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Oldest Culture
The myth of the world's oldest culture


Mungo Man

Bradshaw PaintingsThe lost world of the Bradshaws

CitiesWhy no cities or villages?

DreamtimeThe Dreamtime

Megafauna
The extinction of the Megafauna

Migrant Flora and Fauna in AustraliaMigrantion of flora and fauna

wrestling and reconciliation
Wrestling and reconciliation

Retreat of rainforests in AustraliaRainforest Retreat

Aboriginal values


Red Earth Blue Sky

E-mail


Kakadu rock art

The Dreamtime

In Judaism and Christianity, the snake was the bad guy who tempted Eve in the Garden and Eden and so forever damned humanity. In Aboriginal religions, the snake is the creator who was both revered and feared. The different status of the snake is just one of many differences between the religions of the middle east, and the Dreamtime religions of Australia.

The Dreamtime refers to a time before time, or a time outside of time. In a sense, it is also a all-at-once time in which the past, present and future coexist at the same time. In someways, it shares parrallels with the story of Genisis as the Dreamtime was the time of creation. In other ways it is different as years are not recorded since the time of Genesis. Instead, life follows a cycle in which there is no real beginning and no real end.

The story of the serpent began in the Dreamtime. The Aborigines told of a great snake that emerged from beneath the earth, winding from side to side, making the great rivers flow from its path. From its body sprang the tribes, the animals and the birds of Australia. Sometimes the serpent was depicted as a man. Sometimes as a woman. Sometimes as a man with breasts. It was spoken upon in a hushed voice for it inflicted vengeance upon those who angered it. Stories told of it swallowing people who had not observed taboos. It was said to be responsible for causing natural disasters such as floods and droughts. One story even told of the serpent swallowing an orphan boy, and all his tribe, because the boy wouldn't stop crying. As the serpent returned to the earth, the boy and his tribe also became part of the land.

The Dreamtime myths connected humans, animals, fish, birds, and the land within a vast network of relationships. For Aborigines, these relationships conveyed a morality towards the land and the animals, and a way to live with them. The inter-connectivity could be seen as a kind of environmental protection philosophy. This philosophy could be seen most clearly in totems. Each tribe had a totem, which was unique to a tribe. Each Aboriginal person believed they had three forms which gave them a continuous life form. The totem was the form after human and then to spirit. As the cycle continued, so did Aboriginal Culture.

As the animal gave the Aborigines their tribal mark, in return the Aborigines become the custodians of their totems and were responsible for their well being. If the spirit, the human or the animal broke down, coexistence deteriorated, and so too did Aboriginal culture. Consequently, an Aboriginal tribe might have hunted every animal in its region, except for its totem which it would protect. As every tribe had a different totem, every Australian animal had a region where it was protected - almost like a game reserve.

The Dreamtime myths also conveyed a morality in regards to how the individual should live with other members of the tribe. One myth told of a duck ignoring the advice of her elders and leaving the pond where she was subsequently raped by a water rat. Her children were the first members of the platypus race. Another story told of a greedy boy who stole the tribe's water and ran up a tree. He became the lonely koala.

As Aborigines had no written language, there was no bible to formally record taboos and myths. Instead, the religion was regenerated with paintings, stories, song poetry and ceremonies. These ceremonies were clearly divided into men's business and women's business. It was a taboo for the gender roles to be broken.

Lacking in the Aboriginal religions was the kind of morality seen in the ten commandments. Perhaps the origins of these commandments can be traced to the breakdown of the tribal unit, and its subsequent replacement by the nuclear family. A common theme in middle east religions was that of the lost sheep. In a sense, the religions emerged to fill the community void caused by the demise of the tribe. The religion was a new social group that gave individuals that sense of belonging that they lost when they stopped living a hunter-gatherer lifestyle. Likewise, the religion's morality was another adaptation to the lifestyle change. 'Thou shall not steal' was never a morality needed by Aborigines because there was no concept of individual possession. Within the tribal unit, whatever was owned by one, was owned by all. To own something individually was to be like the greedy koala. This would lead to a lonely life in the trees. Perhaps people in the middle east needed the 'thou shall not steal' morality as they started building permanent houses and subsequently collected possessions that they did not want to share.

Studying the differences between the dreamtime and the middle- eastern religions provides food for thought on the role that religion serves in society. The dreamtime stipulated a way to live with the land and within a tribe. Perhaps the middle-eastern religions were a product of the loneliness caused by tribal breakdown, and the individual's need for guidance as they adapted to a community where self-interest had become the dominant ethic.

Studying the dreamtime also helps one understand why traditional Aborigines have found it difficult to adapt to life in mainstream Australia where individual empowerment is enshrined in law, and self-interest is the driving force behind community participation.

10 Commandments vs Dreamtime

 

10 Commandments

1) Thou shalt have no other gods before me.

2) Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image.

3) Thou shalt not take the name of the lord thy God in vain.

4) Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.

5) Honour thy father and thy mother.

6) Thou shalt not kill.

7) Thou shalt not commit adultery.

8) Thou shalt not steal.

9) Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour.

10) Thou shalt not covet any thing that is thy neighbours.

 

Dreamtime beliefs and social customs of hunter gatherers

  • Multiple totems.
  • No concept of a biological father but the conception totem was honoured.
  • Aborigines were at war with neighbouring tribes. War served an important role to maintain group identity, to control population and to spread genetic material.
  • Aboriginal societies operated around a tribal family rather than a nuclear family. Women were communally shared and women from other tribes were raped in war. These sexual practices were essential to gain fresh genetics into the tribe at risk of inbreeding.
  • Ritual was based more on environmental signs than on a calendar.
  • There was no concept of individual possession in a nomadic society. What is owned by one was owned by all. Within the tribe, theft couldn't exist because nothing was owned.
  • Aborigines didn't live in houses so there was not really any concept of a neighbour. In the tribe they were like one big family. There were neighbouring tribes. These were often treated with hostility, but there were also corroborees where different tribes got together to form some kind of relationships.

 

 

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"They look ancient but at 10,000 years of age they’re much younger than the lightly built Mungo people. How could that be? " Mungo Man

"The Bradshaw Paintings are incredibly sophisticated, yet they are not recent creations but originate from an unknown past period which some suggest could have been 50,000 years ago." Bradshaws

"The reduction of plant diversity, however it came about, would have led to the extinction of specialized herbivores and indirectly to the extinction of their non-human predators." Megafauna extinction

" Is the keelback’s ability to coexist with toads a function of its ancestral Asian origins, or a consequence of rapid adaptation since cane toads arrived in Australia?" Migrant flora and fauna

"I've set myself the modest task of trying to explain the broad pattern of human history, on all the continents, for the last 13,000 years. Why did history take such different evolutionary courses for peoples of different continents? (Jared Diamond)" Why didn't Aborigines build cities?

"It then dawned on the old man lizard that the lesson to be learnt by watching the kangaroos, was that death need not be the outcome of the fight." Wrestling and reconciliation