Yiwara: Foragers of the Australian Desert

Yiwara: Foragers of the Australian Desert

Yiwara: Foragers of the Australian Desert

Yiwara: Foragers of the Australian Desert

Excerpt

"Yiwara" is the word used by the Gibson Desert Aborigines to mean "track." It is in constant use, since it has several levels of meaning. First, at its simplest level, it means the track left by an animal across the sand. From earliest childhood, Aborigines are trained to recognize the tracks of different animals and to follow them to their burrows. It also means the tracks left by people. On the move much of the time in search of food and water, Aborigine families leave tracks as evidence of their passage, and other Aborigines in the region watch for these to see if relatives or newcomers have entered or passed through the area. These are practical applications of the word. It also means the track of a mythical totemic being in the "dreamtime," when such beings are believed by the Aborigines to have transformed themselves into present landmarks of the desert. And, finally, yiwara has come to mean the white man's road or track into the desert, with all the implications this has for change.

Since yiwara epitomizes the hunting and foraging life of the Aborigines, as well as the pervasive element of nomadism in their existence, and also relates to their sacred life, and to the arrival of the white man, the word seemed to me a suitable title for a book which is about all these things. The book is itself a track of the Aborigines' destiny, from the nomadic life of the desert to the more settled and westernized existence on reserves and missions. Experiences and episodes are embedded in this book like tracks in the sand. Just as an Aborigine looks to tracks for clues to the behavior of the animal or persons he is following, so the situations described here may offer clues to understanding these extraordinary people. This is a book about situations in the lives . . .

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