Arrente Woman carrying child - Alice Springs
Before the dawn of the present age was 'the dreaming', or the Alchera of the Arrente, a time when the ancestors of the Aborigines wandered over a featureless land. These ancestors were unlike people of today; they possessed special powers and were so intimately associated with certain animals and plants that an ancestor of the kangaroo totem 'may sometimes be spoken of either as a man-kangaroo or as a kangaroo-man'. (1 As the ancestors journeyed over the land, their actions gave it form, created the natural features such as rivers and ranges. The land they shaped is today occupied by their descendants, the Aborigines.
During their travels the dreamtime ancestors carried one or more sacred tjurunga, each 'intimately associated with the idea of a spirit part of some individual'. (2 Many tjurunga were buried, each burial site marked by a natural object such as a rock or a tree. (3
Other places of significance are where ancestors entered the earth, at which time they died, but their spirits remained within the buried tjurunga. (4 These places were also marked by natural objects. (5
There are thus at the present day, dotted about all over the Arunta country, a very large number of places associated with these Alcheringa spirits, one group of whom will be kangaroo, another emu, another Hakea plant, and so on. When a woman conceives it simply means that one of these spirits has gone inside her, and, knowing where she first became aware that she was pregnant, the child, when born, is regarded as the reincarnation of one of the spirit ancestors associated with that spot, and therefore it belongs to that particular totemic groups. (6
(1 The Native Tribes of Central Australia, p119
(2 Ibid. p123
(6 The Northern Tribes of Central Australia, p150
Keywords: aborigines, anthropology, Arrente, Baldwin Spencer, Walter, Central Australia, custom, 1894
Photograph: Arrente woman carrying child. Alice Springs, 1894. Photograph Baldwin Spencer. Reproduced courtesy Museum Victoria.
Author: Netheim, Garth