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Sacred Geographies – Australia

Sacred Geographies – Australia

A sacred geography as Uluru represents the geographic grouping of sacred places according to various mythological, symbolic, astrological, geodesical, and shamanic factors. 

Australia Ayres Rock Uluru

The rock formation of Uluru (Ayers Rock) is the most prominent sacred sites of the Aboriginal people. Rising 346 meters high, with a circumference of 9.4 kilometers, Uluru is often referred to as a monolith, but it is instead part of a larger underground rock formation including Kata Tjuta (distant about 50 kilometers).

Australia Ayres Rock Uluru

Uluru is only the exposed tip of a much greater mass of rock extending far below the surrounding plain as an integral part of the earth’s crust. Probably, both rocks are the remnants of a sedimentary bed laid down more than 600 million years ago, raised by movements of the earth’s crust, formed into a mountain, and then eroded. 

Archaeological findings suggest that Aboriginal people settled 10,000 years ago. The aboriginal tribe of Anangu are the direct descendants of these beings and are responsible for the protection of these ancestral lands. According to Aboriginal legends, during Alcheringa (Dreamtime) ancestral souls in the form of animals and humans emerged from the interior of the Earth and began to wander over the land. Their everyday actions (play, singing, fishing, hunting, marriage, and death) determined the characteristics of the landscape and their bodies transformed into hills, caves, lakes, and other landforms at the end of Alcheringa; moreover, during their wandering the ancestors determined the sacred paths, named Songlines, interconnecting the sacred places of power. Thus, the ancestors left to the Aboriginal people a sacred geography, a pilgrimage tradition, and a nomadic way of life. For the Aboriginal people, walkabouts along the songlines of their sacred geography were a way to support and regenerate the spirits of the living Earth experiencing a living memory of their ancestors by singing the songs that told the myths of the Dreamtime and gave travel directions across the desert. At the sacred sites the aborigines performed various rituals to invoke the kurunba (the spirit power of the place) to the benefit of the tribe and to the health of the surrounding lands. 

In traditional Anangu society, a separation of responsibilities by gender was determined by Tjukurpa to ensure a balance of work underpinned by a strong sense of cooperation. Women were traditionally responsible for gathering water and fruits, seeds, vegetables, grubs, and honey ants, but all to hunt small animals. Men were responsible for making tools and hunting larger animals. Children accompanied their parents and other adults to collect bush food, playing, and digging. Knowledge of the land and the behaviour and distribution of plants and animals comes from Tjukurpa. This knowledge is carefully passed on to young people who have inherited the right to that knowledge because it entails great responsibility. Rock art is one of the many ways to transmit such knowledge. There are many layers of pictures, symbols and figures painted on top of each other. This is because the same sites have been used in Anangu education for tens of thousands of years. The rock surfaces are like a classroom blackboard that a teacher has used to illustrate a lesson, and only those who attend the class can fully decipher the notes left behind. Anangu rarely create new rock art now. However, they still use the old rock art and sand drawings (along with paintings on canvas) to teach creation stories and ensure the continuation of knowledge. Notwithstanding, the man I’ve met at the site was not happy with such policies and complained about the last drawings he made will be the last to appear in Uluru. He nicely showed me, and you can see below:

Australia Ayres Rock Uluru

Ever since the British first invaded, Aboriginal peoples have had their land stolen from them or destroyed. Until 1992, when it was finally overturned, the legal principle governing British and then Australian law regarding Aboriginal land was that of ‘terra nullius’ – that the land was empty before the British arrived, belonged to no-one, and could legitimately be taken over. Most has still to be returned today, and the loss of their land has had a devastating social and physical impact on Aboriginal peoples. The initial invasions also sparked huge waves of disease that killed thousands – many others were massacred. In just over one hundred years from the first invasion of their land, their numbers were reduced from up to an estimated one million to only 60,000.

Australia Aboriginal native

References

Chatwin, Bruce; The Songlines; Penguin Books; London; 1988

Sacred Sites. Retrieved from https://sacredsites.com/oceania/australia/uluru_ayers_rock.html

Aboriginal People Conditions. Retrieved from https://www.survivalinternational.org/tribes/aboriginals

Anangu Culture. Retrieved from https://parksaustralia.gov.au/uluru/discover/culture/

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