"A little about Aboriginal society" Top 5 Page for this destination Kakadu National Park Local Custom Tip by tiabunna

Kakadu National Park Local Customs: 7 reviews and 11 photos

  Our 'family' in VT2!
by tiabunna
 
 

I can't claim to be expert on Aboriginal society. Relatively few 'whitefellers' can make that claim. Fortunately Zig (VT 1+1), our tour leader and organiser, has spent many years with the Aboriginals of the Kakadu area and tried to give us some concepts of the Aboriginal kinship traditions going back many thousands of years – and about as different from materialistic modern western society as would be possible. It was soon obvious that a complete understanding would take years to acquire, and also that Aboriginal cultural traditions were ideally adapted to a society living in a sometimes demanding environment. The following is my poor summarised interpretation of an utterly different perception of the world – and I thank Zig for helping me to refine it this far. If you have a serious interest, please do not treat this as a reference – go to an authoritative source!

In Aboriginal culture, everything in the universe is inter-related in some way – from the “Dreamtime” ancestral beings, to everything around and to the community. The universe (ie everything) is divided into two halves, ('moieties' if you're an anthropologist). Then, to complicate matters, people also fit into subsections within each moiety. NB that the details of all this vary in different Aboriginal societies across Australia. In the Kakadu area, there are 4 subsections per moiety, ie a total of 8, and these define “skin names”, each of which can be male or female. When you are born in Aboriginal society, quite apart from your biological family connections, you are 'related' in a metaphysical sense by your skin name to everyone else! These skin names are determined by a set formula, rather than by the choice of your biological parents.

Skin names define how people must relate to each other, so you can meet a total stranger and know through skin names that you are expected to relate to them in a certain way. If the skin names determine that the person is your 'brother', you relate as brothers. Unless you are female, in which case you are not allowed to associate with him! So the the kinship rules also set the relationship taboos of society and determine who you may marry – traditionally, a “wrong-way” marriage meant a death sentence! The kinship rules also create obligations to assist your 'skin relatives', so Aboriginal society is about sharing whatever you have, such as (traditionally) a freshly killed kangaroo.

To help us gain an appreciation, Zig spent quite a while working out skin names for our group, a fairly complex process as he had to ensure the names would not breach cultural taboos: eg, married couples had to have names which allowed them to marry. Within our 4WD, my name was Na-kamerrang, which meant I was able to be married to Pauline. VTer adelaidean turned out to be our daughter! VTer rosie235 is our niece and both of them could mix with VTer feelingfabulous. Unfortunately Fab became Pauline's brother, so she was not supposed even to talk to him. We solved that by making him sit in the back of the 4WD! LOL

Later, when we went on the Animal Tracks Safari tour, our guide Patsy (her 'whitefeller' name) turned out to be my “mother” through the kinship system, though she is half my age. The system has a way around that kind of situation: it refers to her as my 'little mother'. But she still has 'mum' status, and I would be expected to relate to her in that manner.

It's a fascinating system and it has worked, in Aboriginal society, for thousands of years.

Review Helpfulness: 4.5 out of 5 stars

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  • Updated Jan 17, 2009
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