Aboriginal Culture & Heritage

Australian Aboriginal Customs


Aborigine (photo by Steve Evans - babasteve)As to the Australian Bureau of statistics there are 517.000 (2006) Aborigines, which is 2, 6% of Australia's population.

63% of Aborigines live in New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria; 28% in Western Australia and the Northern Territory; and only 9% in Tasmania and Australian Capital Territory. 32% of all people in the Northern Territory are Aborigines. The percentage of Aborigines in all other parts of Australia is 4% or less.

First people arrived to Australia between 42.000 and 48.000 years ago. It is estimated that they arrived from what is now southeast Asia. Those people were hunter-gatherers.

Aborigine (photo by Steve Evans - babasteve)

The Aboriginal oral culture and spiritual world are based on the Dreamtime. The Dreamtime or the Dreaming includes a number of inter-related stories (myths). There are at least four aspects of The Dreamtime - the beginning of all things, the life and influence of the ancestors, the way of life and death and sources of power in life.

The Aborigines have various deities who created people and world they live in. There are no deities appearing in all communities. People believe that a deity takes form of an object existing in nature like for example a certain stone. Each Aboriginal deity has various functions. One of them is the dominant one. According to this function there are three groups of Aboriginal deities – Creational, Ancestral and Totemic ones.

DidjeriduThere are about 100 Aboriginal languages. But only 20 of these have larger number of speakers. The most widely spoken Aboriginal language is Kriol. Some other Aboriginal languages are Yolngu with around 6000 speakers, Arrernte with around 3000 speakers and Warlpiri with around 3000 speakers. Most Aborigines today speak standard English and Aboriginal English which is their unique version of English language.

Music plays very important role in both everyday life and sacred ceremonies of Aborigines.Their music can be divided into three groups.

The first and largest one is used in sacred ceremonies. It is performed in a particular place and for particular purpose.

The second type of music is the semi-sacred. Good example are songs performed during the initiation ceremony of boys. These songs are sung by men. Women are present as dancers.

The third type of Aboriginal music include entertainment music. Very good example of the entertainment music is the corroboree where men dance for up to three or four hours while the women and children sing.

The most popular musical instrument used by Aborigines is didjeridu (didgeridoo) or yidaki. Experts think that didjeridu is less than 1000 years old. The name djeridu is not that old. It was first used in 1926 by Herbert Basedown (1881-1933). He used the word didjeridu to somehow describe the sound of this instrument.

Didjeridu - Aboriginal musical instrument

The didjeridu is made from a log. Fire or termites are used to hollow out the log. There are bamboo didjeridus too. A wax or resin mouthpiece is moulded to narrower end of the instrument.

The inside diameter is about 30 mm at the end which player puts in his mouth, and about 50 mm at the opposite end. The length of Didjerido (usually 100-160 cm) influence the sound.

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