Anthropological and linguistics articles from University of Western Australia

Monday, May 28, 2007

Orthography for Pitta Pitta by Saskia Marina Hewitt UWA

Linguistics 3307 Weekly Assignment 2 Saskia Hewitt

Orthography for Pitta-Pitta

1. The table below gives the symbols which will be used to represent the consonants of the language.

Bilabial Apico-alveolar Apico-post-alveolar Lamino-dental Lamino-palatal Velar
Stops p t rt th ty k
Nasals m n rn nh ny ng
Laterals l rl lh ly
Trills rr
Flaps d
Glides w r y w

a. The stops are represented using the symbols which denote voicelessness in English. Stops in Pitta-Pitta are usually (not always) pronounced voiceless. This also allows the symbol d to be used for the apico-alveolar flap and avoids the problem of representing apico-alveolar nasal plus velar stop as ng.

b. Retroflex, lamino-dental and lamino-palatal sounds are represented by digraphs. The sequences chosen suggest sounds which are close to the actual sounds made (they are also the conventional symbols for similar sounds in other languages, but the reason for that is that they are good symbols to use for those sounds).

c. The rhotic contrast was a little tricky to represent. I ended up using the r symbol for the retroflex glide because that is the sound it represents in Australian English, which is what most people who would be using this orthography would be familiar with. The trill is represented by rr because that is how trills in other dialects of English are usually represented. It also makes sense in that the trill sounds like (and I suppose you could say it is) a rhotic repeated very rapidly many times. So using two rhotic symbols to represent it is kind of intuitively sensible in a way.
The flap I decided to represent with the symbol d. The apico-alveolar stops in English are sometimes reduced to a sound very much like a flap in rapid speech and so d is the symbol that most closely represents the flap sound of Pitta-Pitta.
My alternative was to make up a new symbol or steal one from a different alphabet, but I thought that was going a little bit overboard, because once I did that for one sound, it would make sense to do that for all the non-English sounds. This would make the alphabet for Pitta-Pitta very different from the English alphabet. This would be fine except for the fact that hardly anyone speaks the language or uses it at all and anyone wanting to do so will already know the English alphabet. So to learn almost an entire new alphabet seems a little silly when you would then barely use it even in a symbolic function.
The English alphabet is adequate to cover the sounds of Pitta-Pitta, and even if the language did become more widely spoken, it would still be easy enough to use the system above. Problems may arise with speaker attitudes or interference from the English values for the flap and some of the other sounds. In that case the system may need to be revised.

2. The vowels will be represented by u, i and a. o shall be used in the case of “wowo” and any other instances that an “o” sound is found in the language. The people using the orthography will be familiar with the English alphabet and so it is simpler to just add another letter, even if it is only used in one case, than to try and explain that in this particular word the symbol “a” or “u” actually represents the sound “o”.

Spelling Rules

1. Clusters of lateral or nasal plus stop, where the individual sounds are represented by digraphs, will be represented by a simplified trigraph e.g. “rnt” not “rnrt”. As far as I can tell from the data presented by Blake, this system is not going to cause any confusion in terms of other consonant clusters that might be represented by the same symbols - that is if the consonant clusters allowed are indeed limited to the three types given in the description.

2. Geminates are not represented even when the word is often pronounced with a geminate. Since Blake has recorded no contrast between geminates and non-geminates, and since the forms seem (from the description) to be underlyingly non-geminate in most cases, it did not seem necessary to represent the difference. Speakers of the language would recognize the word anyway, and for non-speakers the underlying form is the one they will most likely want to have written down. If there was a reason for non-speakers to want to say the words and be understood, they could still be understood perfectly well using the underlying version of these words that do not have a geminate, even if that form isn’t the typical form.

3. In word initial position, where the apical contrast is negated, all apicals will be written using the retroflex symbol since this is usually how they are said and since that form seems to be underlying. Although the digraph is more complex, I decided against using the apico-alveolar symbols because it seems like it might confuse speakers to have it written a different way to how it is usually said, and also from what they might have in their heads as what the sound should be. Obviously without testing it is hard to gauge what attitudes speakers will have but from other cases that have been discussed in class that seems to be a likely situation.
Also it would be helpful for non-speakers to know that the sound is usually pronounced more retroflexively, although that function is not as important since it wouldn’t change the meaning if they used an apico-alveolar instead of a retroflex.

4. Long vowels and vowel sequences are written with the use of glides. So a sequence of “i” and “a” is written “iya” and a long vowel “a:” is written “awa”. Even though Blake posits different underlying forms depending on the morphology of the words I thought it would be better to regularize the spelling to avoid confusion.
The alternative regularization of never writing glides seems to make less sense given that in normal speech glides are often inserted even when they are not underlying.
My other alternative was to represent the underlying forms as posited by Blake. So a sequence across morphemes of “i” and” a” would be written “ia” whereas the same sequence within a morpheme is written “iya”. Long vowels e.g. “a:” would usually be written e.g. “awa” except in cases where the underlying form is e.g. /a:/. This would be represented by “aa”.
I thought about doing this because while there is no contrast I thought it might be helpful for speakers given that they will probably be sounding out words that they do not know. Blake’s method of finding the underlying sequence was to listen to slow pronunciations of the word. So when a speaker sounds out the word they will be getting the same pronunciation of it as they would if they said it slowly. That would make it easier for them to know what the word was.
However I decided against this system because it seems rather complicated.
Blake does mention that there may be a contrast between vowel sequences depending on whether or not they are across a morpheme boundary. If this were the case the more phonemic system would be better.
The best way to decide would be by seeing the orthographic system put into use, in which case we might see that one of the three options was preferable to speakers or was easier to learn. Another thing to take into account is whether the system would be used more for reading or writing. If for reading, the second system that I discarded may actually be the preferable one. If people want to use it to write then the system I chose would probably be more preferable.

Representations of Particular Words

1. karntima (see point 1 under Spelling Rules for this and 2,5)
2. ngaltya
3. yanka
4. thithayina (see point 4 under Spelling Rules for a discussion of vowel sequences)
5. kunthi
6. ityinhalhayi
7. warrpa
8. mingka
9. nguda (Here we see d representing the apico-alveolar flap. Reasons for this choice are given above but I wanted to mention here that the symbol may become confused with the English values put on it. You would have to watch for this if the orthography was put into use.)
10. kuntara
11. Pitha-Pitha (see point 2 under Spelling Rules for discussion of geminates. This form is underlying although it is usually pronounced with a geminate apico-alveolar stop. However I don’t see why it would cause confusion to write it this way.)
12. ngulawawarri (long a spelled “awa” although Blake posits an underlying long vowel here. Again, see point 4 under the Spelling Rules for discussion on why I chose to do this.)
13. pithiga ngathuwinhaga
14. nganyayi
15. karti (This raises an issue because Blake mentions that this word is usually pronounced with a voiced geminate and that it appears to contrast with the word for “head”. However since he is not sure about whether this is in fact to do with stress and intonation, and since it would be fairly easy to decide which of the words was meant in any contexts I can think of, I thought it would be better just to leave the contrast out in the written form for the sake of easier spelling rules.)
16. kuniyipa
17. kathi
18. padawangku
19. yarrkayarrkayi
20. wowo (see point 2 in Orthography for Pitta-Pitta above)
21. rtutyudupa (see point 3 in the spelling rules for discussion on the initial apical)
22. rangwa
23. rlatya
24. wakirti or wakiri (if there are two different underlying forms I don’t see why it should hurt to have two different spellings. I suppose if it became a confusion I would choose wakirti since people are generally used to “lenition” in terms of how the word is said versus how it is spelt e.g. matter pronounced something like “mada”. But it isn’t so common to see a word being pronounced more fortis than its spelt form.
25. nhingurnu

Monday, May 07, 2007

Kimberley Art Styles...religious? by Marcia Helene Hewitt

R.M. Berndt considered Aboriginal art to be essentially religious in nature. Discuss two distinctive art styles from the Kimberley in the light of this.

Marcia Helene Hewitt 10436125

In order to discuss art in the Kimberley in the light of Berndt’s statement, it is necessary to understand his statement in both anthropological and artistic contexts.. In addition to his notion that ‘religion was the inspiration of all Aboriginal art in one form or another” (Berndt, 1980, p. 3), he also went on to say that “this was true even where it spilled over into everyday living...wrapped in mythological association and expressed in symbolic allusion, most Aboriginal art was designed---through its own particular cultural style---to communicate two basic kinds of ‘message’” (Berndt, 1980, p.3). Wangarr, (Yolngu), djukurrpa (Walpiri) and Arrente (Aranda) are the proper terms for the English word ‘dreamtime, ’ which is the religion of the Aboriginal people, in every location.

Dreaming, which was translated by Spencer and Gillen in a publication in 1896, was taken from the Arrente term that they argued related to events associated with ancestral beings. (Morphy, 1998). Most of Aboriginal belief is based on a time before humans existed, when earth was a flat and featureless plain. Ancestral beings emerged from within the earth and began to give shape and form to the world. Ancestral beings were capable of metamorphosing into other bodies, such as kangaroos, emus, possums, caterpillars or witchetty grubs whilst other ancestors could become trees or rocks. They were not subject to the restrictions of every day life. (Morphy, 1998).

It is probably also useful to mention that the terms religious, spiritual and sacred art have frequently been used interchangeably and this is considered in art circles to be a mistake. There can be some overlap, for a work of art may be religious and spiritual, and may also be sacred. However often the terms are exclusive and therefore require special definition.
(Kennedy, Brian, 2001).

According to Gregory Armstrong of Vanderbilt University, the notion of “ religious art” when applied to art criticism, is not defined in any narrow sense. The Church , synagogue and temple art are all considered to be religious, but so is the art of any culture in which religion is a deeply motivating element. It has been well said that art, religion and culture form a unity. (Armstrong, 1968).

Religious art has a particular characteristic; the power of the representation depends on the faith of the viewer, not necessarily on the art itself. Religious images are very often signposts to particular beliefs. So in the light of that more extended definition, I will describe two styles of art in the Northern Kimberley region as fitting the definition of religious art.


One cannot dispute the religious nature of the Wandjina cave paintings in the area of Walcott Inlet. When Captain Grey stumbled upon these rock drawings near the Glenelg River he commented that he was startled by “a most extraordinary large thus appeared to stand out from the rock; and I was certainly rather surprised at the moment that I first saw this gigantic head and upper part of the body bending over and staring grimly down at me” (Barrett & Croll, 1943, p.40). In fact, Captain Grey in 1897, Brockman in 1902 and Dr. Basedow in 1917 all independently described them as “robed & haloed priests.” (McCarthy, 1958, p.56).

Wandjina paintings have certain things in common: large eyes; a beak- like nose; no mouth; a ‘breast plate’ a striped halo around the head, rain texture in the background. This style of art belongs to the Unambal, Ungarinyin and Worora tribes around the rivers between the King Leopold Range and Drysdale in the Northern Kimberleys and was, at least for academic purposes, discovered by Europeans in 1838 A cave in the Walcott Inlet shows a Wandjina with his two wives and children, an eagle hawk above his neck and a barred figure representing lightning above his head


(Elkin, p.54). The art around the Walcott Inlet depicts four groups of paintings. Several of these groups of paintings were described by Prof. Elkin in 1931. In the Beleguldo cave on Bellevue Hill, there is one horizontal Wandjina 13 feet long, two females 2 feet long, and two other figures who look to be children. Four other Wandjina 3 feet long and having two heads have almost faded away. With them are an eaglehawk, wallaby tracks, and Nalgo yams, whilst a forked and banded figure across the large Wandjina’s head is lightning (McCarthy,1958). In the Bindjibi shelter at Walcott Inlet there are another four groups of paintings. Among the remarkable human figures found here is a life- like portrayal of a seated human with a beak. One Wandjina is 9 ft. 8 inches long, lying stiffly on his side, and associated with another one 5 ft. 6 in. long, in red on a white ground the rain. Djarndad is also pictured here with a long yellow tail. A Wandjina 16 ft. high is in this cave. Stone slabs have been placed on blocks by Ungud to bring the rain.
Matthews, R.H., 1909).

The significance of Wandjina is both diffuse and unified. For the Worora tribe the Wandjina is the main representative of the local tribe. He may be a different form such as an eaglehawk, or a hero who became the Milky Way. The Wandjina are creators who made the landscape and the plants and flowers, caves and water bodies. According to Dr. A Capell, each Wandjina went into a cave when he finished his journey and died. They are painted on their side in many caves...and then entered the sacred Ungud spirit pool. (McCarthy, 1958).

This is how the mythology goes: In the beginning, in the Dreamtime, the Wandjina roamed the unformed earth. They were the “originators of all human customs and the inventors of all implements” They could transform from human to animal and back again, and were responsible for forming the earth. The most revered Wandjina, the Rainbow Serpent, created waterways, mountains and valleys on the land by ‘writhing’ its body, then gave birth to many life forms. The birds in the sky, the fish in the sea, the mammals on the land, all of the reptiles, and even humans descended from the Rainbow Serpent. (Rainbow Spirit Elders, 1997).

Each local Wandjina carries the name of a local clan. There are now twenty locations known containing Wandjina paintings a few miles apart. If a man sleeps near a Wandjina cave he might dream of a baby spirit which he then gives his wife . So the Wandjina caves serve as conception sites, which would add the concept of sacred when defining the art of the Kimberleys. The child would then belong to the clan of this Wandjina.

Wandjina artwork depicts creation, conception ,destruction, weather conditions and totemic place and moiety. Some people have likened this cosmology to Hinduism (Bodley, J. 2004).
Wandjina is also believed to be self created. In fact, Professor Elkin was told by Aboriginal people directly that Wandjina was not created by Aboriginal people, and that also the reason they have no mouth is that there would be terrible floods ! (Elkin, 1927).

Although I am loathe to use European analytical tools on such a wonderful mythological tradition, it does seem of some import to note that Aboriginal rock art traditions can be classified in terms of religious significance according to whether they utilize a geometric or silhouette style of representation. Geometric styles comprise a limited range of simple motifs such as circles, arcs and straight or wavy lines. Silhouette styles render humans and animals in terms of their bodily outline, viewed frontally, from one side or from above depending on the species. If there is any merit in the study of sacred geometry, then this type of analysis could wield interesting returns in respects to innate spirituality. (Layton, 1985)


Art historians are only beginning to understand the full significance of the figurative art tradition of the north-western part of Australia, which depicts a vital society with a depth of culture marked by laws, symbols, metaphors, and wells of wisdom. The Bradshaw figures (named after Joseph Bradshaw, the first European to describe them in 1891) appear as thin and elegantly drawn shapes in mulberry red ochre. These paintings are regarded by Aboriginal people of the west Kimberley as an important part of their cultural heritage.

According to the Ngarinyin lawmen of the West Kimberley, the Gwion Gwion started in the Stone Age. First the Gwion Gwion was a bird...then he was a man. He made the gimbu, the stone point, and the tomahawk. He made spears by cracking open the rock. He also made the knife. The Gwion Gwion bird has a long nose. It’s hard to find him because he walks around at night. Only Gwion Gwion Men know how to find them (Mowaljarlai, 1996).

Joseph Bradshaw was clearly impressed with the paintings he first saw in 1891 whilst walking in a gorge in the Prince Regent River area. His notes from the trip were subsequently published in the Transactions of the Royal Geographical Society of Victoria in 1892:

We saw numerous caves and recesses in the rocks, the walls of which were adorned with native drawings, coloured in red, black brown, yellow, white and a pale blue. Some of the human figures were life size, the bodies and limbs were attenuated and represented as having numerous tassel-shpaed adornments appended to their hair, neck, waist, arms and legs; but the most remarkable fact in connection with these drawings is theat whenever a profile face is shown the features are of a most pronounced aquiline type, quite different from the native we encountered. Indeed, looking at some of the groups one might think himself viewing the painted walls of an Egyptian temple. These sketches seemed to be a great age. (Bradshaw, 1892.)

However, the Bradshaw figures are not considered part of current religious belief (Ryan & Akerman, 1993). They are believed to relate to an earlier time when the Gooyorn is said to have pecked at rocks until it bled and then created fine lines on the rock with its blood stained beak. Some of the Woonambal people tell stories of the Wandjina being helped by the gooyorn. The work of Rosie (Ngalirrman) Karedada work depicts the Wanjina with Gooyorn Assistants painted in 1991. It is easy to see here that the gooyorn continue to live on within the contemporary l psyche of Aboriginal people ( Karedada, 1991).

In conclusion, the Dreamtime is essential to the understanding of Aboriginal art. Art is a means of access to the Dreaming, a way of making contact with this spiritual realm (Morphy, 1998). The art styles that I have described from the Northern Kimberleys manifest the self generated ancestors from the Dreaming, and include the stories of how
weapons were made, how rain comes and what moiety a baby spirit will belong to. In this way the art of the Kimberleys succinctly illustrates Berndt’s statement that
Aboriginal art is religious art, which really is an indisputable fact once one grasps the cosmology of the dreaming as it relates to Aboriginal culture.


Armstrong, G. 1968. Books on Religious Art: A Survey. Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 36. No. 1 (Mar. 1968) pp. 46-53.

Barrett, C. & Croll, R.1943. Art of the Australian Aboriginal. Melbourne. The Bread and Cheese Club.

Barry, M. & White, P. 2004. Exotic Bradshaws or Australian Gwion: An Archaeological Test. Australian Aboriginal Studies. Vol. 2004.

Berndt, R. M. and Stanton, J.E. 1980. Australian Aboriginal Art in the Anthropology Museum of the University of Western Australia. Perth. University of Western Australia Press.

Berndt C & Berndt R. 1982. Aboriginal Australian Art. A Visual Perspective. Sydney. Methuen Australia.

Bodley, J. 2004. Tribes, States & the Global System. New York. McGraw Hill.

Bradshaw, J. 1892. Notes on a recent trip to Prince Regent’s River. Royal Geographical Society of Australia (Victoria Branch) Transactions 9 (2): 90103

Brockman, F. S. 1894. In: Transactions of the QueenslandBranch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australia vol. 10 .

Charlesworth, MJ.. 1998. Religious Business: Essays on Australian Aboriginal Spirituality. New York, Cambridge. Cambridge University Press.

Davidson, D.S. 1936. Aboriginal Australian and Tasmanian Rock Carvings and Paintings. Philadelphia. The American Philosophical Society.

Elkin, A. P. 1931.. Art of the Australian Aboriginal .Studies in Australian Totemism. Oceania. Sept. 1931. pp. 9-25.

Gondarra, Djiniyini Rev.Dr. OAM. 1986. Let My People Go. Reflections on Aboriginal Theology. Australia. Bethel Presbytery.

Karedada (Ngalirrman) Rosie. 1991. Wandjina with Gooyorn Assistants. Natural earth Pigments on canvas. Christie’s Sydney.

Kennedy, Brian,Dr. 2001. Speech given at the National Gallery of Australia. Canberra.

Neowara, Paddy. 2001. Gwion Gwion---Secret and Sacred Pathways of the Ngarinyin Aboriginal People of Australia. (publisher)

Layton, Robert. 1985. The Cultural Context of Hunter Gatherer Rock Art.
In Man New Series, Vol. 20, No. 3 (Sept. 1985). Pp. 434-453. Britain. Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain & Ireland.

Matthews, R.H. 1909. Folklore notes from Western Australia. Folklore 19 pp. 224-227

Matthews, R.H. 1909. Some peculiar Burial customs of Australian Aborigines. Sydney. William Brooks.

Matthews, R. H. - Transactions of the Queensland Branch of the Royal Geographical Society of Australia. Vol. 10 - 1894-5.

Morphy, H. 1998 Aboriginal Art. London. Phaidon Press Ltd.

Mowaljarlai, David. 1995. Conversations at the Well Bookshop in Subiaco.
Personal communication.

Mowaljarlai David & Malnic Juttler. 1993. Yorro Yorro Broome. Magbala Books..

McCarthy, Frederick. 1958. Australian Aboriginal Rock Art. Sydney. Trustees of the Australian Museum.

Morphy, H. 1991. Ancestral Connections: Art and an Aboriginal System of Knowledge.
Chicago. University of Chicago Press.

Morphy, H. 1989. From dull to brilliant: the aesthetics of spiritual power among the Yolngu. Man. 24: 21-40.

Neowara, Paddy. 2000. Gwion Gwion---Secret and Sacred Pathways of the Ngarinyin Aboriginal People of Australia. Germany. Koenemann Publishing.

Nolan, A. 1976. Jesus Before Christianity. London. Dartman, Longman & Todd.

Oates, WE. 2002. Schooling Custodians. Paper presented at the International Life-long Learning conference. Yeppoon, Australia.

Rainbow Spirit Elders. 1997. Rainbow Spirit Thelogy: Towards an Australian Aboriginal Theology. Sydney. Harper Collins.

Roberts, Jo. 2003. Sacred Spirit of the Wanjina Soars. The Age. Melbourne.

Ryan, J. 1993. Images of power: Aboriginal Art of the Kimberley. Melbourne: National Gallery of Victoria; 10- 19.

Stanton, JE. 1988. Images of Aboriginal Australia. Perth. University of Western Australia Occasional Paper No. 2.

Stanton, J.1988. Innovative Aboriginal Art of Western Australia. Perth. Anthropology Research Museum, Occasional Paper No. 1. University of Western Australia.

Willing & Kenneally. 200?. Under a Tegent Moon: A Historical Account of Pioneer Pastoralists Joseph Bradshaw & Aeneas Gunn at Prince Regent River. Western Australia.
CALM Publishing.

Friday, May 04, 2007

Indigenous Health Issues

SAN 1102
Anthropology of Aboriginal Societies
Marcia Hewitt
May 8 2003
Edith Cowan University, Perth, Western Australia

How Social Changes In Post Settlement Times Have Impacted on the Health of Indigenous Australians

Social changes in post settlement Australia have impacted on the health of Indigenous Australians in mostly quite negative ways. I will argue here that this “impacting” has occurred in four main areas; housing, kinship, diet, and socio-medical schema, or cultural perception.

In the first instance I will speak about the area of housing. The Homeswest Summit Report of 1996 (unpublished manuscript) states that housing for Aboriginal people is often situated far from medical care with no transport and often no telephone to call for emergencies or births. Inadequate housing makes it difficult to carry out complicated treatment regimes and treatment regimes are easily forgotten with nowhere to prepare food, nowhere to keep medication secure, nowhere to record dates or appointments. From this report alone it can be said that the traditional living situation has been disrupted in such a way as to create an entirely new set of socio-medical problems. In addition to the type of housing, there is also the continual fear of losing housing, or that housing is overcrowded. There is also the issue of housing people next to unsuitable neighbours where conflict is likely to arise; this type of thing would never be an issue in traditional structures where there are appointed people for conflict resolution.

Social change has wrought devastating changes in kinship patterning, which has always been the mainstay of Aboriginal existence; this post-settlement change to the infrastructure has brought about problems within the area of childcare and care for the elderly or sick. Aboriginal women are very often living in fear of losing children to welfare officers, which can also lead to depression and physical exhaustion (Dr. Diane Faulkner-Hill, 2002, personal communication). When Aboriginal families move to urban areas or are taken away from their families for different reasons, this childcare infrastructure breaks down, and with this breakdown comes a lowering of immunities (Living Black,4th April 2003, TV programme).
“We need our family with us. Aboriginal people, they’ve got more relations than European people---and their family follow on to a big line---more than European people. We know we need our families, so it makes us happy to sit down together. But when we are alone, we feel sad because we need our family with us. “ (Daughter of a dialysis patient,

Post settlement has also impacted Aboriginal people in the area of socio-medicine or cultural perception. In this area there are vast differences in how Aboriginal people view the European medical system and the efficacy of this system . The Aboriginal view of the body is based on a belief that it is linked with their spirit, and that air is the basis of life, and that their souls come from the Dreamtime, and are eternal. They view specific organs as having life and spirit, and being part of a person’s personality. The cause/effect aspect of disease is also different within the Aboriginal psyche which might believe that disease stems from the transgression of “Law” or even an external factor such as sorcery or an evil spirit entering in a dream. The European medical system clashes with these beliefs, both in ascribing cause to “germs” and also in cure, prescribing aspirin, antibiotics, painkillers or anti-depressants. Whilst there are some convergence points between the two cultural notions, Western methods are often not curing Aboriginal people, who on average now die before the age of 60.

The number of Aboriginal babies born anemic and underweight and the rate of SIDS in Aboriginal babies also shows that there is a disparity between the two systems (Health-Education-Shelter report, September 1996). This could mean that Aboriginal people are not receiving the same quality of obstetric care, or that there are economic factors at play here.
Aboriginal children suffer from chronic childhood illness such as middle ear infections with perforation ; most urbanized children bear the scars of frequent skin and respiratory infections. Most Aboriginal children are admitted to hospital at some stage during their infancy and early childhood. Many children will have witnessed or been subjected to some sort of physical or psychological abuse (Perth Aboriginal Health Services, 1998). Diabetes is being poorly controlled despite attempts at intensive medical intervention and the complication of eye, kidney and heart damage frequent and severe. Because traditional dietary teachings are so different, Aboriginal people are often “lost in the supermarket” and choosing the wrong foods, foods that do not contribute to health.
“These days---since sugar----people are rather weak; we’re just about dying now from sugar. Our blood’s no good now, it’s deteriorated, gone dark; [that’s] aged us prematurely, made our bodies slack; our blood [actually] our general condition has gone downhill.” (Devitt and McMaster, 1988, p.23).

Aboriginal people in traditional communities generally enjoy good health, living on natural bush tucker and being part of unbroken kinship bonds and knowing “The Law’ and adhering to it. One has only to look at photos of Aboriginal children in Arnhem Land to see the glowing health that they enjoy. My conclusion is that the socio-medical perception of disease and how it is cured is playing a large part in Aboriginal health. For example an Aboriginal person might believe they are going to a hospital to die, rather than to “get better.” (Dr. Jacqueline Van Gent, 2003, class discussion). So one could argue that expectation plays a significant role in recuperation. There have been numerous studies done on the recuperation of patients who have religious beliefs, or those who are actively being prayed for.

There is a notion that disease is due to either the spirit going too far away from the body or some form of sorcery (Reid, 1983).
“Kidneys feature prominately in descriptions of traditional illness caused by sorcery and other malevolent practices…Kukatija people (as did the Walpiri) attributes some serious illness (unspecified) to damage to fat around the kidneys” (Devitt and McMaster, 1988, p.25).

This notion of causation could affect the patient’s treatment, since antibiotics and other forms of renal treatment might be perceived as useless and the belief system of an individual can sometimes be stronger than the biochemical “cure” in a person whose mind is totally trained towards the mind/body connection. I would venture even further to argue that some of the Aboriginal notions may be more in harmony with progressive complementary medicine than the Western notion of “bioterrorism” on the body. Many studies are being done by the Chopra Centre (Chopra 2003) in California that illustrate the role that our thinking and expectations play a role in areas such as bone density, brain regeneration and increasing longevity. I argue that traditional Aboriginal people have an innateness towards mind/body healing and a propensity towards natural healing, so that fields of study such as naturopathy, aromatherapy and massage might help to improve Aboriginal health.

Marcia Hewitt