Wednesday, October 01, 2003

Where the hell am I----------Ahh yes October 1 2003 (orientated to time), in the north of Sweden (orientated to place) and someone has killed the foreign minister (seems orientated).....That was a while ago but since then there has been little time to do anything other than work work work....all is going well ( for me that is, not for the investigation surrounding the murder of Anna Lindh). I have got a paid position at the university building a virtual world for the computer lab I am working in as part of my term paper. The new computer is buzzing along and I have started conducting experimants in sound with it......The reaserch for my term paper is humming along faster than a lizard in a blender and my family is well and beautiful. Will post something literary here for the masses....I know the paper I wrote as part of the installation at Umea University:
Didgeridoo as Compass. Maps in Sound.
Homage to the Spirit Maps of the Australian Aborigines

“There are many sacred stories here. I am telling you all this correctly, so that you will be able to pass this on. We also belong to the country just along the north side, which is the wind dreaming, which came this way from Watiyajirri. The dreaming which we find here, the wind dreaming has its home just in the south and it came here from Watiyajirri. It blew across in here along the north side from Wangkapurlawarnu. Yes. If you had been here yesterday you would have heard some of this. It really belongs to the Warrumungu and Warnmanpa people.”
Jimmy Jungarrayi
Senior traditional owner of the budgerigar dreaming at Patilirri (1990)

My role here is as vehicle. I am not Aboriginal and I do not seek legitimation through explanation of contacts or my unfolding and displaying the sense of respect I have for this culture and people (although perhaps obvious). Rather I have stumbled upon some features of a culture and the knowledge contained within, which seem to make tremendous sense (like many of my generation in Australia, all born after the referendum for Aboriginal citizenship in 1967) particularly if viewed in the context of contemporary society in the Australian continent. A land of fragile ecosystems and hybrid cultures, where the movement from a complex of nomadic hunter-gatherer inter-linked societies to a capitalist resource based economy has taken much less than the 215 years of European occupation. In this time the rainforest has been reduced to 1% of its pre-European settlement coverage, salinisation threatens 12 million hectares of Australian land, and our rate of mammal extinction is the worst in the world. This is but a glimpse of the situation, but it can be so when viewing a microcosm.
I believe if there is to be a general adaptation of sustainable development in the western world, a consideration for landmass as more than a source of wealth must be developed. This can be achieved through an emotional awareness of place, or ‘country’ as Aboriginal people call it, a feeling for the land. A conception of Self as related to topography beyond the political and the national, or as Felix Guattari wrote;

“Every individual and social group conveys its own system of modelising subjectivity: that is, a certain cartography- composed of cognitive references- with which it positions itself in relation to its affects and anguishes, and attempts to manage its inhibitions and drives” (1).

The map can thereby be a tool for change in a world held fast in the grip of progress, the promise of the gain in spite of the drain. It was Captain Charles Marlow who was one among many (my great great Grandfather was another) who wanted to fill the spaces that had actually already been filled 60 000 years before in Australia, as he confessed:

“When I was a little chap I had a passion for maps. I would look for hours at South America, or Africa, or Australia, and lose myself in the glories of exploration. At that time there were many blank spaces on the earth, and when I saw one that looked particularly inviting on a map (but they all looked like that) I would put my finger on it….” (2).

So the filling up of space for one group became the emptying for another. However there has been much survival, although of the over 300 Aboriginal languages thought to have existed before white settlement in 1788 only about 80 remain today. What has survived of culture I cannot be holder of, except by invitation. This has come in my experience with kindness and willingness to explain and teach, but I have also met fast words of hostility, and occasional violence. This I can also understand for the crimes have been many.
‘Didgeridoo’ or ‘Didjeridu’ is an Euro-Australian name for an extremely ancient (as in older than imperial Rome, Hellenistic Greece, Lascaux) wind instrument traditionally found in the central northern part of Australia. The most common Aboriginal name for it comes from the Yolngu people of north east Arnhem Land, and this is Yidaki. In Yolngu society it is a sacred instrument, as Aboriginal elder and Australian rock star Mandawuy Yunupingu, from the band Yothu Yindi explains:

“Be aware, however that its origins are sacred and secret to Yolngu men. These stories cannot be told here, can only be shared with initiated men. The Yidaki is a male-orientated instrument. In Yolngu society women are forbidden are forbidden to play it as its origins are sacred to men” (3).

This female ban is not common to all groups that use the Didgeridoo as a ceremonial instrument, however the stories and histories connected to the dreamings are always recognised as a sacred and are secret to the uninitiated. One of the Didgeridoos in this instillation was cut and shaped by women from Doomadgee community and painted by a young male Aboriginal artist. The Didgeridoo is consistent with all aspects of traditional Aboriginal culture in having an established context supporting it, these include song cycles, which are largely fixed and relate to stories of country (again a device of cognitive mapping). Today the Didgeridoo has also been removed from its original context and has found contexts in what is often referred to as New Age and Alternative Lifestyle discourses (4). It is also used in jazz, fusion, dance and world music. With thousands of players in the United Kingdom it could be seen as a musical example of the ‘Empire Writes Back’. It is a cultural export that comes from a culture still struggling with those who appropriate it. As a fifth generation white Australian I am in some ways connected to the history of the Aboriginal people and in some ways far removed from it. My attachment to the Didgeridoo and feeling for the struggle of the Aboriginal people is part of this.
What has survived of Aboriginal (Koori, Murri, Yapa as they call themselves depending from where in Australia they come from) tradition and that has grown strong today can be found in a huge treasure house of cultural practice taking the forms of dance, song, poetry, painting, carving, weaving, music, writing, and perhaps above all a caring and emotion for the sustainability of living/liveable land. The narrative knowledge interwoven, often through several of these practices simultaneously, is the frame upon which the forms are hung. This provides information on who the individual is which has these stories/dances /markings/images passed on to them, how they are to move through and interact with the land that has been left for them (not “to” but “for”), at what times of the season are certain rituals to be performed at certain places, what foods can be gathered at what times by whom, which groups are suitable as sources for partners and what lands can be custodial to their offspring. In short a three dimensional map in sound, vision, and space, which lies at the centre of culture and self- identity, which is really all the same thing in the case of traditional culture.
It was an intricate system that suffered badly under the colonial and carceral administration of early white settlement. In contemporary terms according to the 1996 census there are 386 049 Aboriginal and Torres Straight Islander people in Australia and its territories. Aboriginal people currently have a life expectancy equivalent to those found in the general Australian population back in 1901(5).

1. Felix Guattari “Chaosmis: An ethico-aesthetic paradigm” Trans. Paul Bains & Julian Pefanis, Indiana University Press 1992
2. Joseph Conrad “Heart of Darkness” Penguin Popular Classics London 1994
3. Mandawuy Yunupingu from “The Didjeridu: From Arnhem Land to Internet” Ed. Karl Neuenfeldt John Libbey & Co Sydney 1997 p.vii
4. For more on the past present and future of the Didgeridoo see Karl Neuenfeldt’s detailed and respectful text.
For a detailed report on the shameful condition of Aboriginal health and welfare today (2001) see:

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