Aboriginal Australians: they’re not all alike

When this blog first started, as well as posting political and media related topics, we also posted many informative topics on Indigenous Australia. It is a topic that is close to most of us here and we have always endeavoured to the best of our ability to promote an awareness of our Indigenous brothers and sisters in the country they settled 60,000 years before Europeans.

This post was first published in June 2010 when we had just a handful of contributors and readers so I would like to re-introduce it now that we have gathered a large number of both along the way. It is a post that challenges the pan-Aboriginalisation opinions of the Indigenous Australians by the wider community, which is, simply; ‘they’re all alike’.

On balance I do not think it is valid to refer to Aboriginal characteristics in a general way, especially when those characteristics are based on culture.

One of my old university lectures broadly defined a culture as the human behaviour which is learned in a social environment and adapted to that environment.  As Aboriginal societies developed and adapted throughout a continent that contained a variety of environmental zones, it is concluded that Australia thus contains a variety of Aboriginal cultures.

However, these cultures do share common threads.  Three major points of similarity in cultural concepts include values towards the land and environment, relationships, and the creative stories of the Dreaming.

Aboriginal culture cannot be separated from the land.  Aborigines believe they are related to the land and that the land is sacred.

The land was created during the Dreaming and all people were born from this land, and within it the ancestral spirits still dwell.  During the creation the spirit beings took (among others) human form, and as they travelled the earth their activities, formed the environmental landmarks that are still visible today.

The values placed on relationships (in a broader sense than meaning kinship), is based on the principle of helping each other.  Within groups all possessions would be shared.  It was a moral requirement that foods be distributed to all group members, and any surplus would be traded (or offered) to other tribes, as would any item that the receiving tribe may not have access to.

The third similarity between cultures relates to the Dreaming.  Each culture may have their own interpretations of the Dreaming stories and even their own descriptive name for the event, but the mythical or religious significance of the Dreaming is a source that makes possible the celebration of life.

All aspects and activities of life are based on the Dreaming, be it in the rituals, the arts, hunting and gathering, and the two cultural similarities already discussed; the bond with the land and the principles of relationships.

How life was lived by the spiritual ancestors in the Dreaming is as it is lived by people now.  This is a concept that is difficult to explain to non – Aboriginal Australians, yet it is a concept so easy to express by those who live by it.

The similarities of attitudes to the environment itself can also be the greatest influence in creating cultural differences.  As there are environmental differences, there must be cultural diversity, and that the environmental differences in Australia had indeed given rise to socio – economic patterning.

To expand on this, a more detailed look at what identifies a culture would need to be examined than the broad offering of my old lecturer.  Cultures are integrated systems consisting of a great variety of ideas and activities influenced by the ecosystems, or simply, a way of life within an ecosystem.  A particular ecosystem may exist for desert dwellers than that say for tribes that lived on the coastal regions.  The foods hunted would be different as would the weapons used.  Language could thus be different as perhaps would art.  Different climatic conditions would also influence the way of life.

On balance I do not think it is valid to refer to Aboriginal cultural characteristics in a general way.  To do so would be classifying the Aboriginal people as a race, and I don’t believe that they are a race.  I support the opinion that throughout the continent there were territories clearly defined by language, geography and descent which divided the land into hundreds of identifiable nations.  Would you call Europeans a race?  Would you say that the Scots have all the same cultures as the English.  It is my belief that to misrepresent a person’s culture is denying that person their identity.

On balance do you think it is valid to refer to Aboriginal cultural characteristics in a general way?

2:3 Normal or de jure version of flag, or obve...

The Australian Aboriginal Flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)