cross help us to remember Christianity and to believe in God," said the late David Burrumarra. "They are like eyeglasses. Without these glasses would we see God in our image (and vice versa) or would God look different? Would he look like the natural world? Our ‘white’ glasses show us God in a particular way." For the Yolngu of northeast Arnhem Land, the Wangarr (or…

Mapping the Sacred

Dinah Norman Marrngawi is a senior Yanyuwa woman who lives at Borroloola in the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria in the Northern Territory of Australia. She spoke to me as we sat quietly on her verandah looking through draft maps associated with the development of an indigenous atlas of the southwest Gulf of Carpentaria. The aim is to map the sacred knowledge of a community into atlas form so that…

Maintaining History: The Gurindji People's "Truthful Histories"

Ways of Maintaining History Where does "history" come from? We know, by definition, that history comes from the past. But how does it come to us? To put it another way, how do we experience the past? History always realizes itself in the present because without human efforts to perform the events and experiences of the past, the past never becomes a history. History has been explored, crafted,…

Life in Country:Ecological Restoration on Aboriginal Homelands

Tom Greaves (1988) contends that "global scarcities of freshwater have a particular relevance to indigenous societies, to their future and to their universal cultural rights." He sets his analysis within the context of competing social rights to water. Just as important, in many parts of the world, is the struggle to conserve freshwater ecosystems against the biological invasions that threaten to…

In the Name of Progress

In 1990, 30 houses in Tungmen Village of Hsiulin Township, Hualien County, disappeared under an avalanche of mud and gravel. On the slopes above the village, marble boulders had been mined to sell for landscape decoration, and much of the natural vegetation had been replaced by cultivated betel nut palm. At least a dozen lives were extinguished in those few moments—lives of the Tayal (Atayal)…

Hidden Landscapes: Cultural Survival in Central Australia

Murphy Kennedy is a senior Warumungu man from southeast of Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory. Through stories about his family, himself, and other Aboriginal people, and particularly through accounts of life and work at particular sites like cattle yards and mines, Murphy has shown how Aboriginal people were able to keep their cultures alive within colonial landscapes. The region around…

Ganma: Negotiating Indigenous Water Knowledge in a Global Water Crisis

On Elcho Island, six kilometers off the northeast Arnhem Land coast of Australia’s Northern Territory, a senior Yolngu woman sat by a riverbank in the shade, keening a crying-song for her recently deceased uncle. She was singing his spirit and essence out to sea, to his ancestral waters. The words of her song spoke of the river’s rushing floodwaters--of the bubbling, frothing foam that builds as…

Fire Fire Burning Bright: Oral history from Paddy Bedford and Timmy Timms. Stage adaptation written and directed by Andrish Sain

Fire, Fire Burning Bright (Marnem, Marnem Dililb Benuwarrenji), a production of the Neminuwarlin Performance Group of the East Kimberley in Western Australia, is a contemporary rendition of a traditional Joonba, or corroboree, created for the stage. Weaving together song and dance, story-telling, historical footage, and stunning masks, Fire, Fire Burning Bright brings to light the long suppressed…

Defense of the Sacred "Ancient Code"

The Australian Aboriginal Progressive Association (AAPA) rose to prominence fighting for the rights of Aboriginal people in the early 1920s. They are today recognized as the first united, organized pan-Aboriginal political group. The AAPA realized early on that the survival of Aboriginal people and culture was savagely threatened by insidious government policy. Contemporary studies have…

A Minority within a Minority: Cultural Survival on Taiwan's Orchid Island

The indigenous people of Orchid Island, an island off the southeast coast of Taiwan, are a small but distinct group—cut off from their closest relatives in the Philippines—among Taiwan’s remaining two percent Austronesians in a sea of Han Chinese. The Diversity of Taiwan’s Indigenous Minority The indigenous Austronesian peoples of Taiwan were gradually overrun by waves of migration from China,…

"The Tide has Gone Out on Him": Wangga songs, walakandha dances, and the etermal ebb and flow of existence

In June 1988, Martin Warrigal, a Marritjevin songman, took me to a "burn-im rag" ceremony in his ancestral country at Nadirri. It was only the second Aboriginal ceremony I had attended in the Daly region of northwest Australia--the previous month I had witnessed a public circumcision ceremony at Port Keats--and I had only the sketchiest of ideas about the ceremony’s significance. I knew that its…