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07 NOVEMBER 2014

Songlines: How Indigenous Australians Use Music to Mark Geography

"There are many different methods of pre–literate navigation that have been documented around the world. One of the most unique, a fusion of navigation and oral mythological storytelling, originated among the indigenous peoples of Australia, who navigated their way across the land using paths called songlines or dreaming tracks. In Aboriginal mythology, a songline is a myth based around localised 'creator–beings' during the Dreaming, the indigenous Australian embodiment of the creation of the Earth. Each songline explains the route followed by the creator–being during the course of the myth. The path of each creator–being is marked in sung lyrics. One navigates across the land by repeating the words of the song or re–enacting the story through dance, which in the course of telling the story also describe the location of various landmarks on the landscape (e.g. rock formations, watering holes, rivers, trees). In some cases, the paths of the creator–beings are said to be evident from their marks on the land (petrosomatoglyphs), such as large depressions in the land which are said to be their footprints (parallels can certainly be seen in some North American First Nation creation stories).

Songlines often came in sequences, much like a symphony or album today. By singing a song cycle in the appropriate order could navigate vast distances, often travelling through the deserts of Australia's interior (a fact which amazed early anthropologists who were stunned by Aborigines that frequently walked across hundreds of kilometres of desert picking out tiny features along the way without error). Each group had its own set of songlines that were passed from generation to generation so that future generations would know how to navigate when in neighbouring tribes' territories. The extensive system of songlines in Australia varied in length from a few kilometres to hundreds of kilometres in length crossing through lands of many different Indigenous peoples. Since a songline can span the lands of several different language groups, different parts of some songlines were in different languages corresponding to the region the songline was navigating through at the time, and thus could only be fully understood by a person speaking all of the languages in the song."

(The Basement Geographer, 21 October 2010)

Fig.1 "What are song lines?" Colin Jones, lecturer in Aboriginal History, talks about his culture, his history and his art. Queensland Rural Medical Education.

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TAGS

Aboriginal mythologyancestral beings • ancestral heroes • animist belief systemAustralia • Colin Jones • creation narrative • creation spirits • Creator Beingscultural memory • cultural webs of memory • dreaming (spirituality) • dreaming tracks • earth motherFirst AustraliansFirst Nations • genii loci • geographical point • Indigenous Australians • kin-grouping system • kinship • landmarkslandscapelocationmappingmarkers • mythological storytelling • navigation systemnavigational methodsoral historiesorientationorigin myth • paths • petrosomatoglyph • place • point-to-point • pre-literate navigation • pre-literate societiessequences and spatial practisessmooth space • song cycle • songlinesspatial literacyspatial narrativespiritualitysymbolic placeterritorytimeless timetopology • totemic ancestors • voice map • watering holewayfinding

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
22 FEBRUARY 2010

The Maori Origin Myth

"The [Aotearoa New Zealand] Maori origin myth describes a world of darkness locked in the unyielding embrace of Ranganui, the Sky Father, and Papatuanuku, the Earth Mother with all their children (sea, forest, land, mountains, wind and rain) trapped between them. This inertia was shattered by Tane Mahuta, god of the forest, when he forcefully separated Papa and Rangi, thus liberating his siblings as well as their future descendants, freeing the light, and catalyzing the procreation of all life forms. Processes of differentiation and proliferation were then set in motion bound by mauri, the life force, imparting character (so that birds are birds and fish are fish), and uniting the physical and spiritual."

(Suzanne MacAulay, 'Field Aesthetics', Gathering/Place: Folklore, Aesthetic Ecologies, and the Public Domain)

Fig.1. Chris Matatahi & Peter Plumb. 'Maui's Dwelling Place', 1 metre tall. The whalebone is 79 cm long and 40 cm wide at the furthest points. The greenstone face is 21 cm tall and 13 cm wide at their furthest points. The base is NZ kauri wood and greenstone. Three paua pearls are inlaid in the upper area of the whalebone.

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TAGS

2004Aotearoa New Zealandbirdscarving • Chris Matatahi • creation narrativeearth motherethnographyfish • folklife • folkloregodIndigenouskauri • life force • Maori • Maui • mauri • origin mythPacific • Papa • Papatuanuku • Peter Plumb • pounamu • Ranganui • Rangi • Sky Father • sperm whalebone • spiritual • Tane Mahuta • University of Pennsylvania

CONTRIBUTOR

Simon Perkins
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