Australian Aboriginal Music And Dance

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CulturallyOurs Podcast Australian Aboriginal Dance And Music Culture

CulturallyOurs
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Australian Aboriginal Music And Dance
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Show Details

In this episode we explore the music and dance culture of the Djabugay people, one of Australia’s Aboriginal tribes. The Djabugay live in Eastern Queensland right by the Great Barrier Reef and have a beautiful culture and heritage that is in tuned with the land, the sea, the moutains and the animals. They use stories, dance and music to share their Djabugay perspective of connection, belonging, and ‘being part of’ country. The land, the sea, the rainforest, the rivers and the mountains are all connected.

In the recent years, in an effort to reignite indigenous culture, efforts were made to cultivate a re-introduction of indigenous lifestyle by promoting and educating the public on indigenous culture, art, lifestyle and traditions. It is really amazing to see this vibrant indigenous culture beginning to thrive as people want to understand and appreciate their roots.

Aboriginal communities in Australia are not homogenous – the many Aboriginal Nations across Australia make up one of the most diverse Indigenous cultures in the world.

Show Notes

Karthika explores the music and dance culture of the Djabugay people – Australian Aboriginal people who are the original inhabitants of mountains, gorges, lands and waters of a richly forested part of the wet tropics of Queensland including the famous Barron Gorge and its surrounding areas. Australia’s aboriginal culture is so beautiful and so very rich in its narratives. There is an inherent connection among all living things and nature. It is considered one of the oldest living cultures because these practices are still in place and built up generation after generation as young people want to understand where they really come from.

The Transcript

This is the music and language of the Djabugay people.

The Djabugay are a group of Australian Aboriginal people who are the original inhabitants of mountains, gorges, lands and waters of a richly forested part of the wet tropics of Queensland including the famous Barron Gorge and its surrounding areas. The melody you heard in the background are the haunting sounds of the didgeridoo – a long hollow wooden tub like structure that you blow into. Trust me, it is much more complicated than it sounds but the music or tones are so melodious and soothing.

Dja-bu-guy” is the name of the tribe of Aboriginal people who live in the Kuranda region in Qweenstown in Australia. The present Kuranda Village was called Ngunbay or the place of platypus which is a semiaquatic egg-laying mammal endemic to eastern Australia. The Kuranda region was once an important camping area with good fishing and hunting for locals tribe. In those early years, Kuranda was a farming area producing mainly timber, dairy cattle and coffee. The village has evolved a lot since then and today, it’s a vibrant little village in the Rainforest enjoyed by locals and visitors alike.

But like many native cultures around the world a lot happened when colonization spread. Much of the original culture and heritage of these tribes were destroyed and lost. People were killed, whole communities obliterated and their way of life threatened. A similar story happened to many of Australia’s aboriginal tribes. Yet over time a different kind of movement started to emerge. A movement to document, preserve and promote the indigenous way of life – the aboriginal culture, history, art, dance and lifestyle – not just for their dependents but also for others now living in many of the colonized states.

Ever since starting CulturallyOurs and connecting with people all over the world, I have definitely become more aware of all the diversity around me – be it in art, food, culture and lifestyle. I love learning and listening to people as they share their story, their culture and their heritage. I seek out experiences that will educate me and help me understand the world as I know it. It is so easy to say what happened does not matter because it does not affect me, or question if what happened was so long ago is even relevant. But to appreciate and accept today, we must understand what happened yesterday. And work together on how things can be made better. During my time in Australia, it was so refreshing to see Aboriginal culture being promoted in schools as part of the curriculum, at events and at concerts. Indigenous tribes were welcomed into tourist places and indigenous tour operators promoted and encouraged. I know these things take time but the fact that change is welcomed and encouraged was exciting to see.

Australia’s aboriginal culture is so beautiful and so very rich in its narratives. There is an inherent connection among all living things and nature. It is considered one of the oldest living cultures because these practices are still in place and built up generation after generation as young people want to understand where they really come from.

So I welcome you to listen and appreciate the music, the dance and storytelling culture of the Djabugay people – one of Eastern Australia’s aboriginal tribes – on this episode of CulturallyOurs.

History of the Djabugay people

The land around Kuranda in Eastern Australia has been home to the Djabugay Aboriginal people for more than 10,000 years. They are the original inhabitants of this land – the mountains, rainforests and the sea. But at the start of the colonization period, a lot of that changed as settlers started moving in and the opening up of the land for gold and tin mining. The access was along tracks of the Bama ( the rainforest) people which had an immediate impact on the Djabugay people.

With the growing mining population in Herberton and a desperate need to get supplies to and from the coast, a railway route was planned. In May 1886 construction of the Cairns to Herberton railway began over one of the Aboriginal walking tracks, which crossed the mountain ranges and went down to the coast. This was not popular with the Djabugay, who stood up to the white settlers. But in the end, they and their land were taken over. An infamous massacre, known as the Speewah massacre, took place in the mid-1890s where much of their people were killed and their way of life destroyed. The railway from Cairns took several years to construct starting in in 1887, reaching Kuranda in 1891. Negotiating steep terrain and dense rainforest, teams of workers forged their way up the mountain creating a railway line of 75km and consisting of 15 tunnels.

Today, the Kuranda Scenic Rail is now a popular tourist attraction where visitors marvel at the sheer beauty on a journey through World Heritage rainforest. I too am guilty of this. I loved the train ride up the mountain but as I learn about the hardships that the workers and the indigenous people suffered during the course of its construction, my heart felt heavy.

Before white man, the population of the indigenous tribes in the Cairns area was estimated at between 4000 and 5000, but by the turn of the century their numbers had rapidly declined. Coffee, the regions first cash crop, was cultivated around 1896. The Bama people were soon utilized as farm laborers on the rapidly expanding plantations around Kuranda, until well into the twentieth century. Many Bama became fringe dwellers on the edge of white settlements, unable to hunt and fish, or move around as they had for thousands of years. It wasn’t until 2004 that the Djabugay were recognized as native owners of the Barron Gorge National Park in Queensland and given the right to own land.

In the recent years, in an effort to reignite indigenous culture, efforts were made to cultivate a re-introduction of indigenous lifestyle by promoting and educating the public on indigenous culture, art, lifestyle and traditions. It is really amazing to see this vibrant indigenous culture beginning to thrive as people want to understand and appreciate their roots.

Aboriginal communities in Australia are not homogenous – the many Aboriginal Nations across Australia make up one of the most diverse Indigenous cultures in the world.

Storytelling, music and dance of Djabugay people

Storytelling is a rich part of the Djabugay culture and heritage. They share stories of how their ancestors hunted animals, how they harvested honey, and how everything is really connected. The fact that they pray before hunting is really quite moving. They thank the animal for its meat and only take what is needed and required at that moment. Proof of a culture and a tradition aimed at maintaining balance and harmony with nature and life around.

With names like bageka (fresh water turtle), sea hawk (quela), gawei (stars) it is easy to see how the world around them influences every part of their life.

They use stories, dance and music to share their Djabugay perspective of connection, belonging, and ‘being part of’ country. The land, the sea, the rainforest, the rivers and the mountains are all connected. Their totemic identities like the cassowary provide associated responsibilities with caring for that aspect of the environment.

When the European settlers came they associated the Aboriginal land as a wilderness of no intrinsic value other than mining and supporting growing settlements. But for the aboriginals this land was home, evidence of settlements go back tens of thousands of years. Every rock, every stream, every tree had a story of the past that stretches across time and space for thousands of years. And these stories – this past – is spoken of in their native language and passed down through stories and art from generation to generation.

Body painting and art

Aboriginal body painting and personal ornamentation is an ancient tradition which carries deep spiritual significance for the Australian Indigenous people. The body painting is different between tribes and locations. And it often relates to spiritual matters as well. The specific designs and motifs used reveal their relationships to their family group, social position, tribe, ancestors, totemic fauna and tracts of land.

As you can imagine, there are very strict guidelines to how the body painting and adornment is carried out and an Aboriginal person is not allowed to just use any motives or adornment in their transformation. They must follow traditional, respected patterns.

Every type of painting and decoration corresponds to Aboriginal laws, regulations or convention, as well as religious functions.

Color of the body painting also varies between different regions of Australia and tribes. Clay is often used as a color source, as is as ochre. Many tribes use precise color pairing such as pink and red or yellow and white. Feathers, leaves and plant materials are also used to add color to arm and leg ornaments. And they are definitely used in ceremonies involve storytelling, singing and dancing.

I even got my face painted in streaks of red and white when I visited the cultural center in Cairns as a way to welcome me, a visitor, into the tribe. It was such an honor.

The Djabagay as it is with most Aboriginal tribes around Australia use their dance rich culture to communicate and educate. They use traditional Aboriginal dance to tell stories of their ancestors, stories of the dreamtime people which document various narratives around creation, stories of warriors and brave tribal members, stories of love and family. It truly is a beautiful way to learn about the native communities.

There are several versions of the dreamtime story which signifies the story of creation, even within the Djabugay people.

I have linked to the original Youtube video in the shownotes so please do take a lisen to the language, music and story as told by a djabugay person.

  • Ngawu Djabuganydji – I am Djabugay.
  • Bama nganydji gulun-da nyina-ymu, galggarr-mu – Our People have lived here from long ago.
  • Nganydjin gurra-gurra wabarr-a-galiny minya-wu, maa waygal-a-gali- ya, gulun-da, guyu, nyinggarra-djada duga-ya, warrma djundaya – Our ancestors went hunting for meat, searching for bush foods, catching fish and eel, and dancing warrma (a corroboree).
  • Gudjumbarray gulbul ngundany magayiya bulmba djarri-ya – They saw the sea rising and drowning the land.
  • Nganydjin Bulurru Damarri bana burrungany, Gimuy guri: gundany – Our Storytime Creator, Damarri, he stopped the rising waters and made Gimuy (Cairns) safe.
  • Our stories go way back in time. Once, our hunting grounds stretched twenty miles to the Barrier Reef and you could walk there. At the end of the last ice age the waters rose up and flooded the land all the way to where the coastline is today.

There is another popular story of creation – the story of Buda-dji 

Buda-dji is the Carpet Snake who, in the dreamtime, carved out the Barron River and the creeks that join onto it, from the coast to the Tablelands.

Buda-dji the Carpet Snake travelled many times along the Barron Gorge with his beautiful Nautilus shells. He bartered these Nautilus shells with different clan groups along the river for dilly bags, eel traps and other useful items.

Before he started his journey Buda-dji went up along Stoney Creek “Garndal-Garndal” and came to the falls, which he named “Diwunga” where he sang and danced. Buda-dji then went back down to where Stoney Creek meets the Barron River, from there, he began his journey up along the river.

Three bird-men followed Buda-dji, they were after his beautiful shells. They asked Buda-dji for the shells and he replied “I have to give them to the people up along the river and they will give me dilly bags and eel traps and other things.” Driven by their anger and greed the three bird-men left and made plans to ambush Buda-dji. They waited for him further up along the river. Before Buda-dji could reach the people the three bird-men ambushed him near Barron Falls “Din-Din” and Kuranda “Ngunbay”. They then chopped him up with their stone axe into many pieces. They scattered Buda-dji’s pieces in many places throughout the Djabugay tribal land and far into the Tablelands mountains. Every place where a body piece of Buda-dji’s landed was named after that body part. And those places became sacred for the Djabugay.

There are many variations of the dreamtime stories as told by Australia’s aboriginal tribes. Each tribe has its own rendition, but each story is meaningful and important for its spiritual and cultural significance. It is their way of weaving the threads of connection between past, present and future – between the land, its animals and their own lives.

The core essence of connection, interaction and commonality among all living beings and nature is really hard to miss.

 

Leave your comments below

  1. Jay Artale says:

    It’s so great to read about cultures that still honor the tradition of storytelling, it’s an important part of our shared heritage, and without stories we do nothing but live in the moment. Stories bring the past alive, teach us lessons, and can inspire us into action.

    • Karthika Gupta says:

      Storytelling has been such a timeless tradition and there are so many stories about cultures that we don’t know still. Learning about them always makes us better human being, IMO