Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Identity and the Re-Assertion of Aboriginal Knowledge in Sam Watson's the Kadaitcha Sung

Academic journal article Cross / Cultures

Identity and the Re-Assertion of Aboriginal Knowledge in Sam Watson's the Kadaitcha Sung

Article excerpt

The colonization of Australia by white Europeans triggered a long and woeful history of genocide, oppression, and exploitation in the course of which Aboriginal Australians were marginalized and submitted to the regimes of white capitalist culture. This had serious consequences for their own Indigenous cultures, which, as we all know, were constructed in white European representations as primitive, savage, and inferior Others in need of being superseded by the supposed blessings of the progress of white civilization. The orality of Aboriginal cultures further contributed to tiie silencing and suppression of a literature and an epistemic system which were not granted any status in the cultural taxonomies of the colonizers with their emphasis on written texts. Not only did this lead to a serious denigration and in some instances even the disappearance of Aboriginal knowledge, but it also damaged Indigenous Australians' sense of identity.

The twentieth century, however, in a long, slow, and arduous process and in the face of continuing discrimination, saw a gradual and at least partial recovery of Aboriginal culture and identity. Indigenous Australians raised their voice again, and this time they also used writing to make themselves heard, from David Unaipon's early interventions in the 1920s via the first budding of a black Australian literature in English in the 1960s to the present, in which it can be said that there is a sizeable body of anglophone Aboriginal writing. The Empire has indeed begun to write back, in Salman Rushdie's famous phrase, and it does so with a vengeance indeed, as the following remarks will show. I have chosen Sam Watson's novel The Kadaitcha Sung, published in 1990, as my central text and example here because it illustrates how the issues I have just mentioned are negotiated in contemporary Aboriginal literature in a way that both salvages and re-asserts Indigenous knowledge and in doing so also re-asserts Aboriginal identity.1

The Kadaitcha Sung is a hybrid text insofar as it is many things at the same time. It is an action-packed adventure novel,2 a revenge story, a piece of magical realism3 combining social documentary with mythological and fantastic as well as gothic elements,4 a confrontational story accusing the perpetrators of colonialist crimes in a shrill and often violent narrative that also contains lyrical and subtly meditative passages, but it is also a morality story about the struggle between good and evil and a postcolonial comment on race relations in contemporary Australia. It tells the story of the half-caste Tommy Gubba, son of Fleur, a white Australian woman, and of Koobara, one of the gods from the Dreamtime. Tommy is one of the last two members of the powerful Kadaitcha, "an ancient clan of sorcerers from the heavens," sent down to the earth there to represent the great god Biamee.5 The other remaining Kadaitcha is Tommy's uncle Booka Roth, who, in a struggle for power, killed his own brother: i.e. Tommy's father, and banished Biamee from the realm of the mortals by stealing the sacred heart of the rainbow serpent. Booka Roth6 then took on a white identity by inhabiting a migloo (i.e. white) body; ever since, he has been seeking earthly power by collaborating with white Australians. Booka becomes a Captain of the Native Mounted Police and in that capacity commits many crimes, murdering Aborigines and raping women. Tommy Gubba is elected by the gods to re-establish order and justice. He is to seek the stolen sacred heart of the rainbow serpent and return it to Biamee, thereby ending the latter's banishment from earth as well as making Booka's punishment possible.

The novel begins with a prologue which is printed in italics and provides tiie mythological framework as well as the prehistory of the plot of the novel. This prologue is interesting because it already encapsulates in a nutshell some of the salient principles on which the book's postcolonial and anti-racist discourse, its process of writing back,7 is founded. …

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