About Aboriginal

About Aboriginal - A Cultural History.

Aboriginal Culture has existed for more than 40,000 years and much of the interest today is about the Dreamtime- an ancient history of how mother earth and all beings came to be, and the passing on of this information from generation to generation. From Broome in Western Australia to Hobart in Tasmania, it is vital that this information is passed on through families.

Traditionally, Aboriginal people lived day to day in family groups. They banded together and met at ceremonial times, when up to several hundred members of a single tribe came together for important rituals and customs.

Members of different tribes also met together during the largest ceremonies and meetings, where it was not unusual for over 1000 Aboriginal people to gather and talk, sing and learn about many social issues.

Aborigines have intricate social and marriage laws that must be adhered to and are enforced by elders, including punishment. They also have a complicated family relationship structure where it is recognised that everyone is related to everyone else.

As an explanation of this social organisation, it is best to think about it in the following way:
  • the physical structuring of society in terms of numbers - family member, group, and tribe.
  • the spiritual structuring based on beliefs and customs, totems, and marriage laws, and clans
  • a kinship system that gives a community structuring
The social structure which is largely about Aboriginal kinship system can become very comprehensive and somewhat difficult to understand for non-Aboriginal people, but it is a natural part of life for Aborigines, and each tribe has its own detailed interpretations.

Three main aspects about Aboriginal social structure:
  • The physical or geographical structure - A tribe, also known as a language group of approxinately 500 people, is made up of groups of about 10-20 people, who come together on a daily basis for hunting and gathering of food.
  • The spiritual and totemic structure - On a spiritual level, Aboriginal society in much of Australia is divided into two moieties (kinships). These moieties may be based on Ancestral Beings from the Creation Period (the Dreamtime). Inside each moiety are significant animals, important plants, or notable places, which are highly sacred in nature. Each person, as well as belonging to one or the other moiety, is also linked to one or more of these subjects, called 'totems'. Sometimes moieties are also further separated into sections or subsections.
  • The social structuring - which is the relationships between people - is otherwise known as the kinship system. The kinship structure provides for each person in Aboriginal culture to be named in relation to one another so that each person has a defined social position. An example of this is when a non Aboriginal person is living in an Aboriginal community, and finds that they have been 'adopted' by the group. The 'outsider' may attain the position of being called a mother or father, or daughter/son, or brother/sister to someone. When Aborigines accept a stranger into their community, they must name that person in relationship to themselves, to permits that individual to fit into their society.
The significance of the kinship structure and organisation, is that it structures people's relation to each other, their obligations and behaviour towards each other, which gives definition to social issues such as, who will take care of children if the parents pass away, who can marry whom, who is responsible for the actions of others such as debts or transgressions, and who will be responsible for the care for the sick and old.

There can be up to 70 different unique relationships in Aborginal culture which may or may not carry the same or similar obligations.For example a person’s responsibility towards their mother or father, may be quite similar to what is expected towards their aunt and uncle.

It is common in modern Aboriginal culture to refer to each other as ‘brother’ or ‘sister’ and is a term of endearment but is also derived from kinship terms and relationships.

Aboriginal tribes are really ‘language groups’ or ‘nations’. They generally did not participate in warfare between each group. At the time of European settlement, it is estimated that there were approximately 500 tribes. These days there are around 400 tribes who are represented and throughout Northern Australia and Central Australia, these tribes are largely intact.

There is an interesting law in Aboriginal custom, and that is the one which prohibits a person from talking directly to their mother-in-law. It is thought that this law is came about to remove the friction that can commonly occur between families when a husband or wife must endure years of disagreement and arguments. Traditionally, a third person would facilitate communication. It was not unusual for a mother in law to have a separate campfire some distance away from her son in law, or daughter in law. Her son or daughter would bring food over to her, and another person, perhaps a grandchild would sit with her and act as a go between for messages.

There are many more sophisticated and complex laws to learn about in Aboriginal culture. It is truly a unique and interesting traditional and ancient society.

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