Yolŋu Studies Livestream Lecture Series

Lecture 07: Culture and Identity

Lecture link: http://new.livestream.com/accounts/2047566/events/1840804/videos/18192713

[Watched at the Ethel Tory Centre, ANU, 6pm Wednesday, 16th April 2014]

In this lecture Yiŋiya talks about education, culture and identity.

"Today we are teaching about culture and identity. In the beginning as our ancestors, the predecessors, creation, ancestral spirits walked on the land, they gave us our clans, they gave us our songs, dances and the land, and the identity of who we are living across Arnhem Land... And it was the Dhuwa and Yirritja ancestral creators, they were two moieties and they walked along, coming out from the darkness out there and giving names to trees and giving names to plants, the water, the animals, the cloud, the sky and most of all [to] the Yolŋu, to the people of Arnhem Land, the languages, songs and dances that we sing about and live by. So here on Arnhem Land, this is the area that belongs to the Yolŋu, Yolŋu nation, Yolŋu people, and our songs and ceremonies are related as yothu-yindi, märi-gutharra ..."
"...this is what we mean when we talk about the clan nations: each clan, as we saw back here [showing diagram of different clans] talks about the clan nations of the yothu-yindi, märi-gutharra, waku-yapa clans immediate to your family and you can have authority and you can have ownership and you can have responsibility of other clans within your clan nations of the yothu-yindi, märi-gutharra..."
"...this is how the yolŋu system, the governance works, there is never ... one particular clan who is the land owner over a certain area ... there's this yothu-yindi, märi-gutharra, so our yothu [clan] ... they are very very much involved in whatever needs to be decided in our clan, same as the märi-waṯaŋu, the waku-waṯaŋu, the yapa-waṯaŋu they are all within this as the power and authority to say yes or no."
"... In Yolŋu life education starts ... at home, and this is where I was ... born and raised. I lived ... as these children are [indicating picture of children], just observing and learning about the bush tucker, learning about life, learning about the language, surviving, going hunting, fishing , what fish to catch, where to go, and how to keep a lookout for ... safety ... and in the end there's a catch and you learn something for the day... that is education on land and that is the first priority in Yolŋu life that we should learn or educate and teach our children the first languages, which is your own native tongue before going out to learn and survive in another man's world."
"Staying on your own country, staying on your own estate gives you freedom of choice, walking on the land freely, there is no fear ... Here our people walk for hours, catching and staying fit and healthy. There is no shops out here, there was no shops out there, there was no cars or trucks that you could jump on and drive, just simply walking on the land and automatically that kept you fit and well, fit and healthy, so health-wise [when you're] living on your own country there is no fear about another man's clan. When you're being forced to walk across another land, another clan-nations country you always have to get approval to go through or go on to their country."
"... as kids grow older like this boy [showing picture of older boy] you start to take him on to real ceremony grounds where they can start to be educated about country about the stories there significances, the totems on land."
"Here, on the hill [showing picture of hill] here we can see, the hill is made up of a turtle rope or a harpoon called the ruwal, where once a great turtle hunter hunted along this area, speared and ate and left a turtle rope here and its that ancient that it became the hill, and that is a bundle of the ruwal..."
"When we stand on ground our children are learning, our children are being educated. when you stand on the ground and teach ... the story to your children, you can ... feel the spirits of your fathers actually talking behind you and it is the land itself and the spirits of our fathers that are actually talking, so land is alive, and it welcomes visitors through you. When you welcome people, the land welcomes people and we communicate to one another and we look after and survive in one another."
"So this is [where] ... the younger kids ... probably the primary towards the secondary age ... take[s] up a further education in men's business [and] ... can be taken into the bush for the mens ceremony and vice versa, young women are also being taken through ceremony back at home by senior women and do the same disciplining about respect for land, respect for your clan members, the elders in the clan ... There is always respect in our Yolŋu community and that's what we teach about and that's what our children needs to learn."
"After gaining a sufficient education on land, by this time we start to learn about another culture, we want to educate about another man's world, to read, mathematics, english and ... start to educate our children alongside our own culture, alongside our Yolŋu studies our Yolŋu education, we start to take up ... classroom studies in a balanda [western] world. After gaining your own ground ... this is what should be done, and I feel strongly, because I know, I've been through this and this is my experience, this is what I'm talking about, this is how it should be done. I was ... born and raised in the bush and learnt for the first ten years of my life in the bush before I actually went into a classroom, which gave me ... something to be proud of when I look back now."
"And that is how education should be, learning your own culture ... white man's world [is] saying there is no education out there on country... [they are saying:] "come to the major communities, come to the big cities and learn about how to read and write and educate your children", but I say there is education on land, there is education out there, that is school out there when we observe and participate in ceremonies observe and hunt for bush tucker and the languages that we maintain, that is learning, that is learning on country ..."
"... lately ... the Yolŋu matha class was taken up in Charles Darwin University here by the woman named Waymamba and Michael Christie. They started about eighteen to twenty years ago and started teaching about Yolŋu culture, teaching people ... who want[s] to learn about the stories of the Yolŋu land, the stories of the language [and] the culture ... and it has been going very very successfully, for the past 15 to 20 years as the Yolŋu studies classes were going by and that is maintaining stories, that is educating other people within the states and out towards the world."
"... crocodiles, snakes and other dangerous animals ... the winds up there, the clouds, the rain, the rivers, the water are all related as yothu-yindi, märi-gutharra. They are part of you, you are part of it. When a mountain is pulled down by big bulldozers, when a tree is pulled down, that is your spirit on that, the images of that are within you and you are within that image."
"This is the question that comes up when we start talking about the Government... people have been talking about 'Stronger Futures', 'Closing the Gap'... what do you really mean? ... you have... a different point of view of 'Closing the Gap' and through my teachings I have a different point of view of 'Closing the Gap'. You want to close the gap by bringing us into town... into another man's land... [whereas] I am teaching about closing the gap to actually bring the digital technology, bring the resources onto my land, so I can teach about... your culture (white man's culture) and my own culture to my children on the land, right on the spot and on our own estates and country, so Closing the Gap... what gap?"
"Maybe we need to come together, sit down, come with me... I am prepared to come and sit down with you... I'm prepared to come and sit at your table, eat with forks and knives and live the way you want me to live and ... I want you to do the same thing: come and sit under a tree... join in the ceremonies, come to my country, come to my land, we'll sit down and learn about ... how we live, so we can do it ... both ways, together. Help one another. Journey with us, and we'll show you. Out there is a land that you will never know about unless you come and actually walk on it. There is a story out there you will never know unless you can come and sit with me. There is a country out there that you will never know unless you can come and walk with me, walk along and share the food... I'm prepared to come and sit down with you, I'm prepared to come and live with you, the way you want me to live and same way, I am asking you to come and live my ways as well. That way we can close that gap together. That way we can share one another's opinion. That way we can work together and make a stronger future for our generation both non-indigenous and the indigenous people, especially of the Yolŋu lands on this country that we teach by."
"So that is why 'closing the gap'... should be both ways. Come sit down with me, talk about it, and we'll improve services and we'll talk quietly, we'll talk friendly ... My people, our people on Arnhem land have never created any problems for anybody. We have minded our own affairs, minded our own businesses. We've never interfered with another man's culture ... We just want to live, we just want to educate our children to be... responsible children, to carry on... And we are willing to take up another culture, we are willing to, but let it be that it is not done through force... If you want any development done on our land, if you want any development done through education, through buildings, through ... developing country, making businesses, let's talk about it, let's come and sit down. We've never harmed anybody, we want to be friendly, we want to discuss matters friendly way."
"Towards the end, there is a hope, there is a hope that we need to look at, that what has happened in the past and how people have lived, way back in the creation time, ceremonies, we were [living] in harmony ... and then the influence of other people came through, interfering with us... talking... started, [and it] just brought a lot of tension to our people, just brought a lot of fear into the communities and we are still living in fear, we are still living in doubt. What is happening? What is happening to our community?... We need to fix it. And we need to go and sit quietly and discuss the matter with people how we can talk about things and solve the problem. Let's work together. Let's close that gap together... in a manner that we'll all both understand each other."
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