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Australian Aboriginal Culture

Australia has had a long history of human occupation. In fact, many scholars point to Australian aborigines as the oldest surviving culture. This means there is a lot to tell about this country and its first civilization. In this essay, we will discuss the earliest history of Australian aborigines, their spiritual beliefs, language, ceremonies, and artistic endeavors.

History

The earliest evidence of human occupation of Australia dates back to about 50,000 years, where artifacts of their existence was found in caves. According to data, the first aboriginals lived on the coast—possibly due to coming from abroad from Polynesian islands or Africa. Though there are many extant cultures to discover, Australian aboriginal culture is the oldest surviving one (Zhou, Naaman).

Spiritual beliefs

Different areas of Australia developed various spiritual ideas, but over time, these concepts overlapped. Most of their beliefs are based on a devotion to the land and to the Dreamtime. According to Artlandish, a gallery of aboriginal art, “Aboriginals believe that the Dreamtime was way back, at the very beginning. The land and the people were created by the Spirits. They made the rivers, streams, water holes the land, hills, rocks, plants and animals. It is believed that the Spirits gave them their hunting tools and each tribe its land, their totems and their Dreaming. The Aboriginals believed that the entire world was made by their Ancestors way back in the very beginning of time, the Dreamtime” (“What Is Aboriginal Dreamtime?”). The key aspect of Dreamtime to be understood is that it never ends. It is on a continuum of the past, the present, and the future. Through the Dreaming, people found out about their history, ancestors, and sacred places.

Language

It may come as a surprise to many people, but Australia had multiple ancient languages before English was brought by missionaries. According to The Conversation, “B.C. (“Before Cook”) there were approximately 250 separate Aboriginal languages in what is now called Australia, with about 600-800 dialects” (Nicholls, Christine Judith). This lends to the fact that it is hard to express a single culture for the aboriginals, especially in terms of their spiritual beliefs.

Ceremonies

There are several ceremonies that are popular among the aboriginal tribes of Australia:

  • The walkabout, which is a rite of passage for adolescents that entails a long solo journey in the wilderness without support.
  • A churinga is an oblong piece of polished wood or stone that is used in sacred ceremonies and is seen as a totem of a certain group.
  • Smoking ceremonies are performed as a cleansing ritual and for other purposes.
  • Aboriginals practice fire-stick farming, which involves burning certain parts of vegetation to make the soil more fertile.
  • The corroboree is a meeting where aboriginals perform music and dance, and dress in costumes, to engage with the Dreamtime.
  • A bora is the initiation ceremony for boys to become men, and involves many different acts based on the region, such as getting scarred, pulling out a tooth, circumcision, and being told spiritual secrets and lore (Neidjie, Bill, et al).

Artistic endeavors

When people think of Austrialian aboriginal music, the first thing that usually comes to their minds is the didgeridoo. It is a long, hollowed-out piece of wood that is blown into. The aboriginals have mastered the art of creating myriad unique sounds from this seemingly simple instrument. Besides didgeridoos, clapping sticks are used to keep rhythm. Their paintings and other art pieces are commonly done to depict sacred events and beings related to the Dreamtime, and often it looks surrealistic (Neidjie, Bill, et al).
There is much more to say about Australian aboriginal culture, but these are the basics. People started to inhabit Australia, according to evidence, around 50,000 years ago. They stayed in caves at first on the coast and later moved into the bush. They had and still have distinct spiritual beliefs, such as the Dreamtime—which is a duration that spans between the past, present, and future, and can be tapped into through sacred ceremonies. Also, they had about 250 languages and hundreds of dialects as well. In terms of ceremonies, they had unique ones that focused on becoming an adult through a walkabout, becoming a man through various physical and sacred acts, meeting to get in touch with the Dreamtime through the arts, and many other traditions which are still in use today. Their music has spread across the world in the form of the didgeridoo. There is more to be said about the oldest surviving culture, but it is left up to you to journey into their culture with added depth.

Works Cited
“What Is Aboriginal Dreamtime?” Artlandish Aboriginal Art Gallery, 2 Apr. 2019, www.aboriginal-art-australia.com/aboriginal-art-library/aboriginal-dreamtime/.
Zhou, Naaman. “Earliest Evidence of Aboriginal Occupation of Australian Coast Discovered.” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 19 May 2017, www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/may/19/indigenous-australian-life-cave-wa-50000-years.
Nicholls, Christine Judith. “’Dreamtime’ and ‘The Dreaming’ – an Introduction.” The Conversation, 2 May 2019, theconversation.com/dreamtime-and-the-dreaming-an-introduction-20833.
Neidjie, Bill, et al. Australias Kakadu Man. Resource Managers, 1986.

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