Searching for Songlines – Australia
All in a word
It was all very well having a non-native Australian – ‘a whitefella’ – telling me what Australian Aborigines believed. But at the tiny hamlet of Karrke in Kings Canyon, I was eager to hear the other side of the story.
Peter and Christine, an Aboriginal couple, run a small al fresco workshop to show visitors how their tiny Wanmarra community (population: xo)traditionally made music using clapping sticks, threw a spear, clubbed enemies and cooked witchetty grubs. Peter told me and a group how men and women had different jobs, different ceremonies and different stories – “men’s business” and “women’s business” – which they must never divulge to the other gender.
I asked why. He smiled and said, “Tjukurpa“. When l asked him to explain, he said, “Tjukurpa is the land, the law and the culture. It’s the dreaming the creation.”
In short, tjukurpa is everything. While it can be loosely translated as a kind of ‘worldvision’ or ‘philosophy’, it is all of these things and more besides – it can also mean “No comment” or “Stop being nosey”.
Christine showed us how she made natural ochres using plants and soil, how to winnow grains with the breeze, and how she grinds seeds. She said flavours were never mixed in meals, as if blandness was the main goal of cooking. The reason? Tjukuipa. She said men went after wallabies and emus while women gathered and never, ever hunted. You can guess why.
Though males and females kept their ceremonial walks strictly gendered, the sexes did travel together in the past as small tribal groups.
“When they set off fora new place, they would leave a grinding stone at each site they used,” said Peter, pointing to a small stone implement at his feet. “This would show other people that they had been there. It was like a map. ”
I asked him if the tribes had songlines to help them get from place to place. “The songlines are the title deeds,” he said. “We used to walk up to 1,500 kilometres. You would cross into other tribal territories and the people there may or may not share their knowledge with you. That’s the tjukurpa!”