Cultural and Historical Impact on Contemporary Aborigines Essay Example

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Cultural and Historical Impact on Contemporary Aborigines

Executive summary

The current state of aboriginal people in Australia is an intertwined network of historical events and their original cultures and traditional practices. In this case, it essential to take a deep analysis of their cultural and historical background to understand the indigenous people in Australia and establish any programs to improve their standards of living. Events such as the colonial history and the subsequent frustration and devastation of these people plus their struggle and resilience to claim cultural recognition and equality greatly shape their current status. The existing educational policies, social dispositions and economic state are founded on the historical happenings (Attwood, 2005). This report details the history of the aboriginal people and the Torres Strait islanders and analyses their connection with their current state.

Cultural context

Australian aboriginal culture is apparently the oldest surviving in the current world. There is little known about the worldviews of aboriginal micro cultures. This vibrant culture is however told through their tradition of storytelling. The concepts of kinship, dreamtime and the attachment of the aboriginal people to land are also illustrated in songs. The spirituality of aborigines entails close relationship with the land. They refer to the beginning of the world as dreaming or dream time. In addition, the aboriginal beliefs never place the human races above other creations like other religions. They also believe that some ancestors metamorphosed into elements of nature such as river or rocks and thereby they still live to date (Myers, 1980).

From the accounts of dreamtime, the aboriginal ancestors rose from the ground to create various elements of nature including animal’s water bodies and the sky. This concept is infinitely timeless and remote, yet on the other hand, it is tangible and accessible. It at one moment consists of the ancestral totems in the community as well as their kinship and the entire ancestry. There spiritual identity is defined basing on their ancestors and their kinship. One bares the same clan name as his father and his father’s fathers. In defining their spiritual identity basing on their ancestral totems, their clans and their ceremonies, they are defining their identity in terms of their dreamtime and all its metamorphic events and creations. The spiritual identity is also defined through parallel layers of characters and events which are both heterogeneous and internally generated (Baker, 1999).

For instance, the Burarra ancestral concept is at once abstract and direct. Each ones spiritual identity in one way or another embodies directly the manifestation of their ancestors. Yet the ancestral forebear is an abstract idea among this people. The strict taboos laid around this idea limit the Buarra people to euphemism each time they have to talk about their ancestors. According to their culture, if someone dies, there name is removed from their vocabulary and reference to the person is expunged. Those with a similar name thereby are forced to assume a different name. This is done to expunge the conscious memory of a dead person from the conscious memory of the community or clan.

The body of a diseased person is handled in a sequence of activities through years (Baker, 1999). Seven years after death, the bones of a dead person are interred in logs which are erect. After several dry and wet seasons, the bones rot away together with the hollow logs. The physical remains and the monument of the dead are then subsumed in the anonymity of the earth. The negation of these conscious physical remains implies that the Burarra people have a sustained generation but have no memory extending beyond three or more generations. They sum every passed thing into dreamtime. In this case, the dreamtime is a very important concept in the cultural and spiritual world of the aboriginal people. It at point seems timeless, immediate yet so abstract. It is the time through creation, the time when the ancestral totems moved over the land shaping every natural structure. On the other hand it involves relatively recent activities and figures. It is just beyond the reach of a man’s life- as near as yesterday yet very far (Bird, 1996).

Historical circumstances

The aboriginal people in Australia are thought to have come by boat form southern Asia in the last ice age about 50,000 years ago. Over one million aboriginal people lived across the Australian continent at the time of European discovery. They were in over 300, clans and they spoke about 250 different languages. However, despite the clan and language difference, they were united by the same cultural beliefs such as the dreamtime. As discussed in the cultural context subtopic, each clan had special spiritual connection to a particular piece of land. During these early times, the aborigines also traded and travelled widely to find seasonal produce and water and gathered in large groups to perform their totemic rituals (Attwood, 2005).

The people are made up of two groups that almost share the same struggles and historical experiences but in most cases the history of the Torres Strait islander is not highlighted. In 2006, there were about 517, Torres Strait Islanders and aboriginal people. This number makes up about 2.5% of the entire Australian population. This group of people is said to have migrated from Africa. The original beliefs that define the culture of this people formulated a basis that later determined their reaction to colonialists. There encounter with the western culture then combined with their cultural beliefs to shape this group of people into their current social state (Attwood, 2005).

The arrival of the Europeans in Australia in around 17th century marked a new era in the history of the aboriginal people. At this time, a number of European explorers sailed across the Australian coast then called Holland. After Captain James Cook chattered and claimed the east coast for Britain in 1790, other settlers used this route to penetrate the interior of Australia. From their western view they regarded the Australian land as untamed and thereby the wilderness. This outpost was then set to be used as a penal colony and several convicts were transported to Australia. Before penal transportation was ended in about 1868, over 160,000 convicts had been transported to Australia. This marked the beginning of aboriginal interaction with the outside world and the other cultures. The life for prisoners was harsh and women were outnumbered in a ratio of about five to one by men. In this case, they were in a perpetual threat of sexual harassment. As the British settlers continued to flow in, the aborigines were displaced and thereby forced to move. This dispossession of land and death due to unfamiliar diseases introduced by the colonial settlers completely interrupted the peaceful life style and the traditional practices of the aboriginal people (Povinelli, 1993).

Initially, there was a friendly relationship between the British and the indigenous people. Philip, the Governor always encouraged the British settlers to treat well the indigenous people. The promising agricultural growth attracted many settlers including missionaries. The new Christian religion which was introduced by the missionaries was quite foreign to the aborigines. The whites also ranches which saw the local indigenous people displaced from their land. The westerners devalued the aboriginal culture and considered their culture superior. This formed the basis of racism which enhanced segregation and racial discrimination in Australia. Conflicts between the aborigines and the British also heightened when they realized that the whites were going to completely interrupt their cultural way of life. Such dispositions prompted resistance and guerilla warfare in land.

The Europeans tried to introduce them to agriculture and farming but they were completely reluctant. This was partly due to their cultural value and attachment to land and their nature of resistance and determination. Attempts by the Europeans to take aboriginal children to school were frustrated as they ran from school and joined their clans back at home. The education was aimed at shaping the aboriginal community into western culture for purposes of assimilation.


There is always an influence of culture and history on contemporary life of any group of people. For the aboriginal groups who have actively struggled to retain their culture regardless of the experiences, the impact is even more. Even though the white people considered Australia untamed, the aboriginal groups had already had contact with other groups before the coming of the Europeans. For instance the Yanyuwa community had heard contact with the Maccassar particularly near the Maccassar port in the Celebes, several years before the arrival of the Europeans (Povinelli, 1993). The core issue between the aborigines and the members from the outside world was the conflicting attitudes in the use of land. This was quite frustrating to the aboriginal groups especially with the cultural significance they had associated land with.

Since the invasion of the British people in about 1788, the lives of the ingenious aborigines were greatly affected. They were displaced from their land despite their attachment to specific pieces of land. This people have also been the target of the genocidal practices and policies. These policies saw families destroyed by the forcible removal of children. Today, the people still face the stress of surviving in a racist world which devalues systematically the indigenous people and their culture (Bartlett, 2002). The colonial government initiated policies that placed the indigenous people under the direct rule of the Europeans. This saw most of them mistreated and taken to work as slaves. These experiences had a great impact on the emotional, health and social wellbeing of communities, families and individuals in particular. These experiences have for years been resisted and the history of resilience and resistance forms a large part of the contemporary issues among the indigenous people in Australia. This plus the experiences of devastation formulate their contemporary culture and identity. It also important to note the aboriginal culture is diverse among different groups. For instance, the Yanyuwa people, the Burarra, and the Torres Strait Islanders; however, their cultures have strong similarities and have had the almost the same historical experiences and treatment.

These experiences also have a great influence on the educational issues among the indigenous people in Australia. The indigenous learning process was strongly ingrained in the communities’ cultural systems. The original aboriginal educational strongly emphasized dances, storytelling, learning by doing, songs, communal sharing and socialism. This mostly involved informal structures such as festivals and cultural gatherings. The education or learning system therefore laid emphasis on common social contexts and general observations. This was quite different from the western education which insisted on formal structures of education. The indigenous people disliked this as it interfered with their normal way of life (Attwood, 2005). This saw young aboriginal children who had been forcibly taken to school by the Europeans sneak and get back to their clans. Such sharp differences in educational priorities between the aboriginal communities and the western preference posed a great challenge to the missionaries who wanted to introduce education in Australia (Attwood, 2005).

At this moment in history, Australians were being assimilated in to the British community and culture posing a great danger to the original aboriginal culture. Apart from education being seen as an element of learning and preparing the locals for semi-skilled labor, it was also supposed to shape the aborigines to fit in the European culture (Povinelli, 1993). However, the indigenous people strongly resisted this with an aim of protecting their culture. This is because the nature of education never valued their ways of living and the system rarely acknowledged their value of human race. This is what has been described in their contemporary world as resistance, persistence and determination. As this people had not readily opened up for education, it was completely hard to educate them. This was partly the reason why the white race devalued their culture and viewed them as having low IQ’s and cognitive ability. The racism tendencies by the whites also saw them regard the local people as subhuman, a fact that greatly promoted oppressive policies. Education was later to become a platform for conversion to Christianity, cultural repression and forcing the aboriginal people to perform underpaid jobs (Herbert, 2012).

Currently, the aboriginal systems are quite disadvantaged. Despite the changing world, these groups feel extremely attached to their ancestral culture, a fact that makes the aboriginal culture the most surviving of all cultures through ages. The historical events have frustrated this culture in one way and improved the living standards of this people in another way. However, the general living stands of this groups are still wanting and there health status is comparatively poor. In addition, most members of these communities still find it difficult to embrace the existing educational policies as they are quite alienated from their cultural beliefs. The historical resistance and persistence still survives in the contemporary people making it quite hard to implement any changes aimed at improving the living standards of this people (Bartlett, 2002).


  1. Any groups and non-governmental organizations with intentions to improve the education, social and health standards of the aboriginal people should understand them, their cultural beliefs and their historical experiences to be able to design programs that shall appeal to them.

This is because the aboriginal people are preservative and protective in nature and may not easily accept something from outside their culture.

  1. It is vital, before starting any programs among the aboriginal communities, to design measures that ease their resistance which is always evident in the community and almost in born in every individual.

  2. It is necessary to increase the number of aboriginal people in the education systems. To do this the existing educational policies that are greatly associated with the western culture should be amended to include the preferences of the members from this community. This may serve the interests of this people and motivate them to school compared to the historical tradition which merely regards aboriginal students as low performers.


Attwood, B. (2005). Telling the truth about Aboriginal history. Crow’s Nest: Allen & Unwin.

Baker, R. (1999). Land is life: a cultural geography of Australian contact history. In Elaine Stratford (Ed.), Australian cultural geographies (pp. 25-47).South Melbourne, Vic :Oxford University Press.

Bartlett, A. (2002). The aboriginal peoples of Australia. Minneapolis: Lerner.

Bird R. D. (1996). Nourishing terrain: Australian aboriginal views of landscape and wilderness. Retrieved form commission /books/ nourishing-terrains.html

Herbert, J. (2012). Carelessly circling the centre: historical contextualization of indegenious education within Australia. Retrieved from ceaselessly-circling-the-centre- historical-contextualization-of-HSxqng5Yiq

Myers, F. R. (1980). Always ask: Resource-use and land-ownership among Pintupi Aborigines of the Australian Western Desert. Claremont, Calif.:Pitzer College.

North Sydney (N.S.W : Municipality). (1998). Hands across time —. New South Wales: North Sydney Council.

Povinelli, E. A. (1993). Labor’s lot: the power, history and culture of aboriginal action. Chicago : Univ. of Chicago Press.