Aboriginal ceremonies of South East Australia

Love, W. R. F. (William R.F.) (1989). Aboriginal ceremonies of South East Australia M.A. Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland.

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Author Love, W. R. F. (William R.F.)
Thesis Title Aboriginal ceremonies of South East Australia
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 1989
Thesis type M.A. Thesis
Supervisor Dr Ian Keen
Total pages 420
Language eng
Formatted abstract
This thesis is concerned with the part played by ceremony and the related sky-beliefs in the lives of the Australian Aborigines of the east coast region. A survey of the historical material shows that it can provide much of value to illustrate the importance of ceremony for Aborigines. While the sociological aspect showing the contribution of ceremony to the integration of Aboriginal government both in a local sense as well as in the wider field has not been emphasized its importance has not been overlooked. The emphasis in the thesis (due to page number limitations) has been in bringing together literary material from various sources showing Aboriginal religious practice and beliefs within the study region. Much of this material, some of which is contemporary, has only recently come to the notice of researchers. Also the indications are that there is still further historical material available for examination from an anthropological viewpoint. This is despite an early belief that there was a paucity of such material.

The thesis brings together and examines a large body of this early and late material relating to belief and ceremony in the central east coast region of Australia. The authenticity of this material is evaluated then it is sorted and collated under various headings; thus providing a review of the historical material available on the Aboriginal religious beliefs observable in the study region and the many types of ceremonies held there.

This examination of the historical records prepared by the European intruders and related to their authenticity, quality and ceremonial relevance shows that by teasing out the evidence a reconstruction of the ceremonies is possible. While the emphasis is placed on such historical records research, the archaeological record concerned with ceremonial sites is also considered. A third factor providing input is the knowledge of ceremony still held by descendants of those people displaced by the European intrusion. As well the proposition is examined through a reconstruction of the ceremonial method, observing particularly the 'Bora' initiation ceremony that gave knowledge to and prepared Aboriginal males within Aboriginal society for taking part in further ceremonial processes.

Aboriginal initiation ceremonies which marked the entrance to adulthood for youths of both sexes also provided an introduction to a fuller ceremonial life for the participants, either male or female. As the European historical record of Aboriginal social life highlights male activities, the thesis deals particularly with this aspect of the society, based on the male initiation ceremony known generically as the Bora. References to women's ceremonial activities observable in the historical sources have not been covered in this thesis.

Initiated males are seen to have position of responsibility and power within their respective groups, and also exercising an influence among fellow-initiates of adjacent Aboriginal groups. This group-influence was extended further if and when an initiated male became a Karadji (native-doctor, clever-man). While the Karadji generally formed a distinct set within Aboriginal society on the east coast, their power and influence are seen to be greater in the southern part of the region.

Male persons possessing comprehensive ceremonial knowledge, which also implies knowledge of the sky-beings, and the laws and customs given at the Dreaming, were big-men within the region. They passed on their knowledge generationally through ceremony. The historical literature contains references to the Aboriginal pantheon, and also sets down the relationship between humans and these metaphysical earth and sky-beings. The symbolic relationship to male initiation of the animal species referred to in ceremonies during the Bora is explored, and the man-making activity of the Bora itself is examined as a complex Emu-Dreaming ceremony.

The question of social control, within a society apparently without leaders, is seen to be affected by ceremonial behaviour. One conclusion reached is that those male Aborigines who had progressed far in knowledge about ceremonies and Aboriginal religion associated with the sky-beings and other metaphysical manifestations were able to exercise ceremonial control in the affairs of their own people, with other Aborigines, and as believed also with the universe.

Historical sources also show that Aboriginal ideologies could not withstand the onslaught of the alien philosophies and technology brought by the intruding Europeans and the ceremonies ceased with the attendant loss of much of the Aboriginal way of life in the south east region of the continent. However, analogues from other parts of Australia such as Arnhem Land and the Centre show that much of the symbolism observed in ceremonial expression and religious belief was similar in both regions, and thus Aborigines from the east coast region can draw upon this resource in reconstructing their ancestral past.

It is concluded that the use of ceremony along with the sky-beliefs were the combined force which had sustained Aboriginal existence in the south east region of the continent from the Dreaming. The cessation of these activities and the supplanting of the sky-beliefs broke the cycle and with it many aspects the Aboriginal way of life, but the people adjusted and there was (and still is) a considerable continuity of Aboriginal culture. Aborigines have learned to conform to European ideologies where they must and yet cling to the traditional Aboriginal ideologies where they can.

The Appendices supplement the text, providing detail on some aspects as well as illustrating some of the historical material available to researchers.

Keyword Aboriginal Australians -- Australia, Southeastern -- Rites and ceremonies.
Mythology, Aboriginal Australian.

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (non-RHD) - UQ staff and students only
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