Academic journal article Hecate

Crossing Cultures: An Interview with Helena Gulash

Academic journal article Hecate

Crossing Cultures: An Interview with Helena Gulash

Article excerpt

Crossing Cultures: An Interview with Helena Gulash

As the extended controversy surrounding the publication and success of Marlo Morgan's Mutant Message Down Under in 1994 has made clear, one aspect of the complex relations between the New Age movement and Indigenous cultures involves the production of and trafficking in representations of Indigenous people, culture, ritual and belief.(1) Morgan's text ostensibly `honours'(2) the culture and spirituality of the `lost/last' tribe of Australian Aboriginal people whom she dubs the `Real People' and with whom she claims to have travelled across the Australian desert. Yet her narrative repeats various scenarios of high colonialist adventure -- such as that of `first contact' -- and conforms to what we have described elsewhere as a New Age rhetoric of non-Indigenous entitlement to the `wisdoms' and spiritual values of Indigenous peoples.(3) While Indigenous people, both in Australia and North America, are increasingly vocal in their criticisms of and resistances to practices which they consider to be exploitative and inappropriate, it is also the case that traffic between the New Age and indigeneity is not always and everywhere a straightforward matter of exploitation,(4) nor is it one-way. For example, Indigenous communities in both Canada and Australia have adopted with some success methods for managing alcohol and other substance abuse which may be described as New Age in approach.(5)

In our recent work on the operations of the New Age movement in Australia and its representational strategies in relation to Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, we have observed a complex cultural domain in which Indigenous agency -- to resist, to subvert, to co-operate with and to derive benefit from strategic or selective involvement with New Age groups and individuals -- is continuously asserted and negotiated. One important site for our research was the Woodford Folk Festival (formerly the Maleny Folk Festival) which we attended in the summer of 1995-96. By any standards, the Woodford Festival is an extraordinary cultural event, and made even more so by the size, scope and prominence of the Murri Festival which runs alongside the folk festival, as both a constituent of the larger festival and as an autonomous event. While not a New Age event as such, the Woodford Festival is host to many people motivated to varying degrees by New Age impulses and values. Moreover, its organisers promote the Woodford Festival as both formulating and serving `a very sophisticated cultural agenda'(6) which is cognisant of and responsive to Indigenous cultural traditions. `For many people' Woodford provides:

their first chance to see Aboriginal culture at first hand and for children and adults alike it is a chance to learn about this ancient, wonderful and vitally important culture.(7)

Problematising these claims by non-indigenous festival organisers for the festival as a place of culture sharing are the critiques mounted by some Murri commentators. The Brisbane-based Murri historian Jackie Huggins has a long-standing association with the festival, and is both supportive and also critical of it. Huggins likens the impulses and desires of many non-Indigenous people at Woodford/Maleny to those motivating Marlo Morgan; she sees the New Age impulse to access Indigenous cultures as exotic tourism:

it's a form of voyeurism -- traditional cultural voyeurism -- which whitefellas want to jump on the bandwagon and get in touch with. That's how I view it. I've just come from the Maleny Folk Festival where it's full of that! They drive you crazy at times, but the false impression is, too, that we're a very -- I mean we always have been a spiritual people, we haven't lost that; but the way in which it is presented is something which leaves a lot to be desired, because we've had a lot of our spirituality colonised, knocked out of us, raped and abused and misused.(8)

The spiritual tourist or the traditional cultural voyeur requires a very particularised object on which to gaze: Indigenous cultures which are at once hyper-spectacularised and hyper-spiritualised. …

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.