Stories of The Dreaming As Told Through Sight, Sound and Art.
December 23, 2006 5:25 PM   Subscribe

The Dreaming (arguably better known as 'The Dreamtime') is more than just the story of how the world was created as told by Aboriginal Australians. It is also the basis for their way of life and death, their source of power in life and it tells of the life and influence of their ancestors on their culture. It was so important to Aboriginal Australians in the time before the white invasion of Australia that it was the one commonly held belief amongst a culture that consisted of over 500 different tribes (discussion of Dreamtime beliefs here). Thought to be the oldest continuously maintained cultural history on Earth, it is often presented as a series of inter-related stories explaining Aboriginal Australian origins and culture, such as how the Australian landscape was created or how the Mimi spirits taught them how to paint these stories on the walls of caves more than 40,000 years ago.

And what better way to learn of several of the many different Dreamtime stories than to listen and watch them being told by Aboriginal Australians elders themselves? And if that isn't enough Dreamtime mythology for you, here's some links to various sites which allow you to view Aboriginal rock art to see how these stories were translated into a form of artistic expression which is now five times older than the Egyptian Pyramids themselves.
posted by Effigy2000 (14 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
And sadly some of the most wonderful examples of rock art are under threat by gas exploration
posted by mattoxic at 6:17 PM on December 23, 2006

Obligatory Wikipedia entry
posted by filmgeek at 6:44 PM on December 23, 2006

Great post. Try again after the holidays. G'day mate.
posted by daniel9223 at 9:19 PM on December 23, 2006

effigy, this rulz
posted by dminor at 11:39 PM on December 23, 2006

after i bailed out of the christianity i was raised in, i looked around for something that intuitively made more sense and seemed correct, and acquainted myself with the beliefs of pagans and primitive peoples who had a closer, more mutually beneficial relationship with the nature around them, instead of the odious christian notion that man was given dominion over all things, who fulfilled their spiritual needs by closely examining this nature in their quest for knowledge of ultimate reality, rather than cocking up a belief system designed to subjugate others to the convenient construction of an artificial external deity who insists that i "render unto caesar" without articulating the limits of caesar's due, and after a long time stumbling around in the "wilderness" i came to a fusion of faith incorporating elements very like those in the poster's link combined with our own current observations in physics, astronomy and mathematics, which together constitute a whole more sensible and satisfying to me than ought i have known before, and i encourage all who read this to look around for themselves.
posted by bruce at 12:09 AM on December 24, 2006

In 1980 I read The Track to Bralgu by B.Wongar - little book that says all there is to say about a clash of cultures.I had already used elements of Native Australian myth in the then current draft of my own novel - the story of
Djanggawul and his sisters that had a numinous quality that led me to retain his image throughout the many versions I have struggled with.
As I understand Bruce to say, the pure quality of the myths of an ancient culture have more to offer than the dubious Judaeo-Christian-Islamic world view. It is the attachment to the Land and to the Earth that particularly draws me.
Thanks Effigy for bringing this back to the forefront of my
posted by Cennad at 3:11 AM on December 24, 2006

A colleague of mine told me a story, recently.

He was in Arnhem Land doing some research, when one of the elders at the community he was stationed at asked him a favour. The elder had noticed that he had a video camera with him, and asked him if he would film a circumcision ceremony that was being held, so it could be made into a DVD and kept at the local school so kids in the future could understand how the ceremony was conducted. In order to be able to watch the ceremony he had to be initiated, which (if I remember correctly) the elders took care of in a pretty basic way.

The ceremony lasted for nights. They had a didgeridoo set up, being played into a big plastic drum so it was amplified. The young boy who was going to be circumcised (early teens, I think) was fully painted in clay and ochre. There was a group of three late teen boys who were dancing every night - 4 hours at a stretch each night, dancing the animals of the area (including, interestingly, the cat) and the Dreaming stories.

When he was finished up and leaving the community, he saw those same three teenage boys - in Snoop Dogg and Wu Tang Clan t-shirt at the school's basketball court. The Dreaming is still alive.
posted by Jimbob at 3:27 AM on December 24, 2006

For anyone interested in this stuff, I recommend Aboriginal Art by Wally Caruana, The elements of the Aborigine tradition by James Cowan, and Searching for aboriginal languages: Memoirs of a field worker by Robert M. W. Dixon. Bruce Chatwin's The Songlines is famous and well written, but you can't trust anything he says—he's a novelist, not an ethnographer, and he had no hesitation about making stuff up.
posted by languagehat at 6:21 AM on December 24, 2006

A quote from the Cowan book:
Aborigines... are deeply attached to their land. Alone among traditional peoples they have made the land into a variegated icon capable of embodying all that they believe. Landscape is mythologized so completely that there is hardly any countryside not accounted for in myth and story. The only exception to this rule is where land is regarded as 'rubbish country' by Aborigines, presumably because of its lack of djang or supernatural power. While creation stories may lack the drama we normally associate with myth, they nevertheless enable Aborigines to interpret their land so that it is meaningful... As far as they are concerned the imprints of the Sky Heroes during the time of the Dreaming reflect a sense of continuity when these imprints are identified as physical realities on the landscape.
Cowan quotes Bill Neidjie, a Kakadu tribesman, as follows:
My people all dead.
We only got few left... that's all
not many.
We getting too old.
Young people...
I don't know if they can hold on to this story.
But now you know this story, and you'll be coming to earth.
You'll be part of the earth when you die.
You responsible now.
You got to go with this earth.
Might be you can hang on...
hang on to this story... to this earth.
posted by languagehat at 6:28 AM on December 24, 2006

And a good deal of this is secret knowledge, the publicization of which is subject to vigorous and acrimonious debate within specific Aboriginal communities.
posted by spitbull at 6:45 AM on December 24, 2006

I just remember the X-Men and Wolverine hanging out down in Australia with some Aboriginal elders, talking about the Dreaming.
posted by papakwanz at 8:02 AM on December 24, 2006

If we don't all start dreaming our ecological footprint, we're collectively toast.

I was watching NASCAR the other day. I can not conceive a more foolish use of a limited natural resource. The amount of oil represented by the asphalt, tires, and fuel is astounding.

The same must surely apply to almost every aspect of our modern Western lives.

We are not sustainable.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:45 AM on December 24, 2006

Wonderful post.
posted by gai at 9:58 AM on December 24, 2006

Here's another link to some Aboriginal Art relating to the Dreamtime I just found. Nice site, despite the commercial aspect.
posted by Effigy2000 at 9:07 PM on January 10, 2007

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