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Aboriginal Beliefs Essay, Research Paper

The Aborigines had, and still have, a complex belief in creation, spirits and culture, that gives a definite distinctiveness from any other religion in the world. Thousands of years ago, Australian Aboriginal people were living in accordance with their dreamtime beliefs- today, a majority of the Aboriginal community profess allegiance to Christianity, and only 3% still adhere to traditional beliefs. These beliefs have provided the Aboriginal people with guidance and perspective on all aspects of life. There were many variants to these beliefs and practises throughout the many Aboriginal tribal areas, but all Aboriginal people have developed an intimate relationship between themselves and their environment. They see themselves as spiritually bound to the natural world.

The basis of Aboriginal religion revolves around their sacred mythology known as The Dreamtime . The Dreamtime specifically refers to the period of time when the creators made the territory of a tribe and all it contained. It was a period when patterns of living were established and laws were laid down for human beings to follow. The Dreamtime is linked with many aspects of Aboriginal practise, including rituals, storytelling and Aboriginal lore, and explains the origin of the universe, the workings of nature and the nature of humanity, and the cycle of life and death. It shapes and structures Aboriginal life by controlling kinship, ceremonial life, and the relationship between males and females with a system of responsibility involving people, land and spirits. The aim or objective of traditional Aboriginal people was to live the exact lifestyle that had been created for them by the creators thus, the Aboriginal people strive to perpetuate and continue the never ending dreaming.

The creators were the ancestors of all living things, including the Aborigines themselves. Sometimes human, sometimes animal, they were possessed of miraculous powers. Their deeds on earth are enshrined in Aboriginal mythology and are closely associated with animals and other features of the natural environment. Each tribe had it s own creation myth. For example, the people of the Arunda tribe believed that the spirits cut them from the earth in the Dreamtime.

Originally, myths, or Dreamtime stories, were not expressed simply in verbal or written form but were enacted, chanted, painted, costumed, danced, sung and imagined. Without these the Dreamtime would not be alive today. Every tribe had these, so it was part of the land, their totem, belief system, culture and the community they d grown up with. These stories had an enormous impact on their thinking and were responsible in many ways for them being the oldest surviving race in the entire world. These forms of Aboriginal tradition were often sacred, because they were associated with the Dreamtime beliefs and Aboriginal spirituality. Also, some of these are sacred in the sense of being exclusive only to initiated males. Some stories were secular and included stories for children and those that recorded great battles, memorable hunting expeditions or the arrival of white men into the tribes territory. These enactments were also seen in Aboriginal dances, called corroborees, which involved elements of song, music and movement. They, along with activities mentioned above, also imitated or replicated animal movements and ceremonies of initiation that had been conducted for thousands of years. An example of a Dreamtime creation story was the story of the Arunda tribe. The Tnatanja Pole is said to have been responsible for creating ridges and gorges throughout the area. The Pole existed long before men and women were created- It was very tall and reached up to the sky, but the wind often blew so hard, that the pole snapped. As it crashed to the ground it formed deep depressions in the earth, but then reformed again into one pole.

When people were born, their parents gave each child a totemic name, according to which colour group they were born into. A totem could be any object, such as a bird or plant, or even some particular landmark through which a person is linked to the spiritual force responsible for that person s existence. This person, through their totem, becomes linked with the land and to the Spirit or Ancestor, governing that territory. Each totem has its own Sacred Site and sites of meaning associated with the mythology of that totem. An example of this is the Red Kangaroo tribes, who do not eat their totem, or the Witchetty Grub people, who depend on the grubs for food.

The Aborigines had a number of laws, or lore, that governed their society. They ranged from family discipline to laws about trespassing, food taboos, marriage laws or regulating breaches of acceptable behaviour such as rape, murder and stealing. The sources of these laws were the Dreamtime stories that told of the behaviour of men, women and children (sometimes in the form of animals, birds or reptiles etc, in which they were punished by being beaten, speared or banished). The Aboriginal lore was the most important and vital aspect of community life.

Rituals and ceremonies are an important part of Aboriginal culture, and were established in the Dreamtime. Rites of passage are probably the most significant of all rituals and ceremonies that the Aboriginal people practiced- including birth, death, marriage and initiation rituals. The practise of cutting is shown throughout a number of the Aboriginal rituals and ceremonies, which is a re-enactment of the Arunda creation story of separation, or cutting, from the land. For example, in birth ceremonies, the child is separated from the umbilical cord. Likewise, in initiation ceremonies, boys are circumcised as well as subincised, and the first ceremonies of initiation, with the use of bullroarers , are intended to make them independent (and separated) from their mothers and other females. Subincision, from the view of the Arunda tribe, was designed to cause the male organ to resemble the vulva, and that the effusion of blood was regarded as serving the same function as menstruation, which in the female enabled her naturally to dispose of the evil that accumulate in the body. To continue the same effect, males periodically engage in incision of the penis and called it menstruation.

Marriage arrangements were made when the children were very young and even before they were born. Girls were usually married (through a handing-over ceremony) when she was about 11 or 12 years old-when she reached puberty. Most marriages took place at a particular place. For example, in the Shoalhaven region, Coolangatta Mountain was a traditional marriage place or site. It would have been significant because particular ancestors married there (according to a Dreamtime story or stones), and because of tradition of thousands of couples marrying over time. For marriage purposes, every tribe was divided into four main groups, sometimes called marriage moieties. When each child was born, he or she was given a totemic name according to which group he or she was in- thus, eliminating incest, as no person could marry another person from the same group.

The people took a great amount of care to ensure that a deceased spirit could find its way to the sky or a spirit-place , by sitting by the person s grave and mourning. After death, the relatives took a number of precautions against the deceased person s spirit returning to their camp. This involved them in taking a zig-zag course to the burial ground, turning in circles and even crossing rivers to trick the deceased spirit about the direction back to their camp. After a death, some tribes beat their bodies with sticks or clubs, or cut themselves with shells or stone knives to cause bleeding. In these instances, the period of sorrow or mourning was considered to be at an end when their wounds were healed. After the mourning period was completed, a deceased persons name was never mentioned again, as a sign of respect. The people also believed that a person s spirit could visit living people to harm or warn them of danger. This usually resulted in an in an inquiry about the death of a person who was considered to have died prematurely or in unusual circumstances.

The Aboriginal people believed that the spirits were watching to ensure that they obeyed the lore. Because of this the Aboriginal people were very superstitious. Increase ceremonies are designed to influence the spirits and ensure the reproduction of both the natural and the human sphere, as well as the natural cycle of the seasons. Because of the Aboriginal society being very spiritual (in the sense that spirits were thought to have made the land and were responsible for birth and sometimes death, and bringing the seasons), it is also shown that the Aboriginal people were very superstitious and believed in magic . This was practiced in a number of ways. For example, through the pointing of the bone , which was believed to cause death. People who had been pointed often died, not because of the result of the magic, but as they believed that they would die. In the same way, people were cured of sickness or illness through the use of magic stones and crystals.

Another aspect of their regard for the spirits is the touching way they care for the land. They took care of the land in a number of different ways. One of the best-known practices was to regularly set fire to the land. This had the effect of removing and containing weeds and promoting new growth. Food taboos and totemism had the effect of protecting animal and other species because some people were not permitted to eat certain foods and a person could not always eat their own totem. This had the effect of providing a safe environment for particular species. Many sub-tribes moved around their land following the food chain cycles. This meant that they never stayed in the one place where they could extinguish the food sources. In some tribes particular beliefs were held about dangers that could threaten the life of animals or birds. One tribe (the Wiimbaio) were afraid of blood falling into lakes or rivers, incase storms or other disasters would result, and would kill the fish.

Aboriginal beliefs are expressed in a number of ways, including their Dreamtime practices, such as stories, art and corroborees, and rituals, such as initiation, birth, marriage and death, as well as the Aboriginal lore. Such a complex and unique outlook on the universe and humans, and with the assistance of their ability to continue their practices through hundreds of generations, allowed the Aboriginal belief system to evolve to be one of, if not the, oldest surviving race in the world.

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