Posted by Rebekah Copas over 12 years ago
Who are we when we interact within indigenous culture?
Who am I to you, for me to think it could be beneficial for you to read my essay? Who are you to me, that I wrote the essay with an audience of permaculture teachers in mind? I am worth being who wrote this, am I more than just another white girl who can claim the possibility of also having the audience of readers among indigenous families, who might want to supervise and qualify my words. These questions could be answered readily among permies, by having a look at my biography in the Permaculture Global Network website; or can they? We may presume to be able to answer these questions by examination of that website, of which, my becoming of, is what inspired me to write this essay, after reading through the biographies of many of the other Australian based members. Yet how adequately could the internet every engage in real intercultural communication, when it only exaggerates the discrepancies between various ways of verbal sequencing, by removing our words from our body language. All we can accurately know of one another, is that if we knew anything of each other, it is because we are sharing some cultural concepts with one another.
Now extrapolate the point I made in the paragraph above, into any social situation here in Australia, in which indigenous people and non-indigenous people are communicating with one another. We might seldom presume to know how to assess one another’s skills, status, and personal strengths and weaknesses, without knowing a lot more about one another than written words. Yet, we may make summarily assessments of total strangers, by evaluation of the posture, and what animal shapes it holds. However, in today’s Australian society, and indigenous society within Australian society, not everybody has retained the necessary skills at interpersonal relationships, to be able to assess one another postures so accurately and rapidly as all men could in the past. It is a state of mind which is a normal part of youthful human development, to consider whether or not we ever really know anything about one another at all. The point is, that indigenous people, and men in particular, who retain sharp skills at reading the human posture, are not focussed on assessing the animal mindedness of one another, in order to blame each other for being animal natured, but in fact, to minimise all potential for any blame to be co-existing with attempts to communicate. The way it is believed to be within indigenous Australian culture, is that whenever anybody evaluates anybody else’s weak points, in a way that was blaming, then the blamer is who was animal minded, (often enough as well as who got blamed), and when that animal nature is accurately attributed back into the natural world, a two different things happen. Procreation occurs in nature, simultaneously with human beings becoming more wise, compassionate, and open to receiving accurate information. This is what is happening when I introduce myself by establishing I have wallaby on me in the Dreamtime. In the regard of many folk, such as our many Maori guests from Aotearoa, I am surrendering myself to my opponents before the competition even began. Yet in my own self regard, I am putting on armour, not as a show of strength, but the armours of proving it mattered little to me that I needed be wallaby, as I am never not also a human being.
However, in this regard, as with any fact, there are certain good manners which we tend to expect to be on display between ourselves. For example, when one becomes self conscious of being examined in this way by other indigenous persons, it is polite to hold still in that one posture for a few moments longer than one may have naturally, so as that one’s self consciousness can be directed into its appropriate animal kingdom classification. However that is more than the good manners which are normally expected of anybody who is not already acculturated within indigenous social contexts. And who we are, in and of our humanity, will be thought of to be above that kind of interaction. Yet without such interactions occurring, normally in silence, who would we be to begin to attempt to assert our humanity. Before a human being can even begin to moderate human communication patterns, any animal, or plant, (or geology, outside that geology of the songline of one’s own true human story), related thought patterns in that person, (in which we may have been thinking a thought less than human in intention and motivation, and in which the causes of that less than human thought, can be proven to be that our body is negatively exposed to animals, plants, and geology, and so was taking on the nature of those forms), need to be adequately evaluated, and any motivation which is not concurrent with the aim of the discussion, needs to be weeded out by its being attributed back into the world of flora and fauna. And so, we begin to notice the flora and fauna around us, and perhaps see images of it in our minds, and if we are initiated within traditional indigenous culture, we even experience somatic and/or visual hallucinations of becoming that flora and fauna, (much the same as is reportedly the experience of using hallucinogenic drugs, yet it is normal for every indigenous Australian, to be able to without the drugs), and then, after awhile, we feel calmer, and more reasonable, and human communication can be more fluid, without fear of who was wanting to blame who for what. All that blame is now existing within plants and animals and rocks. Maybe a bit of it fell into a coin or two, into an echidna perhaps, since Australian five cent pieces cost more to manufacture than their face value. But the point here, is that while there are basic good manners in this respect visible at most indigenous Australian communal gatherings, the business of introductions to such good manners, between indigenous men and non-indigenous men, can play out more like a bit of a psychological game; and it is a game which even indigenous children can be very skilled at, as winners. Basically, if you blame me, then you are being an animal towards me, and if you will not accept that fact, and I have to blame you back to make my point, then all I need do is turn myself into an animal to prove it to you; then you may well blame me for being an animal in your mind’s eye, but in that, you will be the same as me, and so everybody’s blaming of one another turns into the biodiversity of Earth. It is a fun game in fact, which is encouraging of human thought processes, by exaggerating what is regarded as less than human, or as animal type thinking, in a similar way to how both vaccinations, and homeopathic prophalaxis work. There are of course also those among us who prefer their animal selves, and too many who were forced into that expectation of living in the social mainstream of Australia, through prison sentences. Folk who want their animal mindedness more than they wanted their animal status to prove their humanity, and therefore need to be managed by the rest of us, yet within indigenous cultural contexts, such persons tend to be quite sharp at picking up on what animals exist in anybody else’s dreams, and make themselves socially useful at that. While indigenous men are very skilled at this kind of psychological manipulation, all indigenous people are today also extraordinarily cautious of being exploited in this skill, and many have been forced to become quite afraid of displaying it, usually due to having been locked away in prisons with hardened criminals who did not appreciate the worth of the game. This is the hard core bottom line fact at the bottom of the problems in modern indigenous health, and environmental management. Men have been forced to become too terrified of being forced into self abusive behaviour, because of all the erroneous interpretations which exist in prisons, and among policing bodies, and even inside Churches, in respect of what the purpose is of our animist based belief. It is not that we all turn into an animal so as to excuse our mental crimes, and that if we show ourselves in your minds as animals, that it was because of having criminal mental processes, and it is that we all belong within a culture, and belong to a land, in which accepting and forgiving the animal dreaming of every newcomer to the land, is common practise. Acceptance of the Dreamtime of introduced species, being the best way to manage an invasion, is why so many Aboriginal men are such good cowboys, and yet, only one is listed in the Stockman’s Hall of Fame. Eventually by human intermarriages, all the introduced cattle of Europe, might be returned into our indigenous species. Our culture is a culture in which the ability to perform an exorcism is nothing special, but simply a normal human function. Of course we have medicine men and women, who can achieve more, above and beyond the simple exorcisms of animist status, but it is unique at Earth, for every man in any one single culture, to sustain such skills, as are named those of “shapeshifters” and the Magi.
Many people in other indigenous cultures, regard the kinds of psychological skills that all indigenous Australian men gain through initiatory experiences, as specialised and only accessible to medicine men, and/or shaman. Many other people, who were among those who invaded Australia, have regarded animist cultures as more miserable, and less capable of concentrating human thinking. Many Europeans relate to animist based belief, through knowledge of Native American and/or Indian customs, which are both different from indigenous Australian, and also different from the indigenous animist basis of belief of the British Isles. The animist beliefs of the British, are apparent in the stories of Merlin, and his turning Arthur into a fish, but also apparent in the extensive quantity of children’s literature within which animals are personified, such as the stories of Beatrix Potter. But can a picture of a rabbit in a blue coat cause anybody to sustain rabbit in the Dreamtime? Or do we not even need answer such questions of our invaders? In Native North American custom, not every human being needed to turn into an animal, or animals, at death. Similarly in the Indian customs from India, only the sins we have been the behavioural cause of, need become animals. Yet today the world we live in is full of those seeking to prove that we need not worry about having sinned, so how will sinners know, that the reason we need not worry, was because each human error, will be proven to have a corresponding form in the Animal Kingdom. We each need work to be more human, and if we turned into an animal at death, it was due to failing at the work of a human existence. In the Aboriginal Australian belief system, men learn many more animal transformation patterns in their thoughts and dreams, than we have ever been ourselves guilty of, and thereupon, are active in forgiving what is less than human, in all other people around us, as well as in ourselves. It is truthfully a way in Christ, and Aboriginal people realise this, and have accepted Jesus lesson with glad hearts, because he teaches what is already culturally familiar. Anthropologists have had so many words, about indigenous culture originally presuming that death is not natural, but caused by human error and/or bad majic; as though it was a primitive belief, and yet surely is it not the same lesson as Jesus teaches, that life is everlasting when we can let it be.
Now I am remembering that the invasion of Europeans, was certainly not the first experiences Aboriginal Australians had with newcomers to this land. Muslims arrived here 6-700 years ago through Indonesia, and there is evidence of that in the songs of Australia’s Top End, (mentioned in the film Ten Canoes, as a new system of law). The Chinese came here even more recently, about 350 years ago. European’s arrival is a very new phenomenon, as Europeans have only been here now for 223 years, and each wave of invasion takes at least a couple of hundred years to begin to get on top of. Once I had a conversation with a researcher at Griffith University, who mentioned to me, that within the topic of her research, she has studied how well any invaded population, gains the upper hand over an invader, and she tells me that preliminary unpublished research, points to a period of two hundred years being the normal length of time it takes, for indigenous groups to begin to accurately comprehend their invaders well enough to really start to combat the invading culture from within it. (My apology for not citing the research which is not yet published, and neither recalling the researcher’s name, but it is contemporary research connected with Griffith University.) What interests me about this point, and why I consider myself safe in making the point from mere anecdotal evidence about an unpublished thesis, is that it corroborates traditional indigenous knowledges. The principal is applicable in respect of plant and animal species as well as human society, and is well known of by senior elders in indigenous society. In fact, my own involvement within indigenous society, is more relevant than it could be, because my indigenous ancestors have closer to two hundred years contact with the invasion than many others have had, which is quite a distinct fact from the fact that my European ancestry enables me within Euro-centric cultural paradigms. What I am saying, is that it is reasonable to expect that it is still only a minority of indigenous Australians, those of us born in closer to the sea in the East of Australia, are actually yet capable of comprehending the invading culture. It is still a waiting and learning game for most indigenous communities, and many indigenous elders will well regard those of European ancestry living in Australia, who think in the same way. We are all waiting to have been long enough and well enough exposed to one another, to become capable of properly interacting with one another. It is within indigenous historical records, kept as song cycles, that other invasions have been overcome already, and other invading species have subsided into the indigenous ecological balance, and so within many indigenous cultural perspectives, it is normal to have less fear of how environmental degradation will be overcome, than many of European ancestry tend to have. Many black folk who are not aligned in their own Dreamtime, with learning such facts down on the ground, in the body, as that we needed two hundred years of contact before the invasion could begin to make any real sense to us, might rap me over the knuckles for being patronising by implying that they did not yet comprehend the invading society, and yet, their comprehension is vast by comparison to what most of the invader society has bothered to learn about us indigenous Australians, and I will not negate that fact. My role is perhaps merely that of having a mind capable of giving conscious indications of what the plausible possibilities are, for the potential resolutions, that will be in our collective future. Men who do for me in these matters, are who chose what resolutions will be realised.
In the mean time, while the different cultures we inhabit are still getting to know one another, who are we to one another? Can we even qualify as human within one another’s systems of reckoning? Not normally! I mean to say that just as significantly as Terra Nullius in the Australian Constitution, denied the humanity of every indigenous human being here in Australia, and still does even today in the minds of too many Australians, many indigenous Australians seldom regard people of European ancestry to have any real humanity. Sometimes it is prejudice at work, and other times, a more basic failure of European oriented cultures to communicate within enough human expression. When it was prejudice, it was an imposed, and copied prejudice, as Aboriginal Australian culture, is notable for its capacity to find human integrity in strangers. Yet when we find that an aspect of the human integrity in strangers, is not to trust us in our animist beliefs, and therefore be prejudiced against us, we have no choice by to try to prove we also know that integrity, even when it wound up being displayed like a prejudice. For example, I know of circumstances in which indigenous youth have experienced prejudice against themselves, because they had chosen to own the Dreaming of an introduced domesticated species of animal. All of indigenous culture is quite well classified by the relative statuses of different animals within the animal Kingdom, and the choice of the Emu and the Kangaroo in the Australian coat of arms, are by no coincidence, the best choices, depicting the clear leaders within indigenous society, but do any white Aussies even yet notice this clear indication of inevitable eventual indigenous victory.
It is not coincidence that I may relate here, that as well as having the dreaming of four black goannas, a red bellied black snake, and a few rare rock wallabies, and own a good sugar glider story, I also belong in the families of the Emu, and the Kangaroo, because that is why I am allowed to make the point about the Emu and Kangaroo in the coat of arms. I need to belong in those families to claim the victory. Yet there are different ways of qualifying what kinds of animal dreaming we may have. Of the Kangaroo and Emu, I am in different relationships with each of, than I am in with a wallaby for example, and different again from my Sugar Glider. To know me, you need to know which animals I could be readily turned into by you, if you had a gripe against me, and which are those which I may name as my blood relations, because I am adept at avoiding the animal natures of, and which are those I have a right to performing exorcisms through knowledge of. So see here, even in this essay, I am playing at the same game I have been informing readers of. Normally women are not so good at it, but I was always that exception. This is why I am enabled, within the Spiritual supervision of Aboriginal men, to write about these things. And so here you find me within yet another parameter of who and what I am in the Dreamtime.
Who are we to one another, me and you, as writer and reader? Who are you whenever in any Aboriginal Australian context, and who am I? Here I am someone who can ask this question in a more challenging way than many. Nobody can give permanently accurate answers to any such questions. Yet from moment to moment, I may be able to express to you, that I am now more of a wallaby than a human being, but turning again more human by confessing this. You may confess to me with your posture, that you have trees in your dreaming, or that you have horses, or cats, or possums. But then there comes a point between us, in which, to continue to communicate, I know that I stand little chance of being understood. For example, I could tell you that to enable increases in the populations of certain species of marsupials, more intermarriage is required between Aborigines and non-Aborigines, since nobody can turn into a marsupial, (either in their dreams or with the molecules the body is made of now, eventually becoming the molecules a marsupial is made of), unless their ancestry includes someone with a sovereign right to tell the story of the Seven Sisters, who live in the Peladies constellation.
I don’t know if these words make sense to you readers of predominantly European ancestry, within your European dominated mind. Yet in my indigenous dominated mind, it makes perfect sense to communicate it to you, since I once got into a lot of trouble for trying to prove I could turn a baby girl into a Koala, within a presumption that her father could do it to her, just as my father did for me. But the parents of the baby did not have the right genetics of ancestry, and the baby’s father could not comprehend himself in the story of being a Koala, or of having been a Koala previously, or having been born into the story of having Koala Dreaming, and instead all I did was cause that Koalas were called a koala bear, wrongfully, and apparently also caused the current chlamydia epidemic among Koalas. Bad one me. I was only forgiven because I didn’t yet then have a husband, and my parents were being a little too distant. But also because the father of the baby was known by me to have been, somewhat creepily, sustaining indigenous identification within his dreams, and I could not for the life of me figure out why, if it had not been for actually having Aboriginal ancestry himself. But not long after I attempted to do a Koala increase ceremony, as well as receiving dreams of being in trouble for having tried without a man, (despite the success of the increase in koala numbers, which I received ample evidence of), I received from my father clear instructions in a Dream, that I am never again to try to turn anybody into Koalas, unless they have Seven Sister’s ancestry. So I knew not to find the baby girl’s parents at fault in not accepting the protection of a Koala Dreaming I gave her, in the form of an old knitted Koala I had, but instead to let it be that the toy lost its meanings in the wrong hands. What that means on the ground, is that Koala Dreaming, and in fact all marsupial Dreaming, requires us to sustain ancestry of the Seventh Sister, or oldest Sister of the Seven. This fact is more explicable than it might have been, if it were not for the human genome project supplying evidence.
In the human genome project, work has detected that we are all, (as in all of the human species are), descended from seven original mothers, or seven original matrilineal clans. If you look up “seven genetic markers” in the internet, you will find ample evidence of the modern research results. You can even send your own blood away to America and have it examined to find out whether you have all seven genetic markers, and are therefore allowed to dream as marsupials. My sister once sent her blood away for examination, and the result she received is that she has all seven genetic markers, which is normal for everybody of Aboriginal Australian ancestry. It is unique to the Aboriginal Australia race, to have all seven genetic markers. However she failed to disclose potential of our family having indigenous Australian ancestry, and the researcher presumed we must be of European ancestry, in that my sister identified British, German, and Greek ancestors in her letter accompanying her blood. But then the letter than accompanied the results, insisted, that our Greek ancestors, must have been intermarried with Africans, since we certainly must have had black ancestors.
Perhaps, the unanswerable nature of the questioning of who we are as indigenous Australians, begins to come to light. Engaging with it, the unanswerable nature of who you are to us. How the story of the seven genetic markers of matrilineal ancestry is taught within indigenous Australian cultures, in every part of Australia, is through the story of the Seven Sisters. It is a story through which, how we tell it, indicates to anybody else with the sovereign right to tell it, how well we are accounting for ourselves as individuals. It is also a teaching story which teaches about how to maintain individual and collective accountability. Within indigenous cultural contexts, I would not express that fact, but I would simply tell the story, and tell also, how I came to have learned the story, and that would be enough. But here I feel the need to explain the relevance of the Seven Sisters. Each sister sustains inside herself, a different mode of accounting for herself, and also for each of her sisters, and how it is possible to think of the seven genetic markers, is that each genetic marker’s presence, so long as that genetic is switched on, (ie not inhibited by poor diet or drug consumption, etc.), enables a different mode of thinking about how to account for ourselves in our humanity. Each is in relationship with a colour of the rainbow, and yet each is reconciled perfectly with every other colour of the rainbow, when all genetic markers are present and switched on. Pause for a moment here to wonder what kind of evidence exists of imposed drug abuse having been used as a weapon of invasion, and then consider your own consciences well in the matter. Take careful note that the extent of that imposition goes beyond alcohol being paid instead of wages in times gone by, but extends today into the modern cattle industry, and into the impositions within prisons, beyond our marching together for Reconciliation over the Sydney Harbour Bridge. And when you consider well such consequences upon those of us who sustain sharper minds by having a larger field of potential accountability within our Dreaming, (our culture is the only culture in the world insisting that every dream has a real relationship with the world of solid matter, and that fact has been extensively abused by police and organised crime, as well as the cattle industry), with the Seven Sisters all in us, in our conscious minds, (alike to having Seven Sacred plant teachers above us instructing our daily thoughts), perhaps I might tell you a story of the Seven Sisters, well enough for you to perceive it real of us.
Once upon a time, Seven Sisters travelled together, and they travelled all over the continent now called Australia. In every place they are heard of, and their stories are sung. When they are approaching the coast near the Pilbara of Western Australia, perhaps close to a place I dream at more strongly than at any other, there are two sisters lingering behind the others. The oldest and the youngest. They noticed that two men were following them, and knew the men were up to no good. But the sisters wanted to rest a while. They stop by a river to wash. The older sister is the owner of a powerful magic, in her dilly bag around her neck, and she took it off briefly, to wash. She gave it to her younger sister awhile, instructing her not to put it down, and the younger sister falls asleep with the dilly bag in her care. She wakes up and can’t see her sister anywhere, but she wants to go for a swim, and so she carefully places the dilly bag on the river bank, so as not to lose it in the water. But when she comes back up onto the river bank, out of the water, the dilly bag has been stolen, by one of the two men who were chasing the sisters. How silly she feels, and worried about being in trouble with her older sister. Then her older sister returns, perhaps from in the company of the other man, but she is not angry with her younger sister. She explains that it is the very magic of the dilly bag, that its magic will always return itself to its owner. These two sisters eventually catch up with the other five sisters, and the men were still chasing them right down to the beach, where all Seven Sisters arose into Heaven and turned into the constellation of Peladies, while the men who had chased them turned into two wallabies.
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