Aboriginal Australians have been living in Australia for over 50,000 years. Aboriginal Australians have many important parts of their culture that have been passed on and lost during thousands of years of history. From the dream time and ancestral spirits, conservation of sacred lands, initiation, birthing, smoking and burial ceremonies. Practical and Ritual, Experiential and Emotional, Narrative, Doctrinal and Philosophical, Ethical and Legal, Social and Institutional and Material are the seven dimensions that where created by Ninian Smart.
Ninian Smart was a Scottish writer and university educator that believed all religions have these 7 dimensions. In different religions some of these dimensions may have had a more or lesser importance and value than they might in other religions, but they were still present, therefore making it a religion. For Indigenous spirituality to be classified as a religion it needs to show evidence of all of Smarts 7 Dimensions.
The Practical and Ritual dimension in regards to Aboriginal Australians include dreamtime stores, birthing ceremonies, coming of age and initiation rituals, menstruation rituals and death and burial ceremonies. The land provides the aboriginals their dreaming element so the Experiential and Emotional dimension is represented through the incredible strong connection and dependency to the land, their emotions with each other and with what they are doing and how it makes them feel.
The Narrative dimension are the stories and what is learnt from them, these include creation stories and stories that teach life lessons and show great importance to a culture. Indigenous spirituality does have evidence of the Narrative dimension, Aboriginal people tell stories about how to do things, what do not do, what should be done and what happens in the dreaming and with the great spirits. These are told through songs, poems, chants, paintings, dances, and rituals. These stories are told about the dreaming, life, ancestors and nature of the land.
The Doctrinal and Philosophical dimension in relation to indigenous spirituality refers and represents their beliefs, the beginning of creation, nature, the patterns and cycles of life and death in the environment and how the great spirits walked the earth before people and animals existed. The Ethical and Legal dimension in regards to Aboriginal Australians is their rights and wrongs, respect and care for the land and it animals these connect them to the dreaming and spirits of the dreaming. The Social and Institutional dimension is viewed through the relationships that each aboriginal person has with tribal and family members.
The Material dimension is represented by Aboriginal Australians beliefs in art such as wood carvings and paintings, body painting, and rock carvings and paintings. Throughout Australia there have been approximately 750 tribes and social groups (Indigenous Australians) that have lived and do still live following traditional indigenous Australian traditions. One of the traditions that these tribes and social groups all have in common are the burial ceremonies. Death and spirituality are such large parts of life to indigenous Australians.
They both come hand in hand with each other and are tied down with strong beliefs. It is an traditional law that when and indigenous person passes away, their name is not used or voiced for a very long time, sometimes never again, this is in fear of disturbing their spirits and ancestral spirits. To Aboriginal Australians it is believed that when a person dies their spirit goes back to the Dreaming ancestors of the land and if the correct ceremonial rituals are conducted the deceased will be guided to the land of the spirits.
Burial rituals must be carefully prepared as Aboriginal Australians have a fear of displeasing the spirits. Most burial rituals and ceremonies consist of both a primary and secondary burial, the exact steps of these rituals do vary from tribe to tribe but are generalised. (VIDEO) Relatives of those who have died are the only ones who can prepare and perform burial ceremonies. The mourners of the same moiety as those who have died cover their faces in black paint normally using carbon or manganese, whereas the mourners of the opposite moiety paint their faces using lime.
Burial rituals are normally loud with the inclusion of dancing, chants, songs and instruments being played to ward of unwanted spirits. The primary burial variations consists of the those who have died being laid out on an elevated wooden platform, then covered in branches and leaves that have been found in the bush surrounding the current campsite of the tribe at the time. The body those who have died are then left for several months to let nature take its course so the flesh is eaten away and the bones are all that remains.
During this time, the tribe smoke themselves to release the spirit of the deceased, sing, dance and chant. The secondary burial consists of the bones being collected and sometimes painted with red ochre paint, wrapped in paperback and put away in a rock cave or in a hollowed out log in designated bush land to disintegrate over time. After being put away, the tribe wash themselves in a nearby lake or river and dance until sunrise. At sunrise, the spirit of those who have dies is released into the dreaming.
Some social groups prefer to carry the bones with the relatives of those who have died for month’s even years. Certain indigenous social groups only do one burial, their variation of a burial consists of the body being buried lying down with the limbs stretched out and together or sitting upright. The body of the deceased must be buried approximately 2 meters deep and with its head laid to the south. Occasionally groups make special clothes for the deceased to wear for their burial ceremony.
Small fires were lit near and around the burial site to ward of any unwanted spirits, and sometimes the graves of those who have died are cover by special structures such as huts, caves or earth mounds. These burial sites were often marked out by using paints of trees or rock arrangements. With the all of the information and evidence gathered and explained above it is evident that aboriginal spirituality can be classified as a religion. There are clear examples of all of the 7 seven dimensions throughout indigenous spirituality and in its rituals.
Courtney from Study Moose
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