Academic journal article Oceania

Whose Ethics? Which Cultural Contract? Imagining Arrernte Traditions Today

Academic journal article Oceania

Whose Ethics? Which Cultural Contract? Imagining Arrernte Traditions Today

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

The paper uses an account of 'tradition' by the philosopher, Alisdair MacIntyre, to argue for the view that local Aboriginal culture that has been through extensive change is nonetheless still specifying for the Aboriginal people involved. Therefore these local traditions must be taken into account in discussions about 'contracts' or 'policies' concerning Aboriginal people today. An example is drawn from the Lutheran tradition of Western Arrernte people in Central Australia.

If a contract involves at least two components, an agreement and a mode of enforcing based in law, then this discussion is concerned with modes of agreement and not with judicial process as such. Much is lost by reducing issues of cultural negotiation simply to the juridical and this has been the dominant mode in a discourse on indigenous issues preoccupied with land rights. Re-emerging concerns about education and employment suggest that this discourse is diversifying fast. [1] And integral to this diversification is a growing body of discussion on the impact of economic marginality on goals of self-determination (see Pearson 2000; Peterson 1985, 1998; Cowlishaw 1999:202--20; Rowse 1998:204--18). Consistent with these accounts, my comments move away from the juridical to focus on negotiations between traditions that occur at the local level, and in everyday life. I will be proposing that such modes of agreement between Aboriginal people and their non-indigenous consociates have occurred in the past 100 years. They have been integral to shaping Aboriginal traditions though commonly they have been overlooked by the majority populace. Among the most notable on record is the Yirrkalla 'adjustment movement' in Arnhem land (Berndt 1962). In Central Australia, Western Arrernte negotiations with Christianity have been no less dramatic and include not only the revealing of sacra but also the inscribing of Christianity on country in the form of an impatye Jesuake or Jesus' footstep, to be found in the vicinity of Hermannsburg (see Jones 1992; Austin-Broos 1993, 1996b). For a time, pastoralism entailed such agreements evidenced by the terminology of 'owner' and 'manager' or 'worker', used to propose an homology between relations in pastoral work and Aboriginal ritual relations (see Collmann 1988:126--48; Rowse 1998:49--67; Cowlishaw 1999:50--102). At the level of implicit negotiation -- the phenomenon described by Jean and John Comaroff as the 'long conversation' (1991:198-251) -- transformations in kin ship and domestic role show the manner in which Aboriginal people have sought to negotiate forms of life within the bounds of the Australian nation state (see Beckett 1965; Sansom 1982; Birdsall 1988; Sutton 1998; Austin-Broos 2000a). And in the wake of Mabo (1992) and Wik (1996), attempts at regional economic agreements through non-judicial process are now being trialed in Cape York (see Farley 1997; Pearson 2000).

Often such agreements have not been sustained beyond particular conditions and personalities; and often such implicit negotiations have been dismissed as inauthentic or anachronistic. Most such mediations have been crafted from subordinate and unjust positions. Still, indigenous Australians have made all manner of decisions about how to live in interaction with others, and there has been negotiation in this process. In the case that I will discuss in Central Australia, the move from a domestic economy and moral order, embodied in a Lutheran mission to Western Arrernte people, to a national economy and moral order, embodied in a regime of citizenship, has dissolved some agreements and created the need for others. [2] To date these further agreements have not been forged and progress requires a more acute sense of the traditions involved -- who is negotiating and why, and to what specific Aboriginal ends in a particular environment. In order to think about agreement I propose to address the issue of tradition and especially the local traditions that people seek to negotiate. …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.