The Australian Aboriginal way of life is interesting in many ways. Their self-being with nature, their “rituals”, their “dream-time”. This essay is going to discuss the “dream-time”, through the eyes of a white person. The objective of this paper is to educate and tell of the reader a little about this time, past and present. The following will be discussed and look at ritual, story, beliefs, time and space, person(s), experience, mystery, and change. Discussing all these subjects with the underlying objective of discussing the “Dream-time”.
The indigenous people of Australia are a mysterious culture with many beliefs. These aboriginals have lived on the land centuries before the white man came. Once a group of people who live harmoniously with nature, following the seasons from place to place. Now a group of people who are struggling to stay on the face of the earth. The people who once ruled Australia are losing or lost their land and losing their faith, losing the faith of the Aboriginal and the faith in the “Dream-time”.
Stories and rituals make the aboriginal religion totemic. Although classifying aboriginal religion into a class would be wrong because the aboriginal religion is one in its own. If classified into Totemism it would have to be classified into two part, social totemism, and ritual totemism. Firstly, the member of a group or clan make up the social totemism. Each person in that group represent the social dimension. The arrangement in marriage to the initiation of a young man. The whole life cycle deal with the social totemic. The ritual aspect of it deals with the ceremonies and gatherings. It is through these “rituals” if aboriginal religion was to be classified it would fall under totemism. Totemism is the closes thing to work for the aboriginal religion. Though it is not perfect, Aboriginal religion is a religion that is unlike any others so should be classified differently.
The “dream-time” really should not be called the “dream-time”, because this time is happening, and when you say dream-time it seems just to represent the past. There seems to be no English word besides dreaming or dream-time that represents this time in an Aboriginal life. The Dream-time was a word made up by anthropologist who did not understand the full concept of the Dreaming. Bernt says “The dreaming was the source of all life, and anything that touched it was, virtually by definition, sacred Sacredness was, therefore, a condition of living.” The Dreamtime will be a part of the traditional aboriginal life that can not be with out. This is how the traditional aboriginal becomes who he is. This is when boys become men, when the aboriginal becomes one with land seeing “sky-heroes” or “gods”. The dream time can be separated into “two levels. One is social activity in which participation is encouraged by all the members of a family group. The other is a personal embarkment, which one might understand and find his sacred nature (Cowan p52)”. To understand the whole concept of the dreaming you first must understand the concept of time for the aboriginals. The western ways of past present and future must all but be erased to remotely understand the concept of aboriginal time. “The Aborigines have integrated nine kinds of time, each with its own ‘distinctive energy potential (Swain, p17)”. This may seem a bit difficult, but, the aboriginal did see time in many different ways and see it as recurring in some sense. Recurring might not be the correct word for it but there is no correct English translation. Time was not linear, so it must be circular and this assumption is still wrong. Many people have tried to explain the aborigines way of time one no more successful than the other. Although some theories have some credibility. Nancy Williams who lived with the Yolngu, said the time for the Yolngu was “both cyclical and circular.” The Yolngu never actually explained time like this to her but the concept is the closes the western mentality could come to understand the aboriginal mentality. Other have also said that Aborigines have cyclical or circular time and Stanner has supported this idea through the family moieties arranged in recurring cycles. Still aboriginal do not perceive time this way. There is no way a western mind can summarise the aboriginal concept of time, for we can only get a basic understanding of it. “One can not fix the dreaming into time: it was, and is, everywhen (Stanner p24).”
“Rituals” are a time when a clan or just a single man goes to get in contact with the dreaming. The “ritual” that the aboriginal believes in is to find his place in nature and more. The word “ritual” not be the correct word for the gatherings and ceremonies that the aborigine takes place in. These rituals that take place tells the story how men where created, how men behave, and how the aboriginal is to live his life. They sign and dance and tell stories about the dreaming and act out the dreaming. These acts are done with the family. If one was to study and look at all the stories of the dreaming one could come up with three elements, Stanner says. The first is how the world was formed and how the stars where set into motion and just basically how world came to be. The next is how the animals and man came to be. How men and animals all come from one, why the wind blows, and why the kangaroo hops. The third is the present day life how the aboriginal lives his life: marriage, life cycle, initiation. Stanner notes that in the dreaming stories men where not perfect, the men stole, betrayed and committed adultery. That same things that are going on today, the dreaming does set up “rules” or “laws”. It also says that “rules” do get broken and it is part of life, but one must pay for breaking the rules and the penalty could be death. These stories of the dreaming are rituals in a sense. They travel and go to certain places to be performed. They do not have certain day that they go to these places they follow the season. When the yams and fruit is in season, that is where they go. It is about the same time of year but the dates are not important.
The dates may not be important but the places where the ceremonies are to be held hold great importance. These acts are done in “hot places” where they have been done in the past and will always be done. These “hot places” that Cowan mentions are places that past and present Aboriginals go to have their ceremonies. These “hot places” are also places for an individual to go and find his direction in nature. Although Aboriginal do not have access to many of these places any more these sacred sites could be anywhere, Cowan says. White man has forced the aboriginal to change its culture, for a site to be sacred now the aboriginal people just declare it one. These sites must be guarded though during the ceremonies and it is guarded through sending someone on a rock tower, to scare any intruders away. These new ceremonies would not even be necessary if whites didn’t intrude on the other sacred sites. That is the most significant belief that the aboriginal has. It is where they practice these rituals of story telling, dancing and song.
The stories that that aboriginal had of the Dreamtime, are what they sign about and re-enact in a way. These stories represent what they should be doing in their lives today, or why thing are the way they are. One story or myth Cowan talks about is important in “Dreamtime”, the story goes:
A great man, Angamuggi, was treacherously killed by his son who had already committed incest with his sisters. The son , Tijinimin, was filled with guile, malice, and lust. Having seduced his sisters, he next speared his father while he was sitting surrounded by his children enjoying a festive moment during gathering of all clans. In agony and about to die, the father nevertheless lingered on to preform a series of marvels. He move from place to place and in doing so formed a track or path which is now sacred. At each resting place he tried without success to staunch the flow of blood from the spear wound in his side. In some mysterious way his blood produced perennial pools and springs of water, which remain today as his marks or present in the world. After a long trek he took all the fire then present in the world, tied it on his head with his own hair, and wadded into the ocean. At the last moment another man courageously snatch a brand from his head just as Angamunggi was about to disappear beneath the waves. In this way fire was saved for men who would have otherwise would have been forced to eat their food raw, like animals. Even in his death agonies, however, Angamunggi had given men perennial, life-giving waters in which he also placed the spirits of all those children who have been born since then.
These stories or myths tell how things became and why they still are around today. With out these stories the aboriginal would not be able to explain how things came to be. Unlike the western world the aboriginals did not have contact with other religion or other peoples ideas. So the aboriginal needed to explain why things are and how they became and they did so through the dreaming. The American Indians did so in a similar manner telling stories of the past to explain today. Another story or myth that Bernt tells is:
The Djanggawul sisters and brother walked along the coast until they came to Ngadibalji, where they saw a mangrove bird. Here the brother left his hair belt: it is now a sandhill. On the sandhill were the tracks of a wild duck, which were eating peanut roots. On the opposite side was a large barren sandhill; and on the surface of this were goanna tracks and the tracks of many birds. A tree with inedible ‘apple’-like nuts was growing there too; this is a sacred bullroarer tree. Here the Djanggawul paused and heard the cry of the black cockatoo. Here too is the sacred waterhole which they made, and besides which they camped.
Although their is no apparent leader or chief in the aboriginal clans, there is people who are in charge. These people are the elders of a clan the educated people of the group. The more knowledge about the Dreamtime and about hunting gained the elders respect. With this respect the decisions that had to be made, where done by the elders. Also the medicine man who was called the karadji in some tribes of western Australia had a strong voice in the Aboriginal society. The karadji became who he was at birth and was prepared for it his whole life. These karadji is almost a spirit god himself he became who he is when goes through an initiation. This is when he dies, through mental and physical torture he is reborn and becomes karadji. The karadji has many responsibilities he is the man who cures the sick children through his powers that the sky gods have given him. He can see internally, that is he can see inside of anybody, that is how some of the internal pictures are painted at these sacred sites. He helps makes decisions of what and where the people of his group should go and do. The karadji is the man who helps the aboriginal people keep in touch with their past, in a way he represent the sky heroes.
Times are changing and so are the aboriginals. They are now forced to live in poor conditions and no longer have a strong sense who they are. The whites have stolen the stories of the dreaming and stolen the culture. Though there is no easy solution, for the aboriginals of Australia to survive they need to come in touch with the dreaming once more and come in touch with their past. This essay just touch the surface of the dreaming, each one of the subjects discussed could have been a book in its self, but through this summary hopefully the reader will have a greater interest in the Aboriginal way of life, and want to educate themselves further.