Saturday, October 5, 2013
Thursday Oct 3
Manuel almost died five years ago.
He is an aboriginal man, 50 years of age, who, like many indiginous people, drank too much. He basically drank himself to death. After a 17 day coma, he actually survived. But the doctor told him “One more beer and you’ll die.” Manuel managed to not touch a drop of alcohol since then, and to turn his life around. He now offers a unique, cultural experience which we, as visitors to his country, thoroughly enjoyed. In most places you have no opportunity to interact with locals, and taking photos is not allowed. So when we read the advertisements for Top Didj Cultural Experience, we decided to give it a try. “It might be tacky, it might be touristy,” we thought. But it turned out to be fun, interesting and worth the money.
When we showed up at the art gallery, at 9 AM, we found a gallery and a store full of local art and giftware to browse. But we also found two tiny baby wallabees which we could pet and cuddle.
Then the ten or twelve people in our group, walked to a large outdoor shelter, sat in a circle and met Manuel. He told us about his life. How he was born in the bush, welcomed into the world by the women of his clan with smoke and rituals. He talked about hunting barefooted, living in small shelters and being eight years old when he saw his first whitefellow. (Caucasians are whitefellows, aboriginals are blackfellows.)
He explained family life, how clans can not marry within too close a circle of relations. How families go to other regions to meet families with suitable girls, which are promised to a certain boy at age 4. Once they reach 13 or so, the couple start living together. They don’t know the marriage ceremony. But, he said, much of their tradtional way of life, music, dance, painting and even language will no longer exist in a few more years. “Nowadays,” he said, “young people come home, sit in front of the TV with a Cola and that’s it.” We saw the exact same thing in Nunavut with Inuit people and their culture. But there they seem to have more support to hold on to language and culture. Here there is, apparently, none.
I love their term ‘dream time’. It refers to life before and after your current life. The ancestors live in dream time.
Manuel showed us how to paint a traditional turtle and kangoroo, using a certain number of lines and colors, dictated by his clan. If you know about aboriginal art you can tell which clan, family and in which region made a certain painting.
He showed us how to make fire in the bush and how to spear a kangaroo. He actually still goes into the bush these days to find his own supper. “I have learned,” he said, “that you always have to work for your food. Either by hunting it. Or by working to earn money before you can buy it.”
The hanting sounds of the didgeridoo lingered as we left the dusty town of Katherine behind us on our way to Western Australia and, hopefully, cooler temperatures than the 40+ degrees here.