The Archaeology and Anthropology of Landscape: Shaping Your Landscape

By Peter J. Ucko; Robert Layton | Go to book overview

16

The Alawa totemic landscape: ecology, religion and politics

ROBERT LAYTON

Traditionally hunters and gatherers, the Alawa people of northern Australia have been subject to a century of colonisation by pastoralists who brought a cattle-ranching economy to the region. Alawa land use has left a variety of archaeologically visible traces: camp sites with their associated debris of food and stone artefacts, rock paintings, stone arrangements and modification of the plant cover through controlled burning. The distribution of rock art in relation to ecology has been discussed elsewhere (Layton 1989). Pickering (1994) has examined the social landscape of another Gulf Country people, the Garawa, whose country lies about 250 km to the east of the Alawa. Pickering shows how traditional Garawa camp sites have a seasonal patterning. Camps on the Robinson River could be occupied throughout the year, while those on tributary creeks were not normally occupied during the hot, stormy season that precedes the monsoon. Garawa and Alawa land use is, however, mediated by a complex cultural system, much of which is archaeologically invisible. This chapter describes how this system is sustained, considering both traditional procedures and the response to colonial domination, in order to exemplify how cultural practice orders the creation of material residues.

Although Alawa often converse in Kriol, middle-aged and elderly people remain fluent in the Alawa language. Traditional hunting and gathering practices remain important to the Alawa, and they have been so successful in retaining their traditional system of land tenure that, thanks to the Cox River and Hodgson Downs land claims on two former pastoral leases, much of their traditional country is now Aboriginal freehold. Other parts of Alawa country are occupied by the Nutwood Downs and Hodgson River pastoral leases.

Some aspects of the Alawa totemic landscape have already been described in a paper based on fieldwork for the Cox River land claim (Layton 1989). This chapter provides more details, and is supported by further fieldwork for the Hodgson Downs land claim (see also Layton 1997). The Alawa landscape is represented in legends that provide a model for the allocation of

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