Academic journal article Antipodes

An Atlas of the Sacred: Hybridity, Representability, and the Myths of Yanyuwa Country

Academic journal article Antipodes

An Atlas of the Sacred: Hybridity, Representability, and the Myths of Yanyuwa Country

Article excerpt

The author wishes to acknowledge the collaboration and support of Yanyuwa elders, in particular Annie Karrakayn, Dinah Norman, Thelma Douglas, Rosie Noble, Jemima Miller, Leanne and Leonard Norman, Roddy Friday, Billie Miller, and Graeme Friday. They have requested that dead people are named in this text because of the historical importance of their work for cultural maintenance. I also thank John Bradley for his generous assistance and for agreeing to beinterviewed in extenso for this article.

WHAT CAN HOME MEAN WHEN IT IS NO LONGER home (because people were persuaded and chose, reluctantly and for a variety of complex reasons, to leave their sacralized Country to settle in town)? When home and the sacred, through the act of colonization, become unfamiliar, unhomely, or worse, proximate and longed for but threatened with loss through lack of interaction? When kujika, sacred narratives that bring the land into being, lose their intimate connection with it? When the practice of rituals on country, which constitute the sacred, must be modified and curtailed, even abandoned? When hard-won land claims do not yield the homelands ceded under an alien legal system because the rights of "squatters" (those of the throw-up-a-beach-shack variety) take precedence? This essay attempts to answer these questions by first describing and analyzing a new hybrid mapping of Yanyuwa kujika (dreaming narratives) in a limited edition cultural atlas, "Forget About Flinders": A Yanyuwa Adas of the South West Gulf of Carpentaria (Yanyuwa Families). In its critical treatment of the atlas and its methodologies, it aims to demonstrate how innovative this artifact is in relation to previous representations of Aboriginal mythology. Thirdly, it asks questions about its uses for Yanyuwa people as a mapping of the sacred, as cultural affirmation and a form of resistance to imperial mapping, and how it might be used by non-Yanyuwa people as a tool for understanding the sacred, and simultaneously the incommensurability between western forms of representation of the sacred and Yanyuwa ones. Such an artifact also has implications for non-Yanyuwa readers. Yanyuwa stories, by contrast with European mythological narratives, offer a rich, multilayered understanding of the country they are designed to animate, but make limited sense disassociated from it. To read such stories, and the atlas is a useful education in reading, requires an opening up of paradigms, a radical remapping of understandings of how land, story, sacredness and homeliness intersect and manifest themselves. It is a difficult accommodation for non-indigenous readers who have rarely been offered more than scraps and fragments of indigenous knowledge systems. Most existing treatments of myths are of this kind. Or if they have been offered systems of mythology, it is in forms radically disarticulated from the country to which they are tethered and they typically enact a spurious undifferentiating pan-Aboriginalism (Berndt; Reed, Aboriginal Myths, Legends and Fables; Reed, Aboriginal Tales of Australia; Robinson). What is valuable about the Yanyuwa atlas project as a hybrid text is its specificity, its confinement to just Yanyuwa country, and to demonstrating knowledge in Yanyuwa ways rather than imposing Western narrative templates over the material, as for example Strehlow (1971) did in his (flawed) attempt to convey the literary richness of the songs of the Arrernte people (Hill 453-71).

To put the atlas in context, it is necessary to make some brief and preliminary comments about Yanyuwa history. The Yanyuwa people live remotely (and alongside three other language groups) in the Northern Territory township of Borroloola, on the south-west corner of the Gulf of Carpentaria, having "come-in" to town progressively since the 1880s but only finally in 1969, in response to complex colonializing forces: frontier violence (Roberts), loss (and despoliation) of country to cattle and graziers, disease, and police and "welfare" regimes which encouraged dependence on rations in return for seasonal work in the pastoral industry (Baker). …

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