Listen to our voice – our words are measured. We have been silenced, but you can see the pain in our eyes, the scars in our voice. Our history is never forgotten – these wounds have never healed. But we have found a new voice and a new way to express our pain, as well as our resilience and pride in our living culture. We don’t want your guilt. We just want you to acknowledge our pain.
I wanted to learn my culture, my language, but it was not allowed in my time. I wanted to see my old people and go hunting, but it was forbidden in my time. The old ways are gone. You must learn the white man’s way to survive – learn to write and read like a good little boy. Then you will not be like the rest. Then you can get a real job and have shiny things like us. But don’t be too loud and always know your place. Those days are over. We won’t be silenced, we will make our culture strong again and we know our rightful place. The youth of today are the new warriors and it is their time.
The beauty in scarification, the beauty in dark pigment. These designs on the skin are a powerful and honoured custom. Although not practiced as much these days, the beauty of the process and healing is a strong statement of body image and status in the community.
Our designs are of country, of the many songlines and people. Each design is passed down and changes over time with our living culture. They become more than just artwork – they are a reminder of our design language that works hand in hand with songs and stories.
Carved pearl shell (riji) is used in ceremonies and dances. The designs carved into the shell tell the stories of saltwater people. Pearl shell was also traded for other objects that could not be found on saltwater country.
Our designs are scarred on our skin with ochre. This ochre is of the land and the designs are of our people. These designs are used in ceremonies while we dance, with each design telling a story of who we are.
Mother earth is our culture. She looks after us, so we must look after her. She provides for us and we mark her to share what she provides. Her red skin is home to myself and my people, her beauty is known across the sea and her shape carved along the water’s edge, where sea turtles continue their life cycle. This is my home and this is where I belong.
We are the land. We scar our skin to show where our land is and that our culture is alive on the ground below our feet. Our design language survives through our songlines, artwork and ceremonies. Our culture is the warm colours of the land that you feel and not just see. When you visit with open eyes, you create a connection to the land. This is a part of our culture to share and we welcome anyone to visit and let the land heal their liyan (spirit).
Pearl shell has always been used for ceremonies and trade, and kids have long played with the shiny pearls within. With the arrival of the pearling industry, these shells took on a different value and were harvested and shipped across the oceans. In a dark side to the industry, pearling masters forced Aboriginal women to dive for shell, even while pregnant. These beautiful creatures, with shiny dark skin and carrying life within, explored the ocean floor in search of pearl shell, the value of the their lives outstripped by the value of the shell.
Today, young warriors use ink to express their culture and machines to scar the skin. This is their initiation – their way of becoming proud and strong. Many of them use designs that were traditionally carved on shields to mark their bodies as modern weapons of strength.
Generations have passed down stories by drawing lines in the sand, scarring the pindan (red dirt) with designs of animal tracks and liyan (spirit) circles. This practice has been taught throughout time and is still done today, instilling in the next generation the importance of sharing stories.
Our wealth is our blood, our blood is our community, our community is our culture. When we harm ourselves, we harm our community. Watching our young people draining their value breaks all our liyan (spirit). The ripple effect is vast within our community, but when our community is broken, our culture and country become our source of healing.
In this new world we struggle to keep our heads above water as we navigate through the depths of oppression and a lack of self value. These days the glorification of suicide within our youth remains high and is seen as a way out for our troubled people. Our community must stay strong but also listen and change to help our people to heal and see the value in themselves and our culture.
This land is our culture, this land is our people, this land belongs to us and us to it. Our culture is everywhere and is strong inside us. Our culture lives before and after me. Our culture is our skin, our words, our song, and goes beyond us to the ancestors above us in the dark sky. Our culture is for everyone. Come listen to our songlines, learn about this country, and look after this land as it will look after you. What is mine is yours in our culture.
Strange voices and striking words have influenced many of us to shift our beliefs and follow a new songline – that of a man from across the oceans. These words are spoken by foreign men who seem more powerful than our healing men, as they can cure us of the strange new illnesses and look as pale as our spirits. But with this shift of faith has come a traumatic dissociation and assimilation – a loss of culture, of language, of identity that is etched upon generations.
Blinded by a new faith, people traded our ancient vivid beliefs for a monochromatic system of power and wealth under the hidden guise of unity. But our culture is still within us. We are of this land and the land is us. Wealth is country and we own this land. We can be strong as one if we are not transfixed by the shimmer of foreign objects.
One day my grandfather was on his own going for a walk just outside Broome when he came across a patch of bush with hidden targets nailed to trees. These targets were made to look like Aboriginal people. As this shocking example quite literally shows, Aboriginal people have been the targets of oppression since colonisation. Each notch is a value that has been placed on our misery.