Jump to content
The Corroboree
Sign in to follow this  

Aboriginal marriage and ancient traditions

Recommended Posts

Hello everyone,

This may sound off topic but I have been researching Australian Aboriginal and abriginal culture in general and it has led me to so many questions!!!

but there is one particular that stands out.

And that is the traditions of marriage through out ancient cultures.

i understand why polygamy existed as a survival and economic tool but I also read this 


"The initiation of girls consists of cutting tribal signs on the upper part of the body  as a rule some long scars across the breast – immediately after the first sign of maturity. The other preparation for womanhood is a rough-and-ready puncture to prepare her for mating with men. The puncture is performed by an old man belonging to the girl’s family group, assisted by an old woman whose role is to pacify the girl while the crude deflorescence is accomplished. The only concession made to the weaker sex is that the old man winds some kangaroo hairs round his finger so as to carry out his job as gently as possible.

Afterwards the men who happen to be present and who, according to the marriage laws, are eligible as husbands have intercourse with the girl. If she is not already promised to one of them, she continues to have casual intercourse with men of her group until she gets married. Even after marriage it sometimes happens at special ceremonies that she is ‘lent’ to one of the other unmarried men who, by group rules, might have become her legal husband. A man who objects to lending his wife in this way to a tribal brother on a visit is considered greedy and anti-social.


So my question is? Did aboriginal women have A choice in who they wanted to be with/have intercourse with?

Where they forced to have sex? what is the purpose of having multiple men have sex with the girl? 



Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

I would firstly query your source for this info, and then would secondly put forward that each indigenous 'tribe' more than likely had different cultural practices around initiation and marriage rites as such. 


We have to be very wary of generalising with indigenous culture ,particularly in Oz, as geographically these people populated vast areas, usually with geographical boundaries dividing lands. Two peoples living on adjoining lands may have vastly different practices.


So an answer to your 3 questions may be as follows:


It depends on the group of people she is a part of.

As above

As above


No smart-arse dickishness intended in this response btw. 

  • Like 5

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Yep, word - totes agree with RC..


This is a mighty big continent populated by an incredible array of Aboriginal nations.





  • Like 2

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Ive read a lot about Aboriginal culture and Ive not seen any accounts like that.

I cant quote any alternative ceremonies as my books are up the farm, but generally women were treated with more  respect, as in smaller tribes everyone was important and respected.

  • Like 5

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi @beau_dean

The source is The Last Cannibals (1957) by Jens Bjerre.I note that Bjerre is not widely cited, which means his claims may well never have been academically tested. I can't comment on the veracity of what he wrote, but I would encourage you to think on the following:


Anthropology is supposed to be objective in the sense that anthropologists are not supposed to judge - only record and report - hence the use of cultural relativism as an axiom of anthropology. (Note that this is different to moral relativism or neo-nihlism.) Was Bjerre observing in this way? Two people may witness the same event, but what they see (or what they think they see), what they remember later, and what they report are all influenced by their worldview - including any predjudices they have. In any case, evaluating something based on 'universal' values, and properly locating something in it's cultural context are not mutually exclusive, it just takes mental effort (which most people are keen to avoid)


What is the broader context of Bjerre's observations? What else did he have to say about these people he was observing? I wonder if it puts these events in a different light? Context is important. 


Regarding context, if you didn't read the whole book, and haven't read or studied a good amount of anthropology/social science/aboriginal studies etc, you are not getting the whole story. If you found that excerpt on the web (and I'm willing to bet that you did), then I'm pretty sure I know where you found it (and where previous redditors found it). Without getting off-track, the operator of the Heretical Press, Simon Sheppard, does have a particular racial-ideological axe to grind, and is very selective & manipulative in what he cites. 


I'd be interested to hear what other research and reading you've done. IMHO, to even start to come to grips with culture of one group, let alone the enormous diversity of indigenous culture in Australia, requires a lot more than using google.

Edited by Yeti101
Leaving words out of sentences, again.
  • Like 7

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thanks for everyone's input I have been looking into aboriginal culture more and more now.

After much research I realize there are so many variations and points of view, a lot of it coming from a white, colonial, male dominant perspective and almost racial.

After reading some other material like http://www.anu.edu.au/polsci/marx/interventions/gender.htm

and books like aboriginal women: sacred and profane which paints a different picture that women held a power over themselves and did have a choice. I understand also that aboriginal culture was very diverse.

I also read marriage was either through bethroal or elopement or capture, which I assume was the way women and men where able to choose there partners, 

i want to believe that men loved there wives and shared a deep love and compassion for them.

and I guess I want to know if all womens marriages where arranged or were some unmarried then eloped the information is so diverse!

I also read if women where unhappy they could divorce and so could the men. Or could use charming as a way to marry.

Thanks people.



  • Like 1

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

I want to know the purpose of arranged marriage instead of a natural arrangement between the man and woman. I know some tribes did marry through mutual consent but some not.

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Just to emphasise the geographical extent of diversity: http://www.abc.net.au/indigenous/map/

Its a decent idea of the pre-european situation.





This map attempts to represent the language, social or nation groups of Aboriginal Australia. It shows only the general locations of larger groupings of people which may include clans, dialects or individual languages in a group. It used published resources from 1988-1994 and is not intended to be exact, nor the boundaries fixed. It is not suitable for native title or other land claims. David R Horton (creator), © Aboriginal Studies Press, AIATSIS, and Auslig/Sinclair, Knight, Merz, 1996. No reproduction without permission. To purchase a print version visit: www.aiatsis.ashop.com.au.


*I add the original disclamer so I dont have to add anything as a comment........


The term "marriage" also has connotations.....



  • Like 4

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Hi beau, from my investigations I have concluded there is very little marriage 'choice' in aboriginal culture, either for women or men. It is dictated by the kinship system. Eligible partners usually fall into classificatory (not consanguinal) position of Mother's Brother's Daughter or Mother's Mother's Brother's Daughter's Daughter viewed from the position of male ego (but there are alternative positions). These classificatory positions will also place the spouse into the opposite moiety, section or subsection. These classifications are extremely important in determining land ownership and obligatory and reciprocal relationships in day to day life (provision of resources), foraging, ritual and ceremony (often arranged across generational moieties as well). This has weakened with colonialism but is still followed in many places. Native Title is based on these lines of descent and it is of fundamental social and legal (both western and aboriginal) importance. Diversity nothwithstanding most aboriginal tribes can be arranged into four kinship types (Aranda, Kariera, and two others I forget, usually with around 24 kinship terms and 3 or 4 generation levels) and three types of classificatory systems: moeities, sections and subsections (with 2, 4, and 8 categories). There is a remarkable homogeneity across Australia and broad cultural zone of tribes (say for example the west Pilbara or Lake Eyre Basin) would have say 25 tribes that all had very similar kinship and classificatory systems and linked religious beliefs (similarly 80% of Australian languages are quite similar). The main division in aboriginal australia is between the tropical north (Top End and Kimberley) and the rest of the continent. Generally, groups on adjacent lands had profoundly similar and interlocking kinship systems, languages, subsistence strategies, religions and population numbers. Interestingly while kinship and moiety systems are common in hunter-gatherer societies worldwide section and subsection systems appear to be an Australian innovation.


Consent is not gained between partners in most cases and marriage is set up when children are still very young (this pretty common in many cultures so nothing to be shocked about). Consent is (often but not always) negotiated by classificatory 'uncles' (mother's brother) with the father of male ego (in aboriginal kinship father's brother is also one's father; a process known as bifurcate merging in the kinship system is really important in marriage arrangements whereby mother's sister is also mother but mother's brother is 'uncle', which allows prospective spouses to fall into the opposite section or moiety from oneself - again, it gets complex but again, this what aboriginal land rights is based on - lines of descent). The 'uncle' selected is usually a 'far off' uncle from another clan or even language group (tribe) and promises his daughter to male ego's father in return for something (goods, rights to land, ritual knowledge, or often in return for a woman promised to his own son etc.). This sets up a situation of tribe or clan exogamy which is really important in knitting together affiliated tribes within cultural zones which themselves are often topographically delineated in some way (i.e. mountain ranges, water courses). Male ego can end up with many promised wives but because a man can only marry after a lengthy period of initiation many of these wives will die, be married to someone else (i.e older men in the correct classificatory relationship) and so on, but the obligatory responsibilities of the promise remain. Marriage is a social transaction.


Horseplay did exist of course, it's human nature. However if people 'choose' based on 'love' and elope the punishment can be very harsh indeed. Spearing, death, death to one's family. Elopements between people in the correct classificatory relationship can be negotiated but elopements outside of that relationship are strictly prohibited by Law, it is a serious offense and transgression against this are frequently the subject of narrative, and especially against the incest taboo (classificatory sister). That being said extramarital affairs appear to have been common and in certain (correct) kinship relationships tacitly accepted.


'Love' was not part of the equation at least not in my substantial reading, it rarely comes up although 'love magic' by women is mentioned for chasing after unmarried boys and was a significant aspect of Western Desert woman's business. Nevertheless actual 'marriage' was more of a transaction based on reciprocal obligations between kinship groups. 'Divorce' was possible. I do believe women could hold considerable power within their relationships, just like they do today. To put it crassly the power of nagging and making one's husband miserable, of withholding sex or food (women provided 70% + of hunter gatherer diets). That husband could grant that woman as a wife to his classificatory brothers. So there is a rigid system but it is made fluid by powers of negotiation between interested parties.


Finally were aboriginal women 'forced' to have sex? I don't know. Are we 'forced' to believe in our own cultural norms of monogamy and sexual puritanicalism. The question is out of cultural context and you won't make progress with that line of reasoning. I have read many (many) times about ceremonial events where kinship and marriage rules are relaxed for a night or two and ceremonial 'orgies' take place (the word orgy is not really correct). Enough to believe there is some truth in it. Other prohibited actions are also allowed at these times (i.e. son- and mothers-in-law who are usually forbidden to speak or make eye contact berate one another). The 'purpose' of these events is to diffuse social (and sexual) tension. Likewise ceremonial (or non-ceremonial) deflowering of promised girls (by intercourse, I have never read about a kangaroo skin-covered finger) prior to their marriage appears to have occurred in some areas. Similarly senior men with many wives was common especially in the north (gerontocracy, but less common in the south). This was a reward dangled in front of young men to undergo the arduous task of full initiation, which can take about 40 years. A final point on 'sex' in aboriginal culture (and it is a pervasive and explicit element in comparison to our western society) is that the link between sex and conception was not widely made. The decoupling of procreation and sex puts sex into a whole different context. There were also entire ritual cults dedicated to sexual activity (see Kurangara (sp?))


There were a lot of things I 'wanted to believe' when I started researching aboriginal culture and I still want to believe them because of my own bias and upbringing. But they may simply not be the case. We are talking here about a system of belief so different from our own (western view) it is nearly incomprehensible. Suspending judgement and bias is key.


Berndt, Elkin, Tonkinson, Radcliffe-Brown, Maddock, Stanner, Meggit, Myers, Munn, Hiatt and many others are good authors to start with. Best to drill down into peer reviewed academic literature in noted journals to get more detailed regional or gender perspectives and understand the diversity involved, although it is not as great as the posted map suggests. It's more like biological diversity in nature on a single continent - different yes, but recognizably related (magical practices and language is a clear example of this). Keep away for new age reworking of the literature with very little depth.


Note, however - this article you post from ANU is quite good and Diane Bell is an outstanding contemporary scholar on Aboriginal Australia, one of the best. I totally agree that the research has been biased toward male anthropologists with a penchant for structuralism, which Aboriginal culture can be made to fit so nicely (see Radcliffe-Brown especially). More recent 'feminist' work on Aboirginals is REALLY important and so is understanding that the structural rules (kinship, totemism especially) could be made to bend for certain reasons and in certain circumstances (for example subsection terms could sometimes be manipulated to put people into positions of correct marriage when they originally were not), and that the colonial process did interrupt what people could accurately record. There is a flexibility in aboriginal society that matches their ability to handle sexual desire, a natural energy whose repression has crushed the west into near cultural oblivion (see Foucault on this point) and created obscene religions that subvert the feminine to the extreme - that are, in fact, a response to male fear of the power of the feminine. This is the culture we in Australia have inherited so don't lose sight of that - our own culture is downright abusive to women and is patriarchal to the max, despite what you consider to be your own personal position (this patriarchy is perhaps slowly weakening?). I have not read into much about women's roles in Aboriginal pre-colonial society but I am certain it was important and downplayed by anthropology until recently. This is the caveat I add and I commend you for searching for that paper and others. That being said, the structuralism and patriarchy is still there. Choice, love, even the individual, I believe is more subsumed into a network of relationships (including the natural world) within the Aboriginal worldview than the western mind can easily accommodate. The internal dynamics of aboriginal culture makes me feel uncomfortable, it's not all fluffy love the earth stuff as new age literature would have you believe. But it makes me feel uncomfortable because it is a direct challenge to my own culture, which is itself, I have slowly realised, internally inconsistent and corrupt from the start and has more or less killed the entire planet.


A final point is that I am not a scholar and if you want to know more about aboriginal marriage you should undertake a thorough reading of the literature to form your own opinion, my own opinion is in process!


Great question though!

  • Like 8

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

I happened to be doing some research into Arnhem Land yesterday and came across this paper re: marriage in the area: Oenpelli Kunwinjku Kinship Terminologies and Marriage Practices.


This can be read in conjunction with Radcliffe-Brown's Three Tribes of Western Australia (1913). Following on from this came the Social Organisation of Australian Tribes (1930?). All are available on the web as pdfs I think but ask if you can't locate them. These two works by ARB really set the direction for kinship studies in Australia and its structural elements are confirmed in the more recent Oenpelli study.


These two geographical areas (the Pilbara and the Top End) are regions I am somewhat familiar with. The bottom line is, the kinship system and sub/section system(s) and moieties remain of fundamental importance in contemporary aboriginal society but my personal experience does not extend to knowledge about how these systems continue to determine marriages and social life in 'reality' because I am not part of these communities and therefore cannot speak for them in any way whatsoever.


This leads to a final point about structuralism and structural anthropology for the etic observer, such as myself. The aboriginal kinship and totemic system is a work of genius when viewed structurally from the outside - it is a system which encompasses all entities within a network of relationships that can be extended ad infinitum. Its structural logic is profound and philosophically it's hard to beat in its ability to locate points within a network and imbue them with meaning by virtue of a spatial (landscape) and spiritual (kinship/ritual) position relative to other positions (Black Cockatoo is my Dreaming , my country is my father's [or my mother's] country, second cross cousin [or first cross cousin] is my wife, my position in ritual is according to the generational moiety of the initiate and so on.). Totemism and kinship as systems of inventory can accommodate every object and, importantly, also every subject as a meaningful position in the structure of what reality logically consists, and embeds reciprocity into these relationships (inversely, it removes the individual). Structural anthropology revels in this logic; Levi-Strauss for example is a major proponent in building 'superstructures' which exist within the 'savage' mind; thought which is 'analogical' as opposed to 'analytical'.


The 'Dreamtime' has a fatalistic, but timeless, and determined character. An ancestral mandate is laid down in creation times, enters the earth as part of the 'great founding drama' and sets the structure for all time; it is apprehended within the relationships that exist between landscape/environment, social institutions, and cognition (taken together this is Law) and these relationships are structural: totemism, kinship and ritual express them, collapse and renew them on a continual basis. Not only in marriage but in all aspects motivation for choice is removed - you don't innovate the Law. Correct and incorrect actions and their consequences are related in narrative in order to remove their potential expression in the field of actual experience. Linear change (analytical history - processes of linear causation) is suppressed; everything conforms to the ancestral mandate (analogical history - the Dreamtime past is the Dreamtime present). Philosophically, structural anthropology is really appealing, if not a little cold.


But there's the problem of 'men at the business of life'. I can't provide an emic perspective of aboriginal culture - I'm not an aboriginal. But I know from experience that the capricious nature of man (and woman) makes actual living a mess! Life can't always conform to structure; sometimes it loses its shape. At an individual (microcosmic) level this is sexual desire, love, elopement, jealousy, choice and free will that structure aims to impede. At a community (macrocosmic) level this is territorial usurpation, warfare, intertribal jealousy (again) and so on, again human elements which structure seeks to mollify. At a landscape (micro-macro) level climate change and landscape modification (erosion, sea level rise, frequency of burning) upset structural social dynamics by forcing change at the level of subsistence and territorial organisation. All of the problems above show up in narrative (i.e. ancestors break kinship rules and have some transformative experience that institutes land forms or Law), in archaeology (i.e. seed grinding develops at onset of ENSO), language (i.e. Pama-Nyungan mid-Holocene spread) and rock art (i.e. stylistic changes during marine transgression) and so on. The structure is constantly bombarded by personal and impersonal forces that seek to overwhelm its ability to prosper and, fundamentally, exist. Paradoxically innovation must occur, at the individual and the collective level, for communities to survive. Thus there are as many authors on the side of multiplicity and diversity in aboriginal studies as there are on the side of structuralism, some even see the Dreamtime as a very recent (late Holocene) religious movement that arose out of mid-Holocene demographic packing of the continent. They are studies that need to be taken seriously but they downplay Dreamtime ontology, that things are set at the beginning.


The bent of my personal nature is toward structuralism. So for me what is remarkable about aboriginal culture in Australia is that it appears (in my assessment) to maintain some continuity in structure. Not all cultures managed to do this - on many continents cultures collapse and are replaced (it would be a big effort for me to produce the evidence for this right now but for example consider the Moche-Sican-Lambayeque-Chimu-Inca transition in the north coast of Peru where temples were razed and Gods abandoned sequentially and replaced with new Gods with new attributes; I believe this may have also happened in parts of Australia).


There are two points I a making here: at the level of 'men at the business of life' there will always be elements of choice and behaviour that contravene the structure of ideal cultural norms. Because we fall in love and get jealous (and seek power), and because environmental parameters never remain fixed, there is always a point of instability from the micro to the macro. Things do change. But on the other hand if change can be assimilated against an ancestral (structural) template, perturbations that destroy other cultural forms allows aboriginal culture to survive. In this sense the ancestral beings truly have become the superstructures that allow cultural continuity: Law. And they have become such superstructures exactly as described in myth!!! Thus while the structural rigidity, anti-individualistic, anti-choice and analogical thinking of aboriginal culture is hard for a westerner (individual, linear, dualistic and choice-oriented) to accept one does need to credit to the aboriginal world view the survival of a culture over an inordinate time-span and a ontology of true ingenuity and, I suspect, absolute perceptual truth while the continent remained closed. In addition, maintenance of biological diversity.


I baulked at study of aboriginal culture because I couldn't find in it the values I wanted for myself. More and more these days, however, I see it for the value that it has independently of my cultural bias (which I may never get completely away from) and what I initially wanted to find in it. In regard to the OP, to understand aboriginal marriage customs you have to make an effort to understand aboriginal culture in its entirety and the (probably under-investigated and taken-for-granted) values of your own cultural paradigm that block lateral thinking! That last bit is not aimed at you beau, or anyone actually, but more accurately reflects my own obstacles in learning.

Edited by Micromegas
accidentally posted in italics
  • Like 4

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

The OP actually raised in my opinion some important epistemological questions. Because I happen to be reading along these lines (but not specifically about marriage) right now I will finish off my discussion of the subject with this very interesting quote I came across today:


Although it is somewhat of an exaggeration, the anthropologist
Claude Levi-Strauss
(1966:233-34 [the savage mind - this is a very interesting book FYI])
has divided up societies into two types: those that
believe that every generation recreates the past and
that time is a series of cycles, which he calls "cold"
societies, and those that are conscious of change and
of the irreversible direction of history, which he labels
"hot" societies. In a lecture given at Berkeley in
1984, he tried to trace the emergence of one kind
from the other by reference to ninth-to-eleventh
century Japanese Heian court society. During that
period the usual marriage rule requiring the marriage
of men to their cross-cousins (mother's
brother's daughters or father's sister's daughters)
broke down when people began to break the rules
and marry strategically for status and personal
gain. He was able to show how the former kind of society,
found traditionally in much of the world, is
one that reproduces the social structures every generation
(so that men fell into the same positions as
their fathers and grandfathers, and women, their
mothers and grandmothers). Whereas in the latter
kind, every generation is different and, according to
the literature of that age, more exciting, so that new
family relationships and kinship structures were
formed every time. This kind of excitement and period
of intrigue he called "The Birth of Historical Societies."

From: What is Tradition? Nelson H. H. Graburn


This feeds into my point that marriage arrangements reflect social structure/ideology and at the bottom of this, personal identity. I'll tie it up here!





  • Like 4

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

The first post was quoting Mathews he was a land surveyer for the government in south Australia his accounts should be disregarded as bullshit.

If you read all his papers he will tell you that he is a Freemason in one of them and he describes an encounter with a aboriginal man and two boys. The boys give him the master mason sign of distress when Mathews points a gun at them.

Now if you read what's involved in the oath the mason takes at the 26th degree in freemasonry  they take a vow to distract from the true meaning and power of the serpent from non masons.

Now I have walked the old ngawait lands here in south Australia and my discoveries have painted a different picture to what we have been told.


I have found sacred stones carvings clay idols.

I have taken these objects to the discovery centre at the Adelaide museum and got told that they arnt aboriginal and can't advise me any further.

After countless hours of reading on different cults and traditions I can with absolute 100% certainty confirm the now extinct ngawait tribe in the Riverland was infact practicing a form of Bon Buddhism the earliest form of shamanism from Tibet also this is a serpent cult.


Mathews wasn't a innocent surveyer he was traveling through Australia finding these tribes befriending them and stealing their secret knowlage. I believe his subcision (initiated men)tribal maps of Australia were used later to locate and wipe out this hidden knowlage.


A primitive savage doesn't leave sacred ringsels behind when they die only spiritual masters do.

here is a link so you can learn about what sariras are if there is any interest I can post Picts of the artifacts I have. https://sites.google.com/site/philosophydude/sariras.html

Edited by siks3

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

After countless hours of reading on different cults and traditions I can with absolute 100% certainty confirm the now extinct ngawait tribe in the Riverland was infact practicing a form of Bon Buddhism the earliest form of shamanism from Tibet also this is a serpent cult.


Care to elaborate? Are you basing this on finding alleged Buddhist relics in the riverland (presumably as surface deposits), or are you saying Buddhists were in Australia in ancient times as or with aboriginals, or are you saying that the Ngawait developed a cultural form that approximates Bon Buddhism, or maybe even that they 'intuited' this form of Buddhism in some spiritual/metaphysical way?


In which paper does RH Matthews state that he was part of a Masonic order? Matthews' potential connection to a Masonic lodge is mentioned by Martin Thomas here: http://press-files.anu.edu.au/downloads/press/p99461/mobile/ch01.html

Thomas states that " I get a sense of him as a cabalistic person. His extensive documentation of ceremonial life is an indication of how he was drawn towards matters of secrecy. A cryptic reference in his diary, ‘Went to Lodge’ at an address in Sydney, suggests he may have been involved in a Masonic order. Although I can find no further evidence concerning this, it is worth mentioning that Mathews’ eldest son Hamilton attained seniority as a freemason and that Masonic connections frequently pass from father to son".

Thomas wrote a biography of Matthews which won the 2012 Australia National Biography award: https://www.allenandunwin.com/browse/books/general-books/biography-autobiography/The-Many-Worlds-of-RH-Mathews-Martin-Thomas-9781741757811

If there was definitive mention in one of Matthews own articles that he was a freemason, and had some interaction with masonic aboriginals no less, this would be of considerable interest within this specialised field. The link between Australian initiation rites and Masonic rites with respect to secrecy is interesting I had never encountered that idea before. Again the information you are indicating might be a contribution to this.


The relationship between anthropologists and aboriginals in Australia is complex. Today, some aboriginal communities are rightfully concerned about the sensitive information recorded by anthropologists that is now in the public record or available in the literature. In other cases communities and languages are being revived from this information. Those were different times, in the colonial process of 'making' modern Australia and in the field of anthropology, which was only young. I cannot explore this facet of the problem here but I do not think it was a case of anthropologists and missionaries etc. simply tricking people into sharing their sacred knowledge. I do not have any background of the corpus of knowledge relating to RH Matthews as this is not my field of study, although I have read some of his works. You are making some very bold claims about his character. Interestingly Matthews was a subject of much diatribe during his life as well, much of which appears unfounded. He seems to have had rapport with aboriginal people.


Surely, secret knowledge was damaged in Australia as a result of the all-round process of colonialism: development, disease, violent repression by people who didn't even register aboriginals as people. By comparison, Matthews integrated and talked with aboriginal communities and was taken into their trust. It is a very extreme claim that Matthews 'stole' this knowledge and then directed people to those areas for it to be destroyed once and for all, and it seems important someone counterbalance what you have written in your post. If he wanted this knowledge destroyed, why did he write so much of it down - and information which would be used extensively (as well as corroborated) by later anthropologists Radcliffe-Borwn, Elkin and Tindale, whose ability to raise the public awareness of aboriginal religion and sophisticated worldview is no doubt part of the growing recognition of aboriginal people, knowledge and rights in Australia (and which has been used in successful land claims), notwithstanding the distance we have yet to cover. Today, aboriginal people are slowly having opportunities to reassert their knowledge - to gain a voice - and part of the groundwork is that some few people early on recognized they had knowledge to assert, even if it was expressed in the voice of the anthropologist. Surely it would have been better if the knowledge had never been disturbed but this is never an option in conquest.


Can you please direct me to Matthews maps of the extent of subincision in Australia which you mention, I thought these were only produced later by Elkin, and then Tindale, but using some of Matthew's data.


I would be interested in seeing the artifacts you found.

  • Like 1

Share this post

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this