The library versus dance...

The library vs dance , the modern vs the ancient, the modern vs the organic, weeds vs herbicides, family pests vs pesticides , community mind vs aritifical intelligence, the school vs the wild - in the space between these contests, the most interesting questions for us, at this time in history, arise
The library vs dance[i], the modern vs the ancient, the modern vs the organic, weeds vs herbicides, family pests[ii] vs pesticides , community mind vs aritifical intelligence, the school vs the wild - in the space between these contests, the most interesting questions for us, at this time in history, arise.

One of the ways that we Western and Eastern based peoples assert our superiority over peoples that have oral traditions is through dictionaries, manuals and libraries. Now it is not even necessary to go to a physical place and consult a catalogue, everything is at our finger tips.: the manual for a bomb or the recipe for guacamole. The power to consult Aristotle’s bee keeping methods is powerful. But this knowledge is not memorised or felt. It is hardly known and is then forgotten. One remembers only that a source is there to be consulted. The ability to find a manual for a Kawasaki 24 horse power engine and to find the precise bolt or air filter cleaner in an engineering diagram is useful. But does it turn us into a sort of computer-based white faced clerk whose mind is on cheezels? The power of google allows us to find these things in an instant gives every man or woman the capacity of a genius and an archivist and a professor. But do we become dangerous know-it-alls as a result? Perhaps artificial intelligence is the logical final point of this world of built-up, written down knowledge. Perhaps we are writing the human out of governance of anything that is worthwhile. For what passive people do we create through these elaborate and sophisticated knowledge systems? Bureaucrats, politicians, opinion writers, journalists, economists, engineers, technicians, fact checkers, process checkers, finance experts, money market players, white faced cheezel loving clerks..  of course there are some practical elements of feel for those whose professions require some level of craft.. but increasingly this is not necessary. Or is it? Are we on the road to some sort of doom? These same evils wrack the houses of first peoples and dominate the lounge rooms of people east and west.. television is a mesmerising 24 hour a day mind one-way conversation… One learns to hate the commentators and screen monkeys.. its all part of it. Youtube is about to take over as we compare jam recipes, ways to strip down engines and the techniques to take out bearings…  all little fitters and turners in our hearts… but without any finesse or apprenticeship. Jacks of all trades and masters of none – all of us. How boring are the ones who really know what they are doing? How unfulfilled are the masters of this new universe?

The body of the great singer of Arnhem land has been transported back to his island home. Soon his life will be sung and danced. The elaborate ceremonies involving dance, rhythm, music will be lead by elders and song men who have progressed through dance, yidaki, clap sticks, song in their learning of hundreds perhaps thousands of songs. Women will shroud and protect and shelter all of the proceedings. The whole of the minds of the community are the data base and memory,everyone from the youngest to the oldest will take part in the elaborate ceremonies that will go from mid-morning to late in the evening for several weeks. The great singer’s life, associated lands, animals, winds, stars, clouds, weather patterns represent one slice of the universe. All of the associated knowledges are held in bodies, dance and feelings and non-verbal communications as well as power words and rituals. Over the cycle of Yolŋu funerals all of the known universe will eventually be danced and sung.

Like the great singers life itself.. how precarious are these ceremonies now? They are undermined in every way, every day. We will grudgingly provide small funds and grant leave for a funeral as if we are giving some unentitled benefit that our world does not have access to.

Between the latest Hollywood show or film or beautiful meal, our world is fascinated by the non-written world of the Yolŋu and their culture. We were awed by the great singers presence, his songs and his great depth of tradition. We are awed by the ceremonies for an instant. We love dancers like the djuki mala because they have a body language that is so sophisticated and elaborate even when they perform for their own amusement, and in the great tradition of Yolŋu comedy, some parody of Zorba and our world’s ancient dance of men. Something flickers in us when we watch the Djukis or Bangara or a short clip of manikay at Garma. We increasingly recognise something in the world of the verbal dance culture, I think because we have lost so much of our own ability to live, breathe and dance.

Our world is on a constant collision course. “We Aboriginal people are fucked… completely fucked..” my great friend told me. Our world has no realisation. We have no awareness of the ways today we undermine and cut down this world of non-verbal, non-written culture.  We think it all happened yesterday. But it is arguably more blameworthy now. And even our aboriginal leaders sometimes want to make light of the loss. It is ok we can barrack for the Broncos, love our country and sing manikay. Yes, it is the hope, but only when the dominating mainstream recognises its own profound lack and short comings. We want the children in schools learning the Queen’s English ahead of their own languages and culture? We want to insist that song men who spend days and months memorising combinations of words, body movements and rhythms are enrolled at Centrelink or working at a tyre place or a mine or a local council? Our whole idea of “walkabout” is an ignorant, racist and derogatory concept. We want to insist that, like us, every moment of creative life is used up in a vacant activity that has an hourly charge. Without the money there is no meaning in our world.  We do not want people roaming the land, hunting and thinking about life, interacting with the winds!

The modern has sucked up and eaten the ancient, the mystical and the magic. It wants to regurgitate everything in its own image.

If we allow that to happen all will be lost.

If we were a civilised country we would pay the great holders of knowledge amongst our first peoples great and generous, sophisticated in-tune allowances which they can distribute amongst their family based on their participation in dance and ceremony and that honour who they are and not what we want them to be. We should allow traditional leaders to support their families and offer gentle inducements to their young to come away from the television screens and to go hunting. We should understand different ideas of work.  We should not be-grudge difference but honour it. We should understand that the class room is not just an industrial factory of desks and controlled enviroments that requires people to be seated for many hours each day. Most of all we should understand that our traditional Australian peoples are of world shattering significance in this modern world where everything is measured by money.

We are selfish, disrespectful gangsters who have had everything given to us and we still do not understand the greatest gifts that are all around us.

There is so much more to say. But perhaps these few paragraphs are enough. Today, as Mungo Man’s remains are being returned to the great fresh water inland sea now dried up for 10,000 years, there is thunder all over the country. Thunder asking for us to wake up from our narrow industrial modern mind set and open our hearts and our minds.

[i] BR inspired most of this, as so many things.

[ii] Mosquitoes as uncles, worms as grandfathers..