By Cally Jetta
Sometimes non-Aboriginal people struggle to view Aboriginal society from a non-ethnocentric perspective. The only way they can relate to Aboriginal culture (or any other culture) is by measuring it against their own, often unfavourably.
Many times we have encountered the statements:
- ‘You were all still living in the Stone Age.’
- ‘All you managed to invent was a stick.’
- ‘You should be grateful that we brought civilisation here.’
Firstly, what constitutes civilisation? Having laws, kinship and marriage structures, territories, and spirituality? Is it having clear family roles and responsibilities and living in a way that promotes and nurtures wisdom, kindness, sharing and integrity?
If so, Aboriginal culture is quite possibly one of the most civilised cultures on Earth.
We have some of the most complex marriage and kinship systems in the world. Our spirituality was practised and known unanimously without division or argument. Our diet was incredibly nutritious and our health was good and life spans generally wrong. We had a very strict Lore system that had maintained order, integrity, prosperity and settled disputes effectively for countless centuries. We had dancers, artists, storytellers, doctors, teachers and Lore men. Our territories were so well known and respected that fences were not needed. Our agricultural practices were in tune with the land and far more subtle than those of the invaders. So the newcomers completely failed to see them at all. Or they pretended not to so it was easier to de-humanise us and justify our mistreatment. It is disturbing that still today, with all the information available out there that people make such statements. That they actually believe any cultural elements that differ to what they personally know are inferior. Still they use reasoning that we were and are a primitive race deserving of invasion to minimise an abhorrent past and their harsh criticism of Aboriginal people.
We didn’t invent things we had no need for or that desecrated the land beyond repair. Why would we rape and pillage a land that provided every thing we needed for a happy and healthy life? It’s not a matter of intelligence but a matter of choice and cultural obligation. If intelligence were the key factor our people wouldn’t have successfully sustained themselves and this harsh land for tens of thousands of years. They wouldn’t have been able to speak several native languages.
They definitely would not have adapted so quickly to the newcomers ways, learnt English with ease and developed some of the best horsemanship and stockmen skills this country has ever seen. Nor would we have been able to adapt and survive such rapid change.