Beliefs, music, language

Beliefs, music, language


Knowledge of beliefs and mythology greatly facilitates the understanding of Aboriginal culture, and thus becomes helpful in the reception of their art. For thousands of years, this art has been closely associated with religion, and many paintings currently painted for the Western market still depict sacred stories and refer to traditional beliefs and events. In this context, a painting serves a much broader function than formal and decorative modernist works. For the author, it is a testimony and proof of ownership of a specific area and conveys knowledge and secrets, the content of which is woven into mythology with the broad symbolism of everyday life. Knowledge, beliefs and art in this cultural system function inseparably and are manifestations of sacred creative acts and places where, according to Aborigines' beliefs, the energy left by the mythical Ancestors emanates.

What are these beliefs and what do they concern? Contrary to popular belief, Aborigines never created one religious system, just as they did not have one common language. There are hundreds of myths and stories and thousands of sacred places known throughout the continent.

Unlike followers of other religions, Aborigines did not make sacrifices or pray to allegorical representations of gods, nor did they build temples; the entire surroundings were a great open-air cathedral. The basis of these beliefs are events referring to the Times of Creation, when mythical Ancestors created all geological formations and passed on to people laws and rules of conduct.

According to the Aboriginal worldview, the world did not come from nothing, as in the Christian tradition from the Word, or as a result of the Big Bang, as cosmogonic theory claims, but existed originally, unformed. In the beginning, the Earth was a flat, empty surface in darkness, silence and chaos, with potential life forms lying dormant beneath its surface. The Mythical Ancestors broke the earth's crust with a loud bang and came to the surface. The sun appeared in the sky and the Earth received light for the first time. Ancestors wandered, hunted, fought among themselves, set up camps and shaped the landscape along the way. Finally, they created plants, animals and humans. At this time, in the Age of Creation, the present world was created and all truths about it were established once and for all.

The English terms Dreaming or Dreamtime have recently been used to describe religious myths related to the Time of Creation, which should not be confused with dreaming or dreams. Paintings painted for commercial purposes are also often titled and described in English, for example Fire Dreaming, Snake Dreaming or simply Fire Story, Snake Story, etc. Individual aboriginal tribes, which to some extent means linguistic groups, had separate names referring to to world events.

Thus, in Central Australia the term Tjukurrpa (Warlpiri, Pintupi tribes), Alchera (Arrernte) is used, and in the north among the Yolngu people - Wangarr. The scope of the concept of Dreaming is wide and may refer both to the Age of Creation and to a specific history or mythical event, which have separate nomenclature in Aboriginal languages. To own the myth of Creation is to be "a curator” of a specific area where the person-owner does not have to ask anyone for permission to hunt or use wood to make tools.

Fig. 1. Anatjari Tjampitjinpa (1927-1999, Pintupi tribe), Tingan", 1996, acrylic on canvas, 91 x 91 cm, Robert
C Collection. Tailor, Sydney

In Central Australia, human beings usually appeared partially formed, intermediate forms between the plant and animal worlds. The transformation into human forms occurred as a result of the act of transmitting spiritual values ​​to people by the Ancestors: Honey Ant, Kangaroo, Sweet Potato Jams, Rain, Fire, etc. Thus, Ancestors and totems in Aboriginal religion may be animals, plants or geological formations, or phenomena or objects such as fire, rain or honey. Not only myths, but also the personal characteristics of the Ancestors are part of the identity of those Aboriginal people who own them. If the Opossum Ancestor was curious, the Lizard was unpredictable, and the Eagle was dangerous, these characters will be inherited by humans. Often several people or a group may share one myth, which functions as a kind of identification mark and proof of ownership of a specific area.

Mythical Ancestors, according to the beliefs of the tribes from Central Australia, came from under the earth or came from the sky, while according to the mythology of the peoples living in coastal areas, the Ancestors came from across the sea. One of many stories from the semi-arid lands of the center of the continent both presents the myth of Creation and explains totemism. The Arrernte people believe that at a time when there was no man or woman on earth, the western sky was inhabited by two Beings who came from nothing. Once they came down to earth and formed many incomplete human figures, without limbs or senses. These unformed beings would eventually become men and women, but at this transitional stage they looked more like plants and animals than humans. When complete transformation occurred, each person maintained a close connection with the animal, plant, or object with which he or she had been identified during the creation process. Therefore, each person has a special relationship with his totem, which connects him with the Time of Creation, and if it is an animal, such as an emu or a kangaroo, the meat of these animals should not be eaten by the owner of the totem.

Mythical Ancestors had supernatural features, they were partly similar to animals, plants or people and could take any shape, and their transformations took place in various directions. After completing the work, some of them disappeared underground, others transformed into characteristic features of the landscape, becoming sacred mountains, rocks, cliffs, water wells; some of them returned to heaven. In the Aboriginal spiritual tradition, the journeys of the Ancestors have both a symbolic and physical dimension. Sacred energy is concentrated in the places where they stop and camp, and the formations resulting from their actions constitute important elements of the landscape. Modern Aborigines are the heirs of spiritual Ancestors whose journeys and deeds are constantly recreated in ceremonies and rituals. This establishes unbroken continuity and connects contemporary existence with the Age of Creation.

The migration routes of the mythical Ancestors cover a huge area, which is why the stories related to them are often continued in the mythologies of neighboring tribes. Such an extremely rich collection of stories is the Tingari cycle, which forms the main group of Creation myths for the Pintupi tribe from Central Australia. These are stories about the journeys of Ancestors who stopped in particular places and then wandered further, sometimes even underground. Each of their stops left traces in the field and creates an independent narrative thread, at the same time being a link in a larger epic, continued in other places.

The ancestors of the Tingari formed groups of mythical men who were responsible for acts of creation and gave rights to people. Like humans, they were not perfect and had human weaknesses: they committed betrayal and sexual excesses, they were greedy, but they were also guided by noble motives. The ceremonies associated with the Tingari cycle are secret and should not be seen by women or children, as they are presented during initiations of a higher level. Adepts sing songs, perform rituals and, like the Ancestors, travel to secret places.

The Tingari theme appears often in contemporary acrylic painting. Paintings on canvas refer to traditional patterns painted on the body and to mosaics on sand made during ceremonies. Artists present this cycle in the form of concentric circles and lines connecting them, or only in the form of squares (Fig. 1 and 2).

The circles in this context represent the stopping places of the Tingari Ancestors, and the grids of lines represent the routes of their migrations during the Time of Creation. These images are also encrypted maps of areas where the exact locations of places are known only to the authors. In the initial period of the development of acrylic painting (Papunya settlement 1971-1974), paintings for sale depicting Tingari were painted away from women and children, because they contained many secret patterns of a sacred nature. However, over time, dangerous elements were withdrawn or replaced by others, and artists no longer reveal full information about their meaning.

Fig. 2. Barney Ca mpbell Tjakamarra (Pintu pi strain), Tingari, 1999, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 61 cm, collection of Galeria R, Poznan

Fig. 3. Warlukurlangu: What happened at the fire place, collective work of Yuendumu artists, acrylic on canvas, collection of the Museum of South Australia

A typical characteristic of individual Aboriginal myths is their close connection with a specific territory and the nature found there. The history of the Warlukurlangu fire, owned by the Jangala and Jampitjinpa kin groups of the Warlpiri tribe, presents a mythical event full of drama: “The old man Jangala and his two sons Jampitjinpa, while traveling, stopped at the place of Warlukurlangu. The sons left their father, who was blind, sheltered him from the wind, and went hunting. When the young men had gone away, the old man looked around, took his spears, and went hunting elsewhere. His sons didn't know anything about it, they thought he was blind. The father hunted some game, which he roasted in great haste over the fire, ate some of it, and buried the rest. When the hunters returned, they brought the meat and gave it to the old man, but he ate only a little. «Poor old man», they said.

This situation repeated itself for many days. The old man Jangala often went to sleep away from the camp, saying that he was going to a cooler place. But there his holy little kangaroo came and talked to him. One day the young men went hunting, but they didn't catch anything. Returning to the camp, the Jampitjinpa saw a baby kangaroo, which they killed and roasted on a fire. The old man ate the meat with great appetite, and the brothers did not tell him where they were hunting. After this incident, Jangala spent many days invoking the sacred kangaroo in vain, and finally he realized that his sons had killed him and became furious. The old man caused a magical fire to kill the hunters. They, however, wanted to save him, unaware of the reason. But the fire was too great and the Jampitjinpa brothers fled south. Everywhere they stopped, the fire overtook them and burned their limbs…“. The rest of this myth belongs to the Pintjantjatjara tribe, which inhabits the areas south of Warlpiri.

This myth illustrates the drama and deceit of a father who punished his sons for breaking a taboo they were unaware of. Innocent young people die from magical fire, and the old man feels satisfied. However, the deeper meaning of this story refers to the practical aspects of protecting the environment and game, which is subject to taboo, and the punishment in this case was more important than family ties. The story also highlights the differences between ordinary animals and those that, like the baby kangaroo, had special features of a sacred nature. Fire symbolizes the practice of burning areas, fertilizing the soil on which, after rain, plants attracting animals grow. This myth is extremely important for the Warlpiri people, because the places where mythical events took place create a map of these areas; rituals have also been performed there for centuries. This topic is often discussed in painting. The two curved lines represent the aston against the wind; traces of migrations and stopping places in the shape of concentric circles are also shown, the multicolored background shows vegetation and fire (Fig. 3).

According to the beliefs of the tribes inhabiting northern Australia, the first people appeared fully formed or were born from the bodies of mythical women who were already pregnant. The main group of myths in the Arnhem Land region are beliefs related to the Wawilag sisters and the Djangkawu Ancestors. The story of the Wawilag sisters and the Witija snake is often depicted in bark painting, and its variations vary among tribes and clans. The Wawilag were the daughters of the Great Mother of Fertility Kunapipi (who rose from the sea) and form a series of ceremonies and rituals.

An extremely abridged version of this richly detailed story reads: 'Two Wawilag sisters were forced to leave their clan because they had engaged in sexual intercourse which was not permitted by law. Wandering through Arnhem's Land, the sisters hunted and named plants along the way. The older one had a child, and the younger one was very pregnant. At the Mirraminna well, the sisters decided to set up camp because they were tired and hungry. The younger one felt labor pains and soon gave birth to a child, and the older one lit a fire and decided to roast the hunted animals. But the opossum, lying on the hot coals, jumped up and ran away along the stream, and so did the lizard, the marsupial rat, and even the wild berries. This was because the owner of this land and animals was the mythical man Witij, who lived in a nearby reservoir.

The sisters decided to build a hut and the younger one went to collect the bark of nearby trees, but while doing so she spilled some blood into the stream because she had recently given birth to a child. The blood flowed in a stream into the body of water where the snake man, Witij, lived. The water pollution angered Witij, who transformed himself into a snake and caused heavy rain. The younger sister hid in the hut and watched over the children, while the older sister performed a ritual dance and sang to stop the rain. Suddenly, the Snake Witij began to approach the hut, but the younger sister joined in singing. This helped for a while, but when the sisters ran out of strength, the snake crawled through the opening into the hut and swallowed them and the children, then returned to its abode in the water. It soon turned out that the sisters were taboo food, and the snake returned them in great convulsions, and they turned into ghosts. However, the snake man retained the sisters' secret knowledge and ceremonies, which he now became the owner of“.

This story refers to the distant times of matriarchy, when women were probably the owners of secret items and rituals that were taken from them by force or stolen by men. The snake represents the phallus, and the opening in the hut represents the vagina, and the rain refers to the monsoon season. In the painting on bark, the Snake is depicted in the form of a spiral, with sisters and their children inside the oval form (Fig. 4).

The black dots represent rain and the footprints represent the sisters' dance. Sometimes ritual objects and landscape elements are also depicted. In traditional bark painting and sand drawings made for ceremonies, only individual episodes of this extremely detailed history were presented. Nowadays, however, the entire story is often painted for the needs of the market.

In the mythology of Arnhem Land, the creative role of women in shaping the current world and the conflict with men over the exclusive right to perform important rituals are often emphasized. An example here is the story of two Djangkawu sisters and their brother who left their island of Bralgu and came to the mainland. “The Djangkawu took with them sacred objects, which they carried in conical baskets. During the journey, they named animals, birds and places and buried sacred objects in the ground for future generations. Where they stuck their walking sticks, trees grew or water appeared. Soon the sisters began to give birth to children who populated these lands, giving rise to the clans of the Dhuwa section of the Yolngu tribe. After birth, boys were placed on the grass to grow facial hair, while girls were covered with mats to protect their skin from the sun.

The myth of Djangkawu concerns the Time of Creation, but also mentions later events, when women were deprived of their power and lost many important ceremonies to men.

Fig. 4. Dawidi Djulwarak (ca. 1921-1970, Liyagalawumirri clan), Wowilog Sisters (Wowilog Sisters), 1967, natural pigments on eucalyptus bark, 109 x 54 em, Sotheby's Auction House, Melbourne, 46 No. 107, June 1996
il. 5. Uluru (Ayers Rock), 1995

This myth continues: “When their sons grew up, they stole sacred paraphernalia, ritual songs and ceremonies from their mothers. The sisters discovered the crime and followed the villains, but they were unable to do anything to them because they were singing songs and performing rituals. After a long discussion, the mothers decided to forgive their sons, giving them more secrets and songs. Then the two sisters and their brother returned to their island.” Images on bark depicting the above story of Creation are usually divided into several fields that symbolize events such as a sea voyage, acts of creation or the birth of people. Sacred objects and clan patterns passed on by the Sisters to new generations are also often painted.

The most universal theme in Aboriginal religion is the myth of the Rainbow Serpent, which occurs throughout almost the entire continent. This snake is considered the great mother or great father of all forms of life. Its sacred significance is that it symbolizes both the phallus and the womb, thus being a symbol of fertility and fertility. In Central Australia, the Pitjantjatjara tribe believe that the Rainbow Serpent dropped his egg from the sky, which turned into a rock (Fig. 5) called Uluru (whites call this place Ayers Rock).

*** This is a fragment of Ryszard Bednarowicz's book "Aboriginal Art" (2004).

National Gallery – Canberra

National Gallery - Canberra

I remember my first contact with Aboriginal art. It was in 1989, during my first visit to Australia. The halls of the National Gallery in Canberra, the most important in the country, resembled bunkers and did not arouse my admiration. Back then, it was a completely different way of displaying works of art than the one I knew from, among others, Krakow. Alix and Kerry dragged me to the Indigenous Australian art section.

– So how do you like it? – they asked.

I was a dilettante on this topic.

- It doesn't bother me at all, I replied.

I considered primitive paintings made by people who did not know perspective and had problems with proportions to be bohemian. As if all these works were painted by children. Even the dotted and lined background of paintings painted on tree bark did not catch my eye back then, although I had certainly never seen such space filling before. Failure.

I considered primitive paintings made by people who did not know perspective and had problems with proportions to be bohemian. As if all these works were painted by children. Even the dotted and lined background of paintings painted on tree bark did not catch my eye back then, although I had certainly never seen such space filling before. Failure.

At least that's how I felt at the time, although I realized that I lacked cultural context, placing this art in the landscape, and I had very little idea about Indigenous Australians. I came to my senses a few months later when I was traveling by bus through the middle of Australia. The first contacts with the desert, with the ubiquitous spinifex grass, and with Aborigines allowed me to revise my views. However, it was a slow process.

*** Excerpt from Marek Tomalik's book "Australia, where flowers are born from fire" National Geographic 2019

Barrow Creek (NT)

Barrow Creek (NT)

Barrow Creek (NT)

The art of the Indigenous Peoples of Australia was, and to some extent still is, related to everyday life, it flows directly from rituals, not from aesthetic needs. The sense of touch is strongly involved in the creation of paintings. Take as an example drawings made in sand with a finger or a stick. These are, of course, impermanent forms, like Tibetan loose mandalas. Navajo Indians create similar ones. Native Australians do not need to preserve written drawings with a stick, because they are disposable pieces needed to extract the content during rituals.

I realized this when we reached the hamlet of Barrow Creek, on the main Stuart Highway, north of Alice Springs. There was a small pub covered with a million business cards and other gadgets, with children wandering around with cans of Coca-Cola and packets of crisps. Women looked away and men treated us like nothing. The excuse to stop here was to ask for directions. Our best maps showed no path that could take us anywhere near the mountain we were looking for. I counted on the help of the whites, I walked around the settlement, but I didn't see anyone.

– We are looking for a driveway to Mount Strezleki – Rocket asked one of the Elders.

I stood on the sidelines and thought we were wasting our time. How could they hear about a small mountain located far from hiking trails, a mountain with such a foreign name. And then something strange happened that I still can't explain. One of the men stood up languidly, took a stick, began drawing lines in the sand and muttering to himself. But clearly enough that we understood that he was talking to us.

– Drive twenty kilometers further north. There will be a mountain on the left, like a giant termite mound. It's hard to pass it - he said, not looking us in the eye for a moment.

He didn't want eye contact, and besides, he was drawing a map - as it later turned out - a very precise one.

– Just behind the mountain there will be an ordinary farm gate – he continued.

– You will open it and the path will lead you further. Recognize your mountain by its smell - he finished, put down his stick and rubbed the map with his boots.

My jaw dropped to the floor. Thanks to his tips, we found Strzelecki Mountain without any problems. It was a completely desolate area. We set up camp three kilometers from the summit. We walked for two days on very difficult terrain. The heat was tormenting us, the spinifex grass was hurting our legs until they bled, and billions of flies were bothering us. We conquered the mountain, measured it and described it. We felt the thrill of discovery. We left behind a metal plaque and a bottle with a written note, hidden among the stones at the very top. When climbing to the top, Valdi, who stayed in the camp, was visited by the owner of these lands. He asked what we were doing, but didn't chase us away. He was in a hurry because he had a flat tire and wanted to get to civilization on a half-board. At the end of the short inspection he said:

– I didn't know that I had Strzelecki Mountain on my land.

When I remember this story, I have the uncertain belief that the Elder who made the map in the sand intuitively sensed our intentions. He treated our journey as following in the footsteps of Strzelecki, whom he understood as his Ancestor. And this is of the utmost importance to him. It's sacred. He wanted and had to help us.

*** Excerpt from Marek Tomalik's book "Australia, where flowers are born from fire" National Geographic 2019

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Rock paintings of First Peoples

Rock paintings of First Peoples

Indigenous rock paintings

Kakadu National Park hides the largest, oldest and most beautiful rock galleries of the First Peoples known by white man. Some of the paintings are thirty thousand years old and are among the oldest human works on Earth. This longest chronicle of history in the world presents animals, human figures, ghosts, as well as other supernatural beings and ceremonies. I have often wondered how white people can interpret the meanings of the paintings, how they navigate the time horizon of thousands of years and the labyrinth of complex cultural contexts. It was only a few years ago, when I visited Kakadu National Park again in January 2007 and was able to talk to an expert, that I understood.

– Indogenous people do not tell us the true meanings of the paintings. What we get from them is a kind of fairy tale for children, a safe version of the truth - convinced me Ted, an ethnologist who has been working in Kakadu for several years.

- Why is it like that?

– For two reasons. Firstly, it is one of the last bastions of national and religious identity. Secondly, even if they told us the truth and showed us the whole thing, we wouldn't understand anything. Cultural contexts are so complex that our minds cannot comprehend and absorb them. The mythology of Native Peoples is a real maze. The same goes for songs. If they agree to sing you the Song of the Ancestors, you will receive a dummy without any meaning or emotion.

*** Excerpt from Marek Tomalik's book "Australia, where flowers are born from fire" National Geographic 2019

Oenpelli (NT)

Oenpelli (NT)

Oenpelli (NT)

I asked the indigenous people of Australia about the Dream Paths. Very few people wanted to talk to me about it at all, and everyone answered differently. It's as if the Native was asking us about eternal life from a Christian point of view. I would have to tell him that we have a paradise from which we were expelled, a purgatory and hell. We look at our lives from the perspective of the past, we clumsily try to grasp the present and we think too often about the future. He wouldn't understand us. 

The indigenous have only one land, here and now, and one time in which the present is thoroughly intertwined with the past and in which there is no room for the future. For them, every day begins a world that is directly connected to the Dream Time of the Ancestors. This is about mythological references to the period of the creation of the world, which have continuity in the present. This cosmos remains not entirely clear to me, but the more I immerse myself in it, the greater satisfaction I feel, which slowly turns into a strong bond. What captured my imagination the most was the topic of Song Paths. I have already revealed that music is important to me. I spent several years with rock musicians as their manager, and I have been writing about jazz for many years. What is extraordinary and fascinating to me is that the First Peoples treat songs like a map, that they can sing their way through the bush. They are like birds singing their flight paths - hundreds, thousands of kilometers. The song, which has aesthetic significance all over the world and stimulates strong emotions, has a practical function for them.

– For us, conquering the world means expanding the map of Song – Amaroo, a honest and constantly smiling Aborigine whom I met in the Oenpelli settlement, in Kakadu National Park, tried to explain to me. I came here attracted by the landscapes of the East Alligator River floodplain. There were billabongs, i.e. lakes left after the flood in the wet season, filled with water lilies and... crocodiles. On a hot day, I was tempted to dive into them. Amaroo was a good conversationalist, he wanted to tell me something. His eyes were full of dignity. He spoke calmly, restrained, in a language that a white man could understand. I had the impression that he spoke to me as if I were a child, patiently and cheerfully. I could talk to him for hours, the Rainbow Serpent probably sent him to me.

– Once upon a time, each of us owned a piece of land. The deed of ownership was the Song, he said.

My imagination caught on to a song by Beata Kozidrak, which I don't really like.

– “There is no water in the desert…” I hummed to Amaroo and asked if I would go anywhere with this song.

– If it's good, it'll be on the charts in your country. If it's amazing, the world is waiting for you - Amaroo ironized, but I asked for it myself.

– You won't get far with this song because you didn't receive it ritually and forever, and its words mean nothing. You won't get anywhere with her, Amaroo explained and continued:

– Our Song can connect opposite ends of Australia, and often crosses language borders, i.e. other countries. The Song describes nature, and as I walk the Path of the Song, I gain power. It draws you in like a whirlpool of water, carries you like a motor. This has enormous POWER!

– I understand that you travel across the country with the Song on your lips. It's one melody. There is a finite, specific number of bars, only the words change - I tried to follow, but I didn't understand much of it.

– My verses are my homeland. I go and sing. I'm going because I sing. After singing the last verse, I reach the border of my territory.

– But the Song Line goes further, even thousands of kilometers. The same melody is sung in many languages! It's like learning the Odyssey, memorizing the map and traveling the world with it - I finally got it.

– Yes, just like you, but without a passport and visas I can cross the "border". My grandfather encouraged me to travel like this, but no further than two "countries" across the "border," he said.

*** Excerpt from Marek Tomalik's book "Australia, where flowers are born from fire" National Geographic 2019

Parnngurr or Cotton Creek (WA)

Parnngurr, or Cotton Creek (WA)

Parnngurr or Cotton Creek (WA)

– Less than a year ago, a white teacher from an Aboriginal school repaired my car. She left her phone number. Before the trip, I looked at the route and remembered it. I called and asked if we could visit her, Rocket rambled.

– Yes, I remember this conversation, I suggested to you that we could conduct a lesson about Poland for her children – I replied.

- She wasn't particularly thrilled, but she agreed - he continued.

White people were not allowed to enter the Parnngurr Aboriginal community for a long time. For several years, travelers lost in the Outback have been coming here in search of fuel. It is located near the Tallawana Desert Track, on the northern edge of the Little Sandy Desert. I was very excited as I approached the forbidden world. Rocket arranged the invitation through his own means. Cotton Creek was the first settlement from Wiluna on our Canning Stock Route desert trip. We drove for a week to get here. We covered about 850 kilometers in off-road vehicles in extremely difficult conditions. A few hundred meters before the settlement, we were greeted by barking dogs.

“Time doesn't move slower here, it's stopped,” I thought as I passed the gate. The first impression was depressing. The next one is not better. There was reluctance in the faces that did not crave contact. The hot air stood still. I sensed bad energy, sadness, suffering. The space was filled with a dozen or so buildings scattered chaotically, around which there were dozens of dogs that looked homeless, very emaciated or even sick. The older part of the commune's community did not seem thrilled with our arrival. Nobody is interested in us here, which is a classic. The building that looked like a school was empty and locked. Rocket went to talk but didn't find the teacher.

– Most of the kids went on a trip to Port Hedland, the nearest town, only six hundred and fifty kilometers away. There's nothing here for us, we're leaving, he said.

– We've been on the road for over a week. They should have a phone here. We need to call Perth and let them know that everything is OK here - I replied and together with Dingo I went to ask for a telephone number.

One of the Aborigines showed us a building that contained what we were looking for. It was noon - pure hell. The heat from the sky took away all of our will to live.

– We are here just passing through, without contact with our families for a long time. Can we call Perth? We only need a minute, I asked.

– Yes, please, no problem. "I'm Amanda," the blonde beauty replied hesitantly. I dialed the number and talked to Stenia, Rocket's wife. During this time, Dingo had a chat with Amanda, who revealed that in the afternoon she was going berry picking in the bush with disabled women.

– Is it possible for us to go there together? – I asked immediately.

– I don't know, probably not! – she replied.

The word "probably" left a glimmer of hope. I was bothering. Two hot hours passed. After consulting with the Elders, she agreed.

– I didn't even dream about it! – I said under my breath to myself.

Another two hours left until departure. I took my camera and went to the children's playground. There were swings, colorful slides, and a basketball court. However, it smelled of sadness, emptiness, nothingness. Three girls gathered, the oldest one had black hair lightened with coloring shampoo, she was probably twelve years old. She came with a bottle of Coke and a bag of chips. She didn't protest when I reached for the camera. She showed me tolerance that was suppressed by tribal orders. She didn't say a word, but I could tell she was enjoying posing. Two girls much younger than her were slurring nonsense under their breath. The dogs came. Rocket, meanwhile, was taming the Natives outside the store. It was a small, shabby barracks. There were over twenty dogs milling around the entrance. Two elderly Aborigines dressed in ridiculously long, worn-out polo shirts and... woolen hats were sitting in the scorching sun.

This time, the attempt to take out the camera was met with violent protest. The women didn't like our presence. The entire settlement was filled with misfortune, anxiety and reluctance. At two o'clock in the afternoon, Amanda loaded the willing participants into a Toyota off-road vehicle and sped away, with us following her. We were greeted by a pack of hungry dogs and no distracting glances. The sun was blazing hot, but I was enjoying the moment. Here, the ancient and only rightful owners of these lands were driving to their own bush in a car from the government that had deprived them of their eternal rights. Amanda stopped the car at the edge of a large clearing. Older ladies with obvious mobility problems got out of the car. She also took some boys. Immediately after leaving the car, they set fire to the pepper-dry savanna grass spinifex. In a few places. It was a prelude to hunting, an ancient custom of driving away game with a wave of fire. They had no practice, so they didn't catch anything, but they had a lot of fun. Aborigines collected Ginger Willy fruits in plastic nets, which we had previously avoided. The honey-bitter taste delighted the palate. They resembled dried gooseberries. Amanda pointed to another fruit – desert tomatoes. Indeed, their shape was similar to small, green tomatoes.

– You have to cut them in half and pick out all the seeds, which are deadly poisonous. The rest is healthy and tasty, she added coldly.

The tomatoes tasted a bit like an unripe apple, a bit like a bland melon. Other delicacies include witchetty grubs, fat worms dug from under the roots of acacia trees, and iguanas that were not hunted that day. Here is a taste of the ancient civilization of Native Peoples.

Harvesting and hunting lasted almost until sunset. We were heading straight back west, the sun was shining in our eyes. There was practically nothing visible, and the dust from under the wheels of Amanda's car obscured the world. By some coincidence, this settlement, isolated in the endless bush, became "Polish". In July 2014, following the Canning Stock Route, Valdi arrived here again. He was stopped by (another) car breakdown. He left the car in the wilderness near Durba Springs. He stuck a note in the window saying he was coming back and gave his cell phone number. Once in Perth, he received several calls from people driving along the desert trail that the car was still parked. When he returned to collect them after a few weeks, he lost his way and reached the settlement by accident. And he probably didn't regret it, because he was here for two days. He had time to build relationships with the First Nations and white administrators of Parrngurr. He wanted to instill another utopia in them - i.e. youth exchange with Poland. And to my surprise - not only mine - there was some unspecified interest in this project at the level of the Settlement Council. A few weeks later, Valdi got a call inviting him to work at the settlement. Thanks to him, "students" also came here: Piotrek and Eryk. The former participated in one of my expeditions in 2009 and a few years later he returned to Australia with the so-called the intention of education. Eryk, a motorcyclist, came to Australia by riding a motorcycle across Asia. They were both looking for a job and, thanks to Valdi, they found it here. They painted houses, repaired whatever they knew, and in his free time, Piotrek played bass in an Aboriginal band. According to Erik, whom I talked to in September 2015, the leader liked the Poles and sold them boomerangs made by the community for half-free. Polish words are recognizable in the settlement. For Aborigines, it is a language only slightly less exotic than English.

*** Excerpt from Marek Tomalik's book "Australia, where flowers are born from fire" National Geographic 2019

Wild at Heart (WA)

Wild at Heart (WA)

Wild at Heart (WA)

Próbując zrozumieć mitologię Pierwszych Ludów Australii, trafiłem na pikantny opis fragmentu inicjacji. Obrządek kultywowany jest nadal, choć nie przez wszystkich. „Matura męskości” trwa nawet do kilku tygodni i składa się z wielu etapów. Kto nie podejdzie do egzaminów, traci szacunek i jest wytykany palcami. Jeden z elementów inicjacji stanowi obrzezanie. Napletek młodzieńca odcinano ością ryby lub kawałkiem muszli.

Ten istotny obrzędowo kawałek skóry miał także swe życie po oddzieleniu go od właściciela. Otóż, na przykład, zjadano go w rytualnym posiłku, dodawszy do rozdrobnionego mięsa kangura. Zdarzało się też, że otrzymywała go siostra obrzezanego, malowała go ochrą i nosiła na szyi. Bywało, że napletek krążył z rąk do rąk, według rytualnie ustalonego porządku, po czym wracał niczym bumerang do właściciela, a ten sprawiał mu symboliczny pogrzeb, jak głosi mitologiczny przekaz*.

Życie Rdzennych jest trudne, a ich zwyczaje i zachowania, z naszego punktu widzenia, mogą budzić niepokój. Słyszałem opowieść o dziewczynce, która miała jedną nóżkę krótszą. Miała też swoje marzenie, o którym wiedzieli wszyscy bliscy: chciała latać, szybować wysoko jak orły i mieć upierzenie jak najbardziej strojne papugi. Niepełnosprawność ruchowa, z którą się urodziła, skazywała ją na śmierć. Żyła tak długo, jak długo nie istniała potrzeba intensywnego przemieszczania się. Przyszedł jednak czas na daleką wędrówkę całego plemienia. Musiała zostać zgładzona przez swoich rodziców, tak stanowiło plemienne prawo. Kiedy jej rodzeństwo zapytało pewnego dnia, gdzie jest ich siostra, ojciec odpowiedział:

– Widzicie to duże drzewo? Tam wysoko ponad nim szybuje nasze maleństwo. Tej nocy spełniła swoje marzenie i zamieniła się w ptaka. Od teraz będzie nam towarzyszyć w wędrówkach jako papuga kakadu.

* K. Kunicki, Aborygeni australijscy, Mitologie Świata, Warszawa 2007.

*** Excerpt from Marek Tomalik's book "Australia, where flowers are born from fire" National Geographic 2019

First Nations culture is based on a close connection with nature

First Nations culture is based on a close connection with nature

The culture of Indigenous Australians is based on a close relationship with nature

My name is Wajpuldania, I am an Aborigine, a pure-blooded Australian from the Aranda tribe. I am 9 years old and have chocolate-colored skin. My ancestors lived around Lake Eyre, the largest lake in Australia. It is almost completely white due to the salt content. When a drought comes, the water evaporates from it, and every few years, during heavy rainfall, its banks fill up. My dad told me that our ancestors had been here forever. At school, you told us that the first people appeared in Australia 40, or maybe even 70,000 years ago. Before the arrival of the white man's ships in the 18th century, there were at least 400,000 people living throughout the country.

When the whites saw us, they called us natives, which in English means Aborigines, and that's how it stayed, we got used to it. The first contacts with newcomers from across the great oceans were even successful. However, it soon turned out that our people did not understand the intentions of the white people. And they didn't understand our culture. My great-grandfather tells me that those were dark times, over 200 years of fights, wrongs and mutual misunderstanding. But at the same time, he boasts that he lived to see him recognized as a normal person and removed from the Book of Flora and Fauna. It was only 50 years ago! And my grandfather was among the first Indigenous Australians to gain the right to vote in 1984 and be able to vote for parliamentary candidates.

He still remembers how important this event was to him. In the city I speak English, and at home, in the yard - the dialect of my tribe. Our Aranda language is rich, has about 30,000 words and difficult grammar. I speak both languages ​​fluently, I can name, describe and arrange everything, but I think differently in each one. I must admit that this is not easy for me. I like going to school, I have friends of different skin colors. I'm the best in my class in math. And in the bush I can find water, edible fruit and I don't need a map or GPS - I can just sing my way. What I like most is my great-grandfather's stories, in which the world of my ancestors has intense colors. They are as beautiful as in the paintings of Albert Namatjira, our painter.

The culture of Indigenous Australians is based on a close relationship with nature. The myths of the First Peoples and the world of beliefs dating back to the so-called Age of Dreams, i.e. the Time of Creation, are more interesting than all the films and computer games I have ever encountered. This is a huge wealth of magical fairy tales that we cannot and do not want to convey to anyone else. My great-grandfather taught me a clan song with which I won't get lost in the bush. He also took care of my initiation - the fire of tribal initiations, thanks to which I am almost a man. My great-grandfather keeps saying that our culture is being reborn. I hope he's right.

text MAREK TOMALIK/ National Geographic KIDS

The God in Oz

The God in Oz

The God in Oz

Fragment of an article from Tygodnik Powszechny, December 2021

Beneath the surface of white Australia there is this unwanted, black one. To explore it, you would have to live for many years somewhere in the wilderness among the First Nations. Or at least wander around the Outback. Marek Tomalik lives in the Beskid Mały Mountains, and outside the windows of his house there is a space: hunched, monotonous, a bit like in the Australian Alps. Aboriginal paintings on the walls. I want to find out from Mark, who has traveled through the Australian desert 16 times, written several books about the Outback and considers himself an ambassador of Australia, what it's like to sit next to an Indigenous person. And what does this common silence mean?

– They don't want contacts with white people – says Marek. – During my trips, the ice only broke a few times: when we got a flat tire and were saved by a silent Native family passing by. I did some shopping for them at the gas station and only then did the guy tell me where he was from. The second time was when we were looking for Góra Strzelecki and asked the Natives for directions. When we used the magic word "Ancestor", they started to listen to us and drew a detailed map with a stick in the sand, because walking in the footsteps of the Ancestor is a very important mission for them. The third time I met an Indigenous artist on the Todd River, we baked kangaroo tails together. For the fourth time, don't ask me how, I managed to participate in a ceremony led by a Native elder.

– So what do you understand what Dreaming is for First Nations? Is it religion?

– For a very long time, the British deprecated everything that was Aboriginal. It was decided that since it was not the religion of the Book, but only some shamanic superstitions, it needed to be eradicated. It was only in the 1940s that systematic religious studies began to be conducted on Dreaming, or the Time of Creation. At that time, groups fascinated by these beliefs appeared in the West. Aborigines do not call it Dreaming or Dreamtime, these concepts were introduced by European invaders. They have nothing to do with sleep, sleeping or dreams. The more appropriate name Jukurrpa comes from one of the languages ​​of the desert people and is currently respected by most Aboriginal communities. To put it very simply, it is the Time of Creation, the equivalent of our afterlife, where Guardian Angels and other creative spirits live. It comes from feeling rather than intellect. Yes, in our understanding it is religion.

– Does the strength of these beliefs come from the fact that the whole of Australia is dotted with holy places, and the faith is so strongly connected with nature, cosmology and totemic ancestors? And that the Dreaming lasts forever?

– Our time is divided into the present, past and future, with them there is only one: the present. The Ancestors who created the world a long, long time ago, according to Indigenous Australians, continue to create it, and through ceremony, music and dance trance, you can return to the time of the Ancestors, the Time of Creation. And their holy places are invisible to us – profane people – they are part of the landscape.

– In your latest book, 9 Bonfires, you write: “I don't think it would be an abuse if I compare the Totemic Ancestor to the more familiar Guardian Angel, who does not take animal form, but appears, according to our tradition, in a winged human form.” Is comparison to the Christian faith your way of understanding?

– In order to lead a peaceful life, an indigenous Australian must obey the laws given by the Ancestors and perform rituals and ceremonies in their honor, which is also known in Catholicism. A Sunday walk to church, or even better, a pilgrimage to a sacred place, can be compared to the Aboriginal journey to sacred places called the walkabout and to ritual dances. Their painting of images on bodies, rocks, tree bark, and even the most modern ones on canvas is a ritual activity, a rite, and as such is subject to many rigors. Some analogies can be drawn to the writing of Orthodox and Greek Catholic icons born in prayer and asceticism.

– One of the characters in your book, a Native Elder, said: “You read the surface quite nicely, but – at your current state of initiation – you won't go deeper. And that's how it should be. It is a secured system for protecting our cultural, religious and ethnic, i.e. national, identity. That's one of the reasons we've been here for 80,000 years." Is a white man able to go deeper into this faith? 

– It's better not to dream about it. Because it is inaccessible, bordering on impossible. The trust of Indigenous Australians has to be earned over the years, and I respect that. Let's leave them alone, but let's learn from what they want to tell us and show us.

Drama among Indigenous Australians

Drama among Indigenous Australians

Drama among Indigenous Australians

It is rare for people to be harmed in Indigenous Australian communities to be white people, especially white women. First Nations societies drive the blade of violence into themselves.

Chapter of Marek Tomalik's book "At people"

Life there

Isolated Aboriginal communities vary in size – both in terms of area and number of inhabitants. And they are always open – at least to Native people. They can go on a ritual walkabout pilgrimage at any time and come back whenever they like.

Up to a hundred people live in the smallest settlements, and over a thousand in the largest ones. The number of whites contributing to communities is usually proportional. These are teachers, doctors, administrative workers and families of employees - wives, husbands and children. The location of communities has its roots in the past. They are located near a farm (there was work there, and therefore an opportunity to get food), around Christian missions or along some communication route convenient for the white man, for example near mines.

Inside the communities there are so-called secret zones, women's and men's, where some are unwelcome by others or are not allowed to enter at all. Most communities have a shop, office, health center, school, gas station, post office and telephone. A few even have an ATM and a pub, but most of these settlements, highly isolated in the desert, are "dry" in terms of alcohol and trying to bring alcohol there may be treated as a crime. High fines - from two thousand to five hundred thousand dollars - discourage potential traffickers from neighboring villages and make tourists think twice. The entry of a white person into a remote settlement is most often limited by a permit, which must be applied for at Aboriginal offices in state capitals.

It takes a long time and often ends in rejection. Whites are not allowed to enter many settlements, even with permission. The shops are very modestly stocked - but you can find cheaper (and authentic!) handicrafts there. Groceries are usually out of date and in limited supply: frozen toast, sugar, cola and canned goods, rarely anything else. After a heavy flood that cuts the community off from civilization for several weeks, this may not be the case either. Where there is a health center, you can ask for accommodation. There are usually slightly more beds than staff, so newcomers can take advantage of them. Doctors in the settlements have their hands full. Compared to white Australians, Indigenous people smoke and drink more, are more likely to have problems with hypertension, obesity and other diseases related to a sedentary (!) lifestyle, as well as diabetes (about thirty percent of Indigenous people are at potential risk).

Their way of eating is far from the "white" ideal, even further from the undoubtedly healthy diet of their ancestors. This is the result of a sudden departure from the traditional lifestyle. Fresh vegetables and fruits, and with them vitamins, reach remote desert communities very rarely. Sometimes never. The inhabitants of the settlements hunt sporadically and reluctantly. They also have no special devotion to their eternal natural pantry known as bush tucker. A few years ago, the government film project "Catch & Cook" was created - an audiovisual manual teaching how to hunt and prepare prey. There are also other programs that mobilize the body and spirit of the natives, trying to restore them to mother nature. However, there is a lack of research on the holistically understood Indigenous Australian. The white man – once again – tries to separate the soul and the body. And he makes a big mistake.

A cry of despair

The silence, or perhaps even the conspiracy of silence, surrounding Native people was broken at the end of the 20th century. Mainly thanks to Aboriginal women. They were the ones who had been shouting since the early 1990s for the government to stop turning a blind eye to the growing violence. The violence of which they are most often the victims. Twelve times more often than white Australian women in their "white" environment. In seventy percent of the adjudicated cases, the aggressor was the victim's husband or partner. It is rare for white people to be harmed in communities, especially white women, who experience violence forty-five times less often than Indigenous Australians. Aboriginal societies drive the blade of violence into themselves.

There are significant differences in crime levels depending on the settlement. Most sex crimes in Queensland are experienced by women in the most isolated northern communities. Since the early 2000s, even official government sources have reported that domestic violence and sexual crimes have reached alarming levels in many Aboriginal settlements. Appropriate tools (Task Forces) were launched many years ago to prevent the escalation of violence. Deviance and cruelty became widely accepted as an integral part of life in Indigenous Australian settlements.

Edie Carter's (Aboriginal Women Speak Out) report, based on dozens of interviews conducted in communities around Adelaide, struck a chord with the public. He recalls gang rapes involving almost fifty rapists. Seven percent of the women interviewed were raped regularly, fifty percent of them were aged 21–28. Perpetrators were Indigenous Australians (forty-one percent) and whites (forty-two percent).

Half of crimes occurred at home, and almost ninety percent of them were never reported. Out of shame and fear of revenge, but also out of fear of putting a partner, husband or father in prison. The crimes involving children remain the most hidden - from statistics and the outside world. The white man tries to find the reasons for this state of affairs and counteract it. The reasons seem obvious: the total marginalization of Indigenous Australians, deprivation of their right to land, which in turn led to the degradation of cultural tradition, the disappearance of tribal bonds, which previously - based on the natives' own law - worked fantastically. Promises broken by subsequent governments.

Rooted poverty, racism, alcohol and drugs, and against this background the male ego - already very strong in tradition - which, under the influence of stimulants, has become even "stronger", hopelessly cruel and out of control towards women and children. Many whites believe alcohol is responsible for violence. The aborigine is bad because he does not work (or works poorly) and does not value worldly goods. He is primitive, so he drinks, rapes and beats. I don't think anyone needs to be convinced that not all perpetrators of violence drink and many Indigenous Australians who drink are not aggressive.

Whites want to see things this way because alcohol was once their currency. Today it is a source of profit for… the Aboriginal Councils that run the bar system. It would be much healthier to hand them over to private hands. Profits from bars go to charity programs for children and… health funds. However and wherever these programs operate, it is easy to predict that the benefits they bring are outweighed by the devastation caused by the effects of alcoholism.

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