We have a couple of lovely visitors staying with us from the land down under. They were both raised on rural dairy farms and are quite down to earth.
I have been asking about the cultural relations between the Aboriginal population and those of European ancestry in Australia. Their perspective is quite honest and derived from personal experience as opposed to academic. They are not concerned with political correctness or viewing relations objectively. I find their candidness refreshing.
Last night I heard the following story: in the white farming community where our visitor *Pamela grew up, there was an Aboriginal grouping quite close by, living on what they called a ‘reserve’.
The story goes, that when one of the influential and well known Aboriginal chiefs died, the priest from Pamela’s village insisted that he officiate at the funeral, and ‘splashed out’ on a fancy, expensive coffin of hardwood and a plush interior for the chief.
After the funeral, the priest made a courtesy visit to the chief’s family some time later. What he found was that the body had been dug up and the children of the chief’s family were found in the coffin, splashing around in their makeshift bathtub.
Imagine the shock for the priest! I’m sure he was incredulous. To this date, the majority of whites assume that the people were simply ignorant, uncultured and ‘wild’…
So after Pamela’s narration of the story , I decided to investigate/research the beliefs and practices surrounding death and burial amongst Australia’s Aboriginal groups.
What I found cemented the notion I had about the blatant cultural/religious imposition.
Aboriginal groups have a completely different concept of what happens to body and soul after death and the traditional practices differ widely and wildly from the Christian conservatives who settled in these areas and proceeded to set up missions.
I found a highly detailed article online here (for those of you who might find this interesting), about the complicated funeral of an influential Aboriginal chief in 1997.
Basically, after a Christian funeral (to appease the ‘whitefellas’), the body is transported to a specially selected cave, removed from the coffin (which is simply a mode of carriage to the spot), and arranged on a high platform, protected from animals and exposed to drying wind.
After two years the bones are collected and ceremonially treated, and then presented to the family of the deceased in an elaborate ceremony of mourning and remembrance. Traditional belief sees the body being locked up in a box and sunk ‘six feet under’ as against the natural procession for body and soul.
Can’t blame them really…
Find here a very concise and well presented site on statistics regarding Aboriginal Australians.
*Any names of real people in this story have been changed to protect their identity.