Aborigines of Australia
THESIS: The indigenous peoples of Australia’s peaceful hunter/gatherer society was devastated by process of British colonization in the 19th and 20th centuries and today they still struggle with the effects of the disposition and exploitation
- I. Introduction
- II. The hunter and Gatherer Lifestyle
- III. The British in the 19th and 20th Centuries
- IV. The modern day Aborigines
Aborigines of Australia
The Aborigines are considered as the indigenous inhabitants of Australia. It is believed that they moved into Australia from the Asian continent. Among the peoples of the world, they have the longest times past going back to Ice Age. In the 18th century, their population was at seven hundred and fifty thousand. The indigenous peoples of Australia’s peaceful hunter/gatherer society was devastated by process of British colonization in the 19th and 20th centuries and today they still struggle with the effects of the disposition and exploitation.
The hunter and gatherer lifestyle
The Aborigines were solely a hunter and gatherer society. They did not practice crop and animal rearing and therefore they had exclusively to rely on nature as their source of food. This was accorded to the fact that the environment at that time was able to support a lot of crops and large animals (meat) that are now extinct. The society and its practices had been defined in a specific way that promoted peaceful associations between the mode of living and the environment too. The Aborigines maintained “a nomadic lifestyle” (Lang 119). This was through the practice of role splitting. Both men and women in the community did the hunting. The easiest hunted animal was the kangaroo as it was highly populated. The men usually hunted the big and/or dangerous animals while the women were left to deal with the smaller ones. In addition to the kangaroos, men would also hunt snakes and emus. For this reason, men were the only ones allowed to carry weapons. These hunting tools were crude ones shaped from stones, bones or wood.
For fishing, hair was interwoven into holders or lines that could aid with the activity. The women had the duty of carrying children and household items during their movements from one place to another in search of food. In addition to this, they dug holes to catch small creatures for food and used hoes to dig out roots that supplied both water and food. Women also picked fruits and seeds. The seeds were then grinded to fine powder for flour. Frogs too that stored water in their skins were another source of water. In areas, that water was present in form of streams and rivers tough animal skins or skulls, both human and animals were used for fetching and ferrying purposes. The Aborigines were well adapted their environment such that they could be able to track down animals from indications like footprints.
Housing was in form of huts whose sophistication and strength ranged with the period that the group intended to live in a settlement and the climatic seasons. Other than the harmonic state that the people maintained with the environment, they also had a social governing system that maintained peace in the community. Note that the Aborigines were made of close to five hundred tribes that were differentiated by their dialects. Each tribe was given a particular settlement area that expected the clan members’ movements to be within their allocated setting. This averted conflicts that could have otherwise stemmed from land issues. Each clan too had an overseer that was responsible for the smooth running of the communal welfare. The hunting and gathering practices were taught to the children in their young age for the sake of continuation. Initiation ceremonies for the boys into manhood involved circumcision and the drinking of blood. Women were married off to many husbands. Alternatively, Hiatt (1996) argues that, “although most women were nominally the wives of the elderly men of the tribe, the latter were obliged to lend them to the younger men on stated occasions,” (44).
Religious practices involved different ceremonies that involved the whole clan or specific members only. The most significant ancestral association was the totem that provided unity and harmony in the various clans. This was simply because each totem was believed to be a combining factor in the groups as they shared and adored the same deity. Each member was also charged with rules and regulations that he/she was supposed to perform in the governing of his/her relations to the environment and to other people. Failure to adhere to these requirements would warrant punishments from the Ancestors. Story telling was used to hand over the practices on generational basis. Therefore, these practices enhanced peaceful relations in all life’s aspects. This was not the case with the arrival of the European settlers in the 19th and 20th centuries. The first people to discover the Australia continent were the Dutch. Considering the lifestyle that they encountered, the travelers refereed to the Aborigines as, “savage, cruel, black barbarians,” (Flannery 17).
The British in the 19th and 20th Centuries
The Dutch expressed their colonization disinterest in the area by adding that the area was, “the most arid and barren region that could be found anywhere on the earth. The inhabitants, too, are the most wretched and poorest creatures that I have ever seen in my age or time,” (Flannery 19). Later with the arrival of the British who colonized the region, the peaceful existence of the natives was interfered with causing devastation in their hunting and gathering practices. Note that, the British colonizers were most famous for their ‘divide and rule’ criteria and this was the initial step they infused in Australia upon settling. Land was the initial thing that the British wanted to lay their hands on. Just as the Dutch, they viewed the Aborigines as miserable people that had to be taught the advantages of civilization. They reasoned that if the natives were taught farming skills, than the land would be more profitable. In addition, they intended to incorporate ruling over the Aborigines as a way of introducing rule and governance.
The Australian natives having their lifestyle embodied by nature could not hear of the new cultivation and land rules and therefore a clash occurred between the two groups. The Aborigines resisted to the new system, as they did not want to give up their ways and practices. Concerning the land, the natives refused to use the land for cultivation as they held their ground that land and its produces are not to be used for exchange purposes. The colonizers on the other hand held that both aspects of land could and would be used for trading purposes. The Aborigines were forcefully evicted and their land acquired by the British. With the mass European settling schemes, the hunting and gathering grounds were wiped out. The water sources too were destroyed during the period. With the destruction of the food and water grounds, some of the natives began to give into the British demands for the sake of survival.
This created a major division and rift between the Aborigines as they took this move as a betrayal from their fellow brethren. The unity that was once evident was therefore destroyed and in its stead was inter clan fights. Those of the Aborigines that resorted to resistance were murdered on a large scale since the British had better and superior weaponry. With the few natives that relented to the change in living, their culture slowly ebbed out as they were introduced to such practices as alcoholism and drug use. Survivors of the massacres were held as prisoners in various camps where they were worked and most of the women were used for raping purposes. If such sexual relations culminated into the woman conceiving, after birth the child would be separated from her. With this practice, the number of full-blood natives declined.
Hunting and gathering was now completely replaced with cultivation, animal rearing and trade practices (Calvert 45). The separation of the children from their parents and tribes men led to a gradual degradation in the value and cultural practices. Continuity was further severed by the marriage practices that were fully under the colonizers control. This was made possible by the assimilation policy that gave authority to the British to control the Aborigines in all life areas. The natives were controlled on matters concerning whom they were allowed to marry, and where and whom to live with. Education was introduced as a mandatory requirement too. Jobs and right to own property was also controlled by the British. Their spiritual exploits were also hampered with the introduction of Christianity that the natives were supposed to adapt. It was a clear-cut case of being forced to adapt to a Western culture and it worked. In 1972, the policy was outdone and the Aborigines were freed from the dictatorship.
The modern day Aborigines
Today, the Aborigines have been empowered to own back their land and cultural practices. However, they still have the effects of colonization present around them. Their settlement is mainly in the desert regions of Australia. The Aborigines are now able to perform their hunting and gathering practices again but on a small scale, as both grounds have not been fully acquired because if the settlements that are still present. The environmental degradation that has been infused because of industrialization has also had negative impacts on their living style. Hunting and gathering cannot therefore be relied on as the only food source. The living areas too have changed from the makeshift huts to better housing structures that are located in towns. The living standards in these towns are very poor. The Aborigines have to live with low employment rates proving that they still live with the practice of white-collar employment. The towns have high mortality rates hinged on the serious drug problems evidenced in the areas. Alcohol consumption too is a menace to the thriving of the community.
Children are still taught of the Aborigine cultural practices and the native languages. In addition to this, there is the learning of the English language and arithmetic; both introduced by the Europeans. The low life standards are also as a result of White privilege in modern Australia. The racial and social discrimination practice towards the Aborigines can just be equated to the colonization periods. “The coming of racial violence in Australia was predicted in the same way it came to America-as a response to repeated rejection, continued frustration and the failure of peaceful methods to deliver speedy and comprehensive change,” (Clark 211). In conclusion, although the Aborigines customs and lifestyle encompassed a simple hunting and gathering system, it was revolutionized by the colonial system and culture. Its effects were more of a permanent nature as they are still felt to date in the Aborigine settlement areas in modern Australia. What is worrying is that the inducement of the culture to what formally existed is rather slow and hampered as the community has embraced modern living patterns.
Calvert, Albert. The Aborigines of Western Australia. New York: ReadHowYouWant.com, 2006. Print.
Clark, Jennifer. Aborigines & activism: race, aborigines & the coming of the sixties to Australia. Redford: Pearson Education, 2008. Print.
Flannery, Tim. The explorers: stories of discovery and adventure from the Australian frontier. Santa Monica: Grove Press, 2000. Print.
Hiatt, Lester. Arguments about aborigines: Australia and the evolution of social anthropology. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996. Print.
Lang, Gideon. The Aborigines of Australia. Charleston: BiblioBazaar, LLC, 2009. Print.