The Dreaming of the Left-­Handed Kangaroo

 (Western science catches up to ancient wisdom)

Munya Andrews | September 2016

Did you know kangaroos are left­handed? What does this mean for human beings and what might it tell us about our common ancestry? Is there a deeper connection between human and marsupial that may reveal something of ourselves?

The recent scientific discovery that most kangaroos are left­handed is nothing new to Aboriginal people who have always known this. Not far from the small township of Adelaide River in the Northern Territory, the surrounding hills are connected with the Dreaming of the Left­Handed Kangaroo. That it makes specific reference to the kangaroo’s handedness is no accident, the significance of which would only be known to the initiated and closely guarded by cultural laws. Who knows what ancient knowledge and wisdom Elders possess that might further edify and enlighten us on our journey?

What has this discovery got to do with me?

Okay so kangaroos are left­handed I hear you say, so what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that it calls into question our sense of specialness. Once thought the sole preserve of human beings, handedness (the preference to use one hand over the other) is no longer considered a unique human trait after all. Scientists were surprised to discover this fact for the simple reason that marsupials “lack the neural circuit that bridges the left and right brain hemispheres found in other mammals.” [1]

The discovery is significant because it provides a perfect example of “parallel evolution” that gives us deeper understanding of our evolution as a species. What it tells us says the lead scientist, is that “we are not alone in the universe”. That “we are two – human and kangaroos.” [2]

We are all related

The idea that we are more intimately connected or related to our fellow creatures (and the universe in which we live) is a central precept of many Indigenous cultures. It is beautifully expressed in the totemic nature of Aboriginal Dreamtime and Native American spirituality for example. The Lakota Sioux end all their prayers with the words Mitakuye Oyasin “all my relations” to acknowledge our kinship and interrelatedness with all living beings with whom we share a common ancestry and destiny.

Left­handed Bears, Androgynous Cassowaries and Kangaroo Dreaming

Like Indigenous Australians, Native peoples were long aware that bears too are also left­handed. Not surprisingly, left­handed bears feature quite prominently in Native American mythology and spiritual beliefs. These stories not only speak to our common zoological heritage but the celebration of human diversity, more notably to the wholehearted acceptance and inclusion of transgendered or ‘two­spirit’ peoples. [3] When an Aboriginal person speaks of their Kangaroo Dreaming they are trying to convey a profound, intimate connection they feel with that animal deep within the recesses of their soul and their consciousness. That kangaroo may be an Elder, Teacher, Mother, Father, Brother, Sister, Son or Daughter and as one might expect with any family or tribe there is a deep, abiding sense of community with all of the nuances that relationship entails. This inexplicable feeling of kindredness that Indigenous peoples feel towards their fellow creatures transcends the confines of western science with its limited understanding of what constitutes ‘knowledge’.

It seems to me that it is only just beginning to catch up to ancient wisdom. But in many ways, it is only dancing around the fringes of a vast, untapped repository. Science still has such a long way to go to before it can fully comprehend and revere what Native Americans simply refer to as, ‘The Great Mystery’.

Mitakuye Oyasin.

© Evolve Communities Pty Ltd, 2020.

Aboriginal Cultural Awareness| Indigenous Science| Songlines

  1. Janet Fang, Most Kangaroos Are Left­Handed, IFL Science, 19 June 2016.
  2. Ibid.
  3. Bruce Bagemihi, Left­Handed Bears and Androgynous Cassowaries, Whole Earth Spring 2000.
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