Australian Aboriginals are still one of the least understood people in the
world. Since the nineteenth century they have been singled out as the planet's
most primitive culture, the living representation of mankind's ancestors. In
reality Aboriginal culture is complex, forming a subtle yet dynamic and rich way
Small local groups form the basis of Aboriginal society. By sharing economic and
ceremonial dealings with other groups they keep a close kinship and marriage
ties with a vast network of others. With these relationships comes rights,
obligations and appropriate ways of behaving.
Inheritance is central in the granting of ceremonial and territorial rights and
responsibilities. A daughter and a son inherit one type of rights through their
father, which in Warlpiri and other Central Australian languages classify them
as 'Kirda'. Inheritance from the mothers line makes them 'Kurdungurlu'. Thus for
any given Dreaming site there is a set of Kirda and a set of Kurdungurlu. If a
woman is Kirda for her father's country, for example, the children of her
mothers brother will be Kurdungurlu for that same area. Kirda, 'own' given
countries have primary economic and spiritual rights in them. Kurdungurlu are
guardians for the countries owned by Kirda. They ensure that the Kirda fulfill
their social and ritual obligations with respect to their Dreaming Sites and
that access to economic resources is maintained. During ceremony Kirda and
Kurdungurlu interact closely through complementary roles.
The attainment of religious knowledge begins with initiation during adolescence
and becomes a lifelong quest. Both men and women have specific religious
ceremonies and hold particular segments of mythical information. Through
participation in rituals people learn more about their Dreaming Stories and
associated designs, songs and dances. Some of these ceremonies are secret
(closed) and some are public (open).
When Europeans arrived in Australia they took control of the land and collected
Aboriginal people on to communities. Being removed from their traditional lands,
diverted the focus of Aboriginal Spirituality.
It is only since 1972 with land rights legislation and more recently the Mabo
Legislation, that certain land has been returned to Aboriginal owners and
policies of self management introduced. Many Aboriginals have moved away from
the large settlements to establish smaller more homogenous communities on land
to which they have traditional ties. Despite enormous pressure exerted on it,
Aboriginal culture has retained it uniqueness and much of its strength.