Australian Aboriginal

The Australian aborigines are, together with the Torres Strait Islanders , the descendants of the first inhabitants of the country Australia and its adjacent islands, and have continued to live there throughout the Colonization of Europe . Under Australian law, both peoples make up the Indigenous Australians as a whole. The traditional territory of the Australian Aborigines extends throughout Australia, Tasmania and a few nearby islands.


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  • 1 Clarifications on terminology
  • 2 Australian Government Definition
  • 3 The various aboriginal peoples
  • 4 Languages
  • 5 Culture
    • 1 The Dreamtime
    • 2 Astronomy
    • 3 Music
    • 4 Painting
    • 5 Sports
    • 6 Aboriginal cuisine
  • 6 History
    • 1 Aboriginal Australia
    • 2 18th and 19th century: British colonization
      • 2.1 Diseases
    • 3 20th century
  • 7 Australian Aborigines in the 21st Century
    • 1 Demographics
      • 1.1 Geographical distribution
      • 1.2 Average age and life expectancy
    • 2 Health
    • 3 Criminality and imprisonment
    • 4 Drug abuse
    • 5 The territorial conflict
  • 8 See also
  • 9 External links

Clarifications on terminology

If the first sense of the word “Aboriginal” defines the native inhabitants of any country, that term preferably applies to the native inhabitants of Australia.

The adjective “aboriginal”, aboriginal in English appears in English since the seventeenth century at least and means “from the origin” ( ab-origine ), derived from Latin . It has been used in Australia to describe its indigenous people since 1789 . It soon became a proper name and was used to refer to all indigenous Australians. It should be noted that, in English, the use of aboriginal as a name has acquired negative, even derogatory, connotations among some sectors of the community, who see it as insensitive and even offensive, and it tends to be avoided by the historical associations made with it. colonialism. Also the word “native”, which was common in literature before the 1960s, is now often considered offensive. The most accepted term is the aboriginal noun . This distinction is not appreciated in Spanish, which translates both terms as “aboriginal”.

Some aborigines in turn claim the use of the English term Aborigines (aboriginal) with a capital letter, to differentiate themselves from the aborigines of other parts of the world and to be recognized as a specific people. This use of the capital letter, typical of English, cannot be applied, however, to Spanish.

On the occasion of discussions about the possible inclusion in the Australian Constitution of Aboriginal ancestral land rights, Aboriginal policy Lowitja O’Donoghue advocated in favor of the term “Aboriginal” and rejected the term “indigenous” to refer to their people, for being too general. The Australian government, according to indigenous communities, used since the 80s of the twentieth century the term “Indigenous Australians” ( Indigenous Australians ) to refer collectively to Aborigines and Islanders Torres Strait , and distinguish them from the colonial settlers and of other origins.

The inhabitants of the Torres Strait Islands have a cultural and social heritage and history that differentiates them from the aborigines. The inhabitants of these islands, particularly in the eastern part, are specifically related to the Papuan people of New Guinea and speak Papuan languages . Therefore they are not included under the designation “Australian Aborigines”. This has been one of the factors that have led to the more generic term “Indigenous Australians”.

Australian Government definition

After much debate, the Australian government has adopted the following definition: An Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander is a person of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander descent who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander and it is accepted as such by the community in which it lives. The color of the skin is not considered a valid criterion for determining belonging to any of the indigenous groups. Only cultural and social criteria are taken into account. Qualifications based on miscegenation are also prohibited. One is or is not Aboriginal, but cannot be “half Aboriginal”.

The various aboriginal peoples


Australia Aboriginal Regions Map

There are more than 400 Australian Aboriginal peoples, each with differentiated cultural traits and its own geographic location. They are identified by the name of their indigenous language or by the word with which they call themselves. Among the main ones we have:

  • Koori(or Koorie ) and Guringai in New South Wales and Victoria
  • Murriin Queensland
  • Noongarin South Western Australia
  • Yamatjiin central Western Australia
  • Wangkaiin the Golden Fields of Western Australia
  • Nungasouth of South Australia
  • Ananguin the northern part of South Australia and the neighboring parts of Western Australia and the Northern Territory
  • Arrentein the MacDonnell Range .
  • Yapain the central northwest territory
  • Yolnguin the east in Arnhem Land (NT)
  • Palawah(or Pallawah ) in Tasmania

These groups can in turn be divided into subgroups. For example, the Anangu (meaning ‘person from the desert region of central Australia’) include the local subdivisions Yankunytjatjara, Pitjantjatjara , Ngaanyatjara, Luritja and Antikirinya.


Before European colonization, more than 250 Australian Aboriginal languages ​​were spoken, down to less than 20 by the 21st century (and some seriously endangered).

Some linguists consider that almost all aboriginal languages ​​are related, albeit distantly, and classify them into two large families: the Pama-ñunganas languages, spoken in most of Australia, and the non-Pama-ñunganas languages, spoken in the north of the country. . But due to the difficulty of establishing a clear phylogeny , others consider that aboriginal languages ​​do not form true linguistic families , but constitute a Sprachbund , namely a group of similar languages ​​due to their geographical proximity and frequent contact between languages. Some aboriginal languages ​​are considered as isolated languages , as is the case of the Tiví languagespoken on the island of the same name, in the Northern Territory . Regarding the languages ​​of the Aboriginal Tasmanian languages, too little is known to relate them.



A child of the Arrente ethnic group in the Alberga river region (1920-24)

Aboriginal culture developed in an autarky way , giving rise to a great variety of languages ​​and cultures with common features, and it is the oldest living culture on the planet. The aborigines led a hunter-gatherer life , and lived in semi-nomadic groups that roamed vast territories hunting with spears and boomerang , fishing in canoes, and gathering fruits and plants. Having no written language, they transmitted their knowledge through stories and songs.

The Dream Time

The Dreamtime ( Tjukurpa in Anangu language or Dreamtime in English) is a set of aboriginal legends that explain their origins, their relationships with their natural environment and their future. This religious tradition constitutes the core of Aboriginal culture and serves as a guide in their daily lives. Its sacred place is the rock formation called Uluru (also known as Ayers Rock), classified by UNESCO since 1989 as a natural World Heritage site, and since 1994 as a cultural site.


Since Australian Aboriginal culture is the oldest of the still continuing civilizations, it has been said that Australian Aborigines may well have been the first astronomers in history. Some groups of Australian aborigines use the movements of the celestial bodies as a calendar. Religious or mythological meanings are often attributed to astronomical phenomena and heavenly bodies. There is a great diversity of astronomical traditions in Australia, each with its particular expression cosmology. However, there seem to be common lines between the different groups, such as Australian Aboriginal Astronomy or the Canoe of Orion.


The best known of the Aboriginal musical instruments is the didgeridoo , or yidaki , traditionally played by men from Arnhem Land and the Kimberley region of northern Australia. This instrument has become popular all over the world, enjoying growing popularity among musicians from both traditional music and rock, pop and jazz.



Aboriginal Cave Painting

Aboriginal rock painting Aboriginal painting is an art of ancient tradition. The motifs represented usually relate the legends of the “Dreamtime”, which is why it has sometimes been assimilated to a form of writing. It is mostly done on rocks, painting on bark and fabrics. With the exception of cave paintings , it was traditionally an ephemeral art: drawings in the sand and body paintings. Aboriginal painter Albert Namatjira (June 28, 1902 – August 8, 1959) is one of Australia’s most renowned painters. The style of his watercolors inspired the Hermannsburg School of Aboriginal Art.


Boomerang throwing is the favorite sport of Australian Aboriginal people, followed by Australian football , rugby and cricket. Since the 1960s, the number of Olympic Aboriginal athletes in different disciplines has increased.

Aboriginal cuisine


Fruits collected in the Alice Springs region.

Berries form the basis of the traditional diet of Australian aborigines. The bush tucker designates the set of Australian animal and plant species that allow man to survive in the wild, and their knowledge is an integral part of Aboriginal culture. Food can be roasted over hot coals, or wrapped in crusts to be cooked in ovens dug into the ground.

Since the end of the 18th century, the loss of their traditional hunting and gathering territories prevented the aborigines from preserving their food traditions. On the other hand, the manifest contempt of the European settlers towards this type of diet, and the introduction of new non-aboriginal foods led to the progressive disappearance of the bush tucker , especially in the highly populated areas of the Australian southeast.

In the 1970s, various botanical and horticultural studies fueled interest in traditional Aboriginal food and made it fashionable. Starting in the 1990s, it was renamed bushfood and began to appear on the menu of some Sydney gourmet restaurants, in cookbooks and on culinary television shows. The growing demand for Australian wild ingredients then prompted the creation of industrial crops based on Aboriginal knowledge, without them participating in this thriving new business. Since the beginning of the 21st century, some Australian agencies have been promoting the incorporation of Aboriginal communities in the production and marketing of traditional Aboriginal foods.


Aboriginal Australia

It is thought that around 40,000-50,000 years ago, in the Pleistocene , the first Australians arrived from Southeast Asia. Those first settlers would have traveled from island to island, using the land bridges that linked many of them at that time, and traveling short sea stretches until they reached the eastern end of the Minor Sunda Islands and the island of Nueva Guinea , and then moved by Sahul Australian continental shelf, then above sea level. The oldest human remains found to date, the [[Mungo Man date back 50,000 years, but experts believe that the first human migrations could date back to 125,000 years, although this date is contested. The remains of the Mungo Man were found in New South Wales, some 3,000 km off the north coast of Australia where the first human settlements are thought to have taken place.

A recent study of the Australian aboriginal genome, using hair samples from an aboriginal who lived 100 years ago, has shown that these migrated from Africa between 62,000 and 75,000 years ago, in a first wave of human dispersal to Asia that occurred earlier of the population movements that divided into the European and Asian populations, between 25,000 and 38,000 years ago. They reached Australia where they have remained ever since, and are probably one of the oldest continuous populations that exist outside of Africa. Subsequent waves of migration replaced part of this first wave of dispersal, but Aborigines as well as other minority populations in the Philippines, India, and Papua New Guinea can be considered as relict populations of the first wave of dispersal.

18th and 19th century: British colonization

In 1770 , Captain James Cook took possession of two-thirds of Australia on behalf of the crown of the United Kingdom, based on the principle of Terra nullius , which assumed that the land had no owner.

In 1788 , British colonization began with the landing in present-day New South Wales of the First Fleet , a fleet of 11 ships with almost 1,500 people on board. They were criminal exile who had been authorized to found a first penal colony.

Faced with the sudden arrival of British settlers, the Aborigines had mixed reactions, but inevitably became hostile when they had to compete to conserve their vital resources, and when they witnessed the occupation and seizure of their territories as the “frontier” advanced towards the interior of the continent. For the settlers, the aborigines could be expelled from the lands they wanted to use for agriculture and livestock, because they were nomads and ignored the concept of land ownership. But the aboriginal culture was intrinsically related to the land in which they lived, so by having to abandon their traditional territories they could not maintain the social and spiritual practices that ensured the cohesion of the clans and the interrelationships between the groups.


The year after the first settlers arrived, a smallpox epidemic killed 90% of the Darug Aboriginal people who inhabited the region. The British later attributed the epidemic to Macassar fishermen from the Celebes Islands European diseases that the settlers brought with them (such as smallpox , chicken pox , measles , influenza and tuberculosis ) killed thousands of Aborigines. In regions where both communities coexisted, venereal diseases severely reduced Aboriginal fertility and birth rates. With the settlers, the aborigines also discovered alcohol, tobacco and opium ; Substance abuse that became widespread throughout the 19th century continues to be a widespread problem among indigenous Australian communities in the 20th century. The combined effects of disease, loss of land, and direct violence reduced the Aboriginal population by 90% between 1788 and 1900.

Twentieth century

By the early 1920s, the Australian Aboriginal population was estimated to have declined to between 50,000 and 90,000 people, and the general feeling among the European population was that they were doomed to disappear. Despite the impact of the European settlements and way of life, some aboriginal communities that remained isolated in remote regions survived maintaining their traditional way of life until well into the 20th century. On the other hand, their immunity against diseases had improved, so the Aboriginal birth rate began to rise again from the 1930s.

At the beginning of the 20th century, the majority of Aboriginal people lived on reservations and in controlled areas, and their movements were limited by law. They had few job opportunities and continued to be employed on farms where they received no pay (in some cases they were given a small compensation) and received food, clothing and accommodation in exchange for their work. In 1901 Australia became a federation and the Commonwealth Constitution came into force. The Commonwealth Franchise Act , passed in 1902, denied the right to vote to the aborigines unless they had been registered in the electoral lists of a state before 1901, which left out the vast majority. Starting in 1915 they were allowed to vote with limitations in some states, but their few civil rights vary widely from state to state.

In the years 1932 – 1934 , a series of killings perpetrated by Aboriginal self – defense of the Northern Territory and their corresponding judgments, marked a turning point in relations between Aboriginal and non – Aboriginal. Known as the Caledon Bay Crisis, these events and especially their outcome were a temporary relief in the tense relations between the two communities.

Australian Aborigines in the 21st century


Australian Aboriginal Flag (Biblical Zoo, Jerusalem)

Indigenous Australian communities (Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders) suffer from serious health and economic deficiencies, and are ranked lower by social indicators in terms of health, education, employment, poverty and crime. In 2004 , the then Prime Minister, John Howard, established a series of contracts with Aboriginal communities in which they were awarded substantial financial support in exchange for a series of commitments, such as the schooling of children. These contracts are known as Shared Responsibility Agreements.(Shared Responsibility Contracts). They mark a shift in Aboriginal politics from “self-determination” on their community issues to “mutual obligation” to non-Aboriginal communities.

The concept of ‘mutual obligation’ has recently been introduced and applies to all Australian health and social assistance recipients, regardless of their origins, provided they are not disabled or elderly. Statistics published by the Australian government compile Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders under the name “Indigenous Australians”. The figures therefore refer to all the indigenous inhabitants of Australia, except where otherwise specified.


Geographical distribution

One third of indigenous people live in major Australian cities (32% or 165,800 people). 45% are distributed between the continental regions and the Outer Territories of Australia, and about 25% live in the Australian deserts , called “remote” or “very remote New South Wales concentrates the largest proportion of the indigenous population (152,700 people ), followed by Queensland (144,900 people). The Australian Capital Territory, Canberra and its surroundings, is the least indigenous home (4,300 people). In the Northern Territory , 30% of the population is indigenous.

Average age and life expectancy

Australia’s indigenous population is much younger than the non-indigenous population, due to their higher death and birth rates. The estimated average age is 21 years for indigenous people and 37 years for non-indigenous people. For this reason, corrective factors ( age standardization ) are often introduced when comparing statistics on both populations. It is also difficult to quantify the life expectancy of indigenous people with precision, since data on the exact number of deaths are lacking. The Australian statistics office for this reason changed the methods of analysis of the data collected, and warns that the latest published figures cannot be compared with those published in previous editions.


Due to the lack of access to healthcare, Aboriginal people are more affected by health problems. Furthermore, factors such as poverty, insufficient education, drug abuse, little access to sanitary facilities in isolated areas, and cultural pressure (resulting in very little communication between indigenous communities and healthcare workers) imply inequality with respect to life expectancy. Consecutive federal governments have responded to these problems with the implementation of programs such as the Office of Aboriginal and Islander Health of Torres Strait (OATSIH), which implies more healthcare among indigenous communities, but the problems are still ongoing.

Criminality and incarceration

The incarceration rate among Aboriginal people is 5 times that of black men in South Africa during apartheid. In 2002, they were twice more frequently victims of violent attacks than non-indigenous people. In 2001, 24% of the indigenous population reported being victims of violence. In June 2004, 21% of the prisoners were indigenous. There are frequent reports of domestic violence and unrest in the communities.

Drugs abuse

Many indigenous communities suffer from a host of social, health and legal problems associated with the abuse of legal and illegal drugs. In 2007, a survey by the National Drug Strategy reported that indigenous people abstain from alcohol more than non-indigenous people (23.4% vs. 16.8%), but if they consume alcohol they are more in danger of drinking alcohol. very high level (27.4% vs. 20.1%). To combat this problem, an attempt has been made to implement a series of alcohol abuse prevention and mitigation programs. Many of these programs have been initiated by the communities themselves. The strategies include declarations of “Zones without alcohol” among indigenous communities, prohibitions and restrictions on access to points of sale and citizen collaboration. Although in some communities the problems connected with alcoholism have diminished, for others it is still a current problem. Another problem is the inhalation of oil among some isolated communities.

The territorial conflict

The racist principle “terra nullius” continued in force in Australia until it was repealed in the historic Mabo case trial in 1992. This principle, which established that the land in Australia was unoccupied before the arrival of the British colonizers, was the tool of which Successive colonial governments used their ancestral territories from the aborigines. The loss of their land had devastating social, cultural and psychological consequences for the aborigines, and despite the verdict in favor of the recovery of their property, they still do not return a large part of their territories.

by Abdullah Sam
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