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Rebekah Copas
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An Essay for Permies in five parts: Part Two

Posted by Rebekah Copas almost 13 years ago

Still the same essay as in the previous update.


Indigenous culture is not homogenous.         


We can hear the chorus of voices, “but we never presumed that indigenous culture was homogenous”, and maybe nobody had.  Maybe nobody is to blame, for the fact that mainstream Australian culture, and all the cultures accepted in the mainstream of Australian social life, rarely recognise the full variety of types of lifestyles and patterns of belief, and even cultural outlook, that today all come in together within the full definition of the whole group of everybody who identifies with Australian Aboriginal ancestry.   In Universities, are white kids whose families didn’t tell anybody about having Aboriginal ancestors, until it came time to apply for Abstudy for their offspring, and who have to take classes in a University, to learn about their Aboriginal cultural traditions, as well as about the added layers of oppression which their distant relations with darker skin have experienced.  In remote bush communities, are elders who remember the first time a white person came to their land.  Many indigenous families were still fully nomadic until the deserts experienced a major drought in the 1950’s.  As late as the early 1970’s white people recorded an instance of first contact.  And then there are the many speakers of indigenous languages, in towns, cities, missions, villages, at outstation camps, and out in the bush elsewhere.  Not many non-indigenous Australians realise that everybody within any Aboriginal cultural context, will only use indigenous language words in a few exact specific contexts, within which English words can be hurtful to believe in.  Some folk know only those few words, and others know more than ten different indigenous languages. We are a disparate mob of people, us Aborigines.


Of course, this fact demands that anybody who is not an Aboriginal Australian, but who wants to engage with our culture, is going to have to tread carefully.  There are many pitfalls, and the least of these is that pitfall in which many of us will insist that our culture is not homogenised.  We are many groups of many distinct local cultures, with distinct relationships with distinct local ecology.  We have each experienced distinct levels of discrimination against our culture, our skin colour, and our values.  Some of us experienced forced removal of children from parents, forced removal of people from land, and being prevented from speaking indigenous languages.  Yet within the imposition of English words, we have neither often been given enough adequate instruction in use of England’s language, and so still today, for many Aboriginal people, English is no more than a set of sounds, called words, that can be strung together, but only make sense when strung together within indigenous grammar.  And even then, many English words are regarded as nonsense words which can hardly be regarded as able to be evaluated as means of accurate communication.  This fact is something which many indigenous people have in common, from those old men and women who did not meet white people until well into adulthood, to those men who have spent too long in gaol, and can only speak in gaol house dialects of Aboriginal English.  Language is still today a barrier between indigenous and non-indigenous people of this land.


I touched also upon the issue of excessive rates of incarceration among the Aboriginal/indigenous population.  While I do not want to make this essay, just another story about all the terrible oppression that had been experienced, it is important to reiterate the point about incarceration rates, and the issue of black deaths in custody.  Men and women have been in fear for their lives too often.  Not that it is unique to the Aboriginal community to have to feel fear of being killed while in police custody and more particularly these days, inside Australian prisons the fear of being murdered by other inmates, can be constant, and is experienced by all kinds of inmates.  Murders are commonplace inside prisons.  Men I know have undertaken all sorts of bizarre behaviour so as to avoid death threats which were imposed on them, often by violent rape, when in prison.  How most indigenous Australians think of the degradation of the environment here in Australia, and the ill effects of that upon biodiversity, is that it is no wonder given the degree to which the degradation of human culture has been imposed upon us.  This is because we believe it be the responsibility of human beings, to manage the Dreamtime, so as recreation f the natural world can happen.  Yet in prisons indigenous men are being prevented from engaging in the dreaming of this necessary management, and being prevented, (upon threat of death), from maintaining totemic animist beliefs.  Many still hold such beliefs, but others, having been brutalised out of respect for their culture, simply abide within what is considered to be criminal conduct within indigenous society, of refuting animal stories.  But there is another reason also for me to be highlighting this matter under the heading, that indigenous society is not homogenous.  Indigenous society has always had its own criminals, its own law and order system, and its own punitive measures.  But in the absence of recognition of these systems, (as well as land care systems), by the invading society, all sorts of social problems arose. It is simply not good enough, from within an indigenous cultural perspective, but also from within anybody’s culture, to say that Dreamtime managing is one thing, but the hard work of farming was the real work, and separated from the Dreamtime.  Within indigenous culture Dreamtime management, and actual hard work at land care, are intrinsically aligned with one another, and inseparable.  But in gaols, Aboriginal men were being bashed into letting ideas about Dreamtime management become connected to drug abuse, and thereby divorced from hard work.  Thereupon have other white people presupposed that a manager of Dreaming will not work.  Yet within indigenous culture, the separation of the Dreamtime from hard work, in fact is the definition of criminality, and it is the indigenous experience, that men have been put into gaol, and then forced to think like criminals.


As soon as we begin to discuss social cohesion and relative social homogeneity, it becomes a pitfall to have to raise the issue that our society is not homogenous, because indigenous society’s traditional criminals, have been empowered by the invasion of Australia, to seek to take advantage of white people’s ignorance of what this means, by portraying themselves as representative of every indigenous person’s beliefs.  They have sought to prove that the sanctions and punitive measures of their own Aboriginal traditions, were somebody else’s culture, belonging to a neighbouring tribe, or different language group, from another part of Australia.  And in this way the justice of indigenous modes of social control, was being undermined here in Australia, specifically in regard to what the police wanted to believe in, as who gets to define Aboriginal belief systems, traditional indigenous justice was being undermined.  Will it be the bad guys within Aboriginal culture, or the good guys within Aboriginal culture, who you listen to?  And will you know?  And how will you know? Will it be possible for the Permaculture movement in general, and individual permies immediately, to gradually figure out how to recognise who the criminals were within indigenous cultural contexts.  I am not actually able to help out much in this respect, and maybe all I need say, is that a lot of people who would not normally be put into the category of being a criminal within indigenous culture, have had to be assessed that way in the modern context, because they have been imprisoned among criminals. 


But I will remind you of what I have already written, that within traditional indigenous society, social status, and law abidance, are witnessed through assessing animal identification patterns.  I am willing to communicate this fact, because I know it is difficult for people with paler skin, to quickly discern who the good guys are, and who the bad guys were, within a darker skin people’s society.  Yet remember of yourselves also, that people with darker skin, find it equitably difficult at times, to discern which folk among all of us with paler skin, are who could handle sticking our necks out to speak up against racism.  Furthermore, I will tell you all, that you might not be actually yourselves capable of finding out whether or not I am a bad guy or a good guy within indigenous cultural contexts.  Not unless you are also drawn as completely into indigenous cultural belief, as I have been.  The reality of indigenous culture, is that to the onlooker, who is not a participant, we really could not let on how to discern who the good guys are and who the bad guys are, since that sort of communication might give the good guys game away to the bad guys.  In fact, I do not really know it of you either, are you a person who can be considered a real human being within indigenous culture?  Or were you a criminal?  Was I a criminal in asserting the question of you?  Or were you?  But here again, I will let on further, that there is a bit more to the question than simply whether or not we are real living human beings.  After all, it is every human being who accepts animal identification stories within indigenous culture.


If you were a criminally minded kind of a person, what animal shape will your criminality take?  But more over, will you be prepared to show your animal mindedness as an Animist belief, or animal dream, and let a more human minded person guide your thoughts into a clearer human disposition?  All these are factors which are considered within indigenous culture, about everybody.  Sometimes us Australians evaluate our culture as egalitarian, and other times we evaluate it as boastful of a larger egalitarian basis of belief than we truly sustain; but what is clear to me, as a white person, raised in a mainly mainstream cultural paradigm, who has been brought back into a mainly indigenous cultural paradigm, beginning in youth, is that the egalitarian notion of what it is to be an Australian, well and truly had its birth within a purely indigenous cultural context.  I do not know any other culture or way in which equality between people is so well maintained, and yet simultaneously, our culture is a culture which gives semblance to contradictions, and is a very hierarchical culture.  The hierarchies of indigenous Australian culture, are the same hierarchies which the natural world also replicates, and can often go unnoticed by outsiders.  It is a hierarchical culture with a very lateral way of self expression, as different from the cultures of other parts of the world, as Eucalyptus trees differ in their growth form from other trees.


I could keep going and add here, that the apparent disparity of growth patterns of Australian flora, is actually a highly organised reflection of the patterns within which indigenous Australians reconcile contradictions between collective thought and individual thought.  But I don’t know how well I will be able to relay this idea.  An idea in which I find no such thing as not seeing the forest for the trees to exist within indigenous cultural contexts.  (That is, not unless you were the type of person whose law abidance is more effectively focussed on immediate and individual concerns, maybe the type of person who can identify with very small creatures of the animal kingdom, such as insects and mites.)  Every big picture is always in relationship with the immediate environment right under our nose, and every micro-cosmos is always in exact relationship with every macro-cosmos.  Many of us are taught and encouraged to think in this way, and thus Australia’s Eucalypt forests reflect the tendency to find that a tree can hardly be considered without recognising the forest it grows within.  So perhaps all I might now add, is that within considerations of the balances necessary between individual economy and collective economy, perhaps the meditation of a nearby gum tree may prove most useful.  Why did it grow the way it grew, what is sustaining of life in it’s pattern, and will that same shape sustain parity with human society in its shade?  Homogenous is certainly not a word people can apply to the individual shapes of Eucalypt trees, by comparison to individual shapes of European and American trees, and yet there is nevertheless a homogeneity in the forests as a whole.


The homogeneity which does exist within Aboriginal Australian society, is good and strong in reality, but secret. Well, not as secret as that it cannot be witnessed, in our flora and fauna, and so it is the exact same homogeneity as is expressed in the fact that Kangaroos and Emus live all over the continent.  It is perhaps best regarded as a homogeneity of access to the sacred experience.  Yet as soon as I write that this is so, I think of examples in which such access to the Dreamtime s not homogenous, and it certainly is different to need to transpose fear into a wallaby form, so as to hasten the process of entering a sacred state of mind, than it is to need to transpose fears into a termite. But then again, experiencing the sacred is as unique as any of us ever become.  Yet we sustain a homogeneity of belief in certain aspects of indigenous culture, and certain of its values.  But these values and beliefs are not what could be readily imparted, not in English words, but neither within indigenous languages, since if we could, we might all speak one tongue.  We have many languages and many of us are multilingual, and what this depicts, is that whatever the homogeneity is that exists, it is not spoken of as the same, albeit always observed as highly similar.


I have considered placing a heading in this essay here, of “Aboriginal Spirituality”, or, “The Aboriginal Sacred Kingdom of the Dreamtime”, but I doubt it will be necessary.  You are all astute to the sacred already you folk who like to engage in Permaculture.  We indigenous people can witness this as readily as permaculture theory and practise is obedient to sacred principals.  You will oftener be those other Australians best informed about us already, since your land care methods most adhere to our ideals of what farming ought to have been.  So you are not who we need to instruct, that our Dreamtime, is simultaneously, a sacred place on the ground, and a sacred realm in heaven, and a sacred state of mind, and also the dreams we dream in our sleep at night whenever sacred elements are present in our conscious mind while it is true Dreaming.  It is now, in future, and our collective spiritual past, it is here, and anywhere men are sustaining their minds in meditation and prayer.  There is a cultural homogeneity of Dreamtime belief, just as all Australian indigenous languages have more in common with each other, than with any other languages at Earth, but it cannot be told, only experienced, (and particularly never told by a female), because the same homogeneity is not true of individual experiences, (and females tend to communicate from the individual mind to the collective mind, whilst males tend to communicate from the collective mind into the individual).  Therefore all the talk is about the lack of homogeneity, rather than the real pan-Australian cultural similarities existing. 


The difficulty, might only be in that there has been an expansion of the percentage of the Aboriginal population who adopt criminal type thinking, through the processes of invasion, but that type of thinking never gained any real access to much of the more sacred lessons of the culture, and so sought its own way to assert itself as equally important; and, these days, that importance is finding its expressions within establishing that each location sustains very different immediate locality based flora and fauna and geo-physical forms, and therefore different Kinship.  You might have heard one black fellow saying to another, we don’t do that where I come from, or its different where I came from, and you won’t know why they wish to assert such differences.  Is it from real differences needing expression, or desire to prevent themselves being found culpable in the present location, alike to a hate of what the difference was.  Yet as a rose is a rose is a rose, a feather is a feather, a roo a roo, and the same be true of scrub turkey’s and emus too. We all know these creatures, and yet how to we know whose mind was too far aligned with each distinct animal nature? . . . this is a question a woman ought not ask, but as I do in this case already know the answer, unusually, you can wait for me to answer this further on in this essay.


In General I find that the topic of Aboriginal sacred beliefs, is too far engaging me in expressing my own subconscious mind, already in this essay, and so I will not open it out any further, except perhaps to add, that a large aspect of the lack of homogeneity of indigenous culture, is that nobody cares to agree much about whether our belief systems original held to only one God, or included many.  We disagree and let the disagreement be.  These days, in central Australia is a place where a man saw Jesus make a footprint in a rock river bed.  Jesus appeared to the man as one among his own Spirit people, and simultaneously Jesus.  And this is the truth, that today a good one third of Aborigines are Christian, but that such a religious transformation would never have been possible without those who have witnessed Jesus in the Dreamtime.  At least the invaders brought here a good story to read, and eventually have let us prove our way within their story, to be superior to their own, in many instances.  Even though they failed to recognise that indigenous Australian culture is quite incapable of recognising any secular basis for existence, they at least gave us the way into their best sacred story.  The world and all in it, is sacred, and thus no more need be told.



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