Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Australia Dreaming

The Olgas, Northern Territory, Australia
My earliest recollection of stories relating to Australia’s first people, the Aboriginals, includes a story about Tiddalik the Frog. This thirsty creature drank up the world’s water supply until he’d consumed every available drop causing some animals, trees, and bushes to die of thirst. The surviving animals got together to ponder their plight, when an old wombat suggested making Tiddalik laugh. If they could do this, then water would flow out of his mouth and the parched lands would once again be fertile.

The animals gathered in front of Tiddalik, and one by one, they tried to make him laugh, but to no avail. The kookaburra told his funniest story, the lizard walked on two legs and stuck his stomach out, and the kangaroo and the emu played leapfrog. Yet Tiddalik continued to sit with a stony face.

Katherine Gorge, Northern Territory, Australia
Finally, the eel Nabunum, who had lost his creek home as a result of the drought, slid up in front the frog and put on a show. He danced and wriggled and twisted himself into an array of knots until Tiddalik’s eyes lit up and he burst out laughing. Water gushed from his mouth and flowed along the dry soil to replenish the lakes, swamps, and rivers.

The story of Tiddalik is believed to be about the water-holding frog from central Australia. This frog burrows underground during droughts and emerges when it rains to absorb large amounts of water, and to breed and feed. During times of drought, the Aboriginals of Australia follow this frog to source water.

With a history that dates back to between 40,000 and 125,000 years before European settlers arrived, the Aboriginal people have a wonderfully rich culture. The Dreaming, or Dreamtime, as it is sometimes known, is their way of understanding the world, its creation, and is the basis of their laws of existence.

During the Dreaming, ancestral spirits came to the earth and shaped the land, including lakes, mountains and rivers, as well as humans, plants and animals. The Dreaming are passed down in a variety of ways, including oral narration, music, and artwork. Some of these stories, including the story of Tiddalik the Frog, are well-known outside the Aboriginal community.

Every Aboriginal has a special link to the Dreaming, which happens the moment they are conceived. It is believed the life of each baby is activated by a spirit that enters the mother’s body; the spirit is associated with the place where the mother first learnt about her unborn child. Each landscape has its own Dreaming so everyone knows which Dreaming the child belongs to. Children learn about the stories and ceremonies associated with their particular Dreaming, and once they’re old enough, they’re invited to join in and perform these ceremonies. 

The Aboriginal flag
Many Dreaming stories are sacred and can only be told by certain people. For example, Aboriginal men have stories that can’t be revealed to uninitiated males. The women have stories only shared amongst themselves, and sometimes the younger or unmarried women aren’t permitted to hear the stories. To tell a story to the wrong person is a serious breach of law. 

Dreaming stories teach values about land, the spiritual world, and rules for living. These foundations of Aboriginal society are passed down to each generation and are just as relevant now, as they were thousands of years ago. With strong ties to the earth, the Aboriginal people view themselves as caretakers of the land, and their duty is to respect and look after Mother Earth. Personally, we can all learn a lot from Dreaming stories.

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