Aboriginal Cultural Ceremonies
Ceremonies including corroborees and rituals, are held frequently and for many different reasons. These include mythological (Dreamtime) stories outside of initiation and within, secret events at sacred sites, home comings, births and deaths.
In Utopia art one of the most common subjects is Awelye (Anmatyerre spelling or Awely - Alyawarr spelling). Awelye is a word that describes everything to do with a women’s ceremony which includes the body paint designs. Women perform awelye ceremonies to demonstrate respect for their country including Dreamtime stories that belong there and the total well-being and health of their community.
The body paint designs are painted onto the chest, breasts, arms and thighs. Powders ground from ochre (clays), charcoal and ash are used as body paint and applied with a flat stick with soft padding. They call this stick ‘typale’. The Aboriginal women sing the songs associated with their awelye as each woman takes her turn to be ‘painted-up’. Every Aboriginal woman can paint her designs on canvas and when one imagines that these designs have been applied to women’s bodies for over 40,000 years (the Australian Aboriginal culture has been dated over 40,000 years old and is known as the world’s oldest living culture) then it may very well be the oldest living art form in the world. Awelye still continues to this day.
Aboriginal Culture in Australia, otherwise known as the Aboriginal Dreamtime, is something in the vicinity of 40,000 years old. It is a rich and complex culture and brought about by an intimate knowledge of the environment.
The majority of mythology is based on what Aboriginal people believed were true historical acts done by their ancestors. It provides an explanation of the origin of natural phenonema, objects, species, institutions and customs. It can also reveal things that are happening or are about to happen. Mythology does not cover everything.
Aboriginal Dreamtime stories (or Dreamings) are stories that have been passed down orally or with non-permanent materials that belong to the mythology of the Dreamtime for Aboriginal people. Generally speaking, an Aboriginal's language, skin name and country they belong to are heavily dependent on their father's particulars. So, for the majority, the father's country is now their country also. There are several different countries (not to be confused with communities) in the greater Utopia area. Some include Ilkawerne, Alhalkere, Atnangkere, Ahalpere and sister countries Arnkawenyerr, Ngkwarlerlanem, Atnwengerrp and Irrwelty Arawerr.
What Stories Are Depicted in Dreamtime?
Dreamtime stories are said to belong to each country. There are many stories, some major and some minor. Some are connected with other countries where different parts of the story belong to different countries - a beginning or an end perhaps. The Dreaming or Mythological stories don't cover everything but usually those things that affect society for good or bad. For example: edible flora, ceremonial objects such as churinga stones and pearl stones, ochre and bull roarers, the moon, sun, stars, flood, fire, wind, rain, material things such as spears and axes and man's origin, life and death.
Aboriginal artists paint Dreamtime stories that, for many reasons, we may not know or understand anything more than a brief introduction or its title. The team at Mbantua Gallery works closely with the Utopia artists year round to gather as much new information relating to Dreamtime stories as they can and how it is represented in the artworks, continuously updating and learning from the Utopia people so that Mbantua Gallery can be their voice in teaching the wider world. Here, online, you can learn about some of these Dreamtime stories that are more commonly found in Aboriginal art from the Utopia region.
Sacred Sites are related to Aboriginal Mythology, also called the ‘Dreamtime’ or ‘Dreaming’. They are places within the landscape that have a special meaning in Aboriginal tradition.
Aboriginal Sacred Sites are spirit centres for aboriginal people as well as animals and plants. They can be trees, rocky outcrops, hills, ochre deposits, waterholes or clearings; anywhere that ancestral spirits are associated with. Some ancestral spirits left their human energy or their spirit at these sites in the form of plants or animals.
A sacred site is formed by a mythological event. To enter a sacred site a person must be initiated and ceremonies relating to the mythological event are often held at or near them.
The objective of having these ceremonies is to get the ancestral being to send out the life energy or spirits of the sacred site, so they can cooperate with nature at just those seasons when the increase of particular species should occur.
There are male sacred sites (men’s business) which are forbidden to women and women’s sacred sites (women’s business) which are forbidden to men.
Uluru (Ayers Rock) and Kata Tjuta (the Olgas) are two very important Aboriginal Sacred Sites found in Central Australia.
Young adolescent male Aboriginals will go through an Initiation ceremony somewhere between the ages of 10-16 years. Once the boy goes through this process he is considered part of the adult community. Initiation permits the young Aboriginal male to knowledge of the past such as mythology and Dreamtime stories and to share in the embodiment of the ancestors. The initiate’s blood becomes the blood of his ancestors and he passes into the sacred world of these spirits.
There are various stages of initiation where only certain levels of information are given out and taught. These stages can vary in length for a few days to a few months or longer. The ceremony explains the customs and laws of Aboriginal society.
Physical elements occur in initiation such as circumcision, tooth avulsion, plucking of bodily hair, scarification and the pulling out of fingernails. These test the initiate - if they cannot endure the pain, then they cannot be trusted with the secrets of the tribe.
It is thought that if these ceremonies don’t continue then the sacred Law will not survive as the secrets and knowledge of the Aboriginal elders will not be passed on to those who are uninitiated.