The Indigenous people of Australia are from two distinct cultural groups comprising Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The Aboriginal people speak over 250 languages, so they aren’t a single homogeneous cultural group. When people find out how many Nations or tribes make up the Aboriginal culture, most are shocked to find out how diverse the Aboriginal culture truly is–there are more than 250 First Nations, each with their own names, language, and tribal lands.
Most Aboriginal people prefer their Indigenous names, including Bundjalung, Panaboriginal, or Bardi names that describe groups that identify with large geographical areas like Koori on the Southeast coast of Australia.
The Diversity of Language Among Aboriginal People
Although some nations speak up to six or seven surrounding languages, there’s no single mother tongue spoken by Aboriginal people. The only language shared among Aboriginals is English, which was introduced during the colonisation of Australia, and Aboriginal Kriol, also known as ‘Aboriginal English.’ While some words are specific to a cultural group, various common words are understood by many people across the country.
Even though these languages differ significantly, there are similarities in pronunciation, grammatical construct, syntax, and sound. That means that the arrangement of phrases and words in sentences adheres to the same structure. For instance, when Dreamtime stories are re-enacted and retold in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander language–unless they’re fully interpreted–some of the wisdom within those stories may remain localised and ‘hidden.’
Additionally, there are some language restrictions based on gender, age, and membership in the Aboriginal culture. For instance, some languages are only spoken by men and not women and vice versa. In addition, there are ‘outside’ and ‘inside’ languages related to spiritual secrecy. However, although there’s significant diversity of Aboriginal culture in Australia–-including diversity of language–-there are many underlying similarities in terms of principles, themes, and concepts related to Dreamtime.
Diversity of Art in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Culture
Objects painted with dots have become easily recognized as Aboriginal art–however, Aboriginal art is so much more than that. The dot style only began in the early 1970s in the community of Papunya, and is a small fraction of the media and art styles used by contemporary Aboriginal artists.
Today, Aboriginal art is about:
- Dance–Aboriginal dance can be contemporary, traditional, or both. For instance, audiences around the globe love the Chooky Dancers’ interpretation of the Zorba the Greek.
- Craft and visual arts–these include textile-based art, pottery, weaving, wood carving, ceramics, jewellery, grass weaving, miniature carvings, Aboriginal films, and glasswork. New media artists paint skateboards, work ghost nets into artwork, or create dilly bags from scrap metals.
- Law –this is the ‘body of knowledge’ passed on via storytelling in various forms.
- Ceremony–Aboriginal artists perform contemporary and traditional ceremonies, and not just for tourists.
The Aboriginal people maintain their cultural identity, whether they live in Australia’s regional, remote, or urban areas. They maintain a great diversity of languages, cultures, ways of life, and kinship structures among Indigenous communities across Australia. Of course, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have distinct cultures, and the Aboriginal people include a wide variety of tribal groups speaking more than 250 languages.
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