Aranda - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefs. Cosmology is marked by a division Between sky and earth, with the latter being the focus of close attention. There are a great many myths (or "dreamings") which tell of totemic ancestors who originally created the universe and everything within it. Some of these myths are secret and known only by a restricted group of men or women. There are also many noncreationist, nonesoteric stories suitable for children and public narration. Nowadays, much of this mythology operates in conjunction with Christian beliefs, stories, and hymns. The borrowing and trading of Religious knowledge across ethnic boundaries has always been common in central Australia. The totemic ancestors are regarded as being embodied in the ground and their spiritual essences pervade the land. The environment is also populated by various types of bad spirit beings and ghosts.

Religious Practitioners. There are no religious specialists as such, although the most senior men in local groups are often singled out as being religious "bosses." There have been many different types of ritual practice, though only some are vigorously carried out today. All adult men and women traditionally had the right to act out or sing or to supervise the acting and singing of certain "dreamings" in ritual. A few men are now Christian priests.

Ceremonies. Men and women used to have their own Ritual spheres and to a certain extent still do. One historically important ceremony, which has become less significant Recently, is the "increase ritual"—a rite guaranteeing the fertility of a local area associated with particular totemic beings. Initiation ceremonies included circumcision and subincision (slitting the ventral surface) for boys and introcision (ritual defloration) for girls. Male initiation still takes place and remains very important. A third male initiation ceremony, which would last for several months, was the inkgura festival, held as a gathering of the clans whenever the local area could sustain a large group for a long time.

Arts. Largely, though not exclusively, restricted to ritual contexts, the arts include body decoration, ground paintings, incised sacred boards, singing and chanting, dramatic acting, and storytelling. Favored mediums for artistic expression include feathers and down; red, yellow, black, and white paints; clap sticks; and small drone pipes. In the 1930s many Western Aranda very successfully took up watercolors and that tradition remains strong. Today many Aranda are connoisseurs of country and western music, as well as adventure movies. Quite a few play guitar and some are learning to make their own videos.

Medicine. Traditional healers, who may be male or female, rely almost exclusively on shamanic arts, although there are a great many local medicines that are known and generally used. Today, the traditional system of healing operates in tandem with the provision of Western medicines and healing techniques. Most women now give birth in hospitals.

Death and Afterlife. Traditionally, death was followed by burial and this still occurs, usually with Christian ceremony. At death one aspect of the spirit can be completely annihilated, although it may first wander about as a ghost. Others say that this spirit ascends to the sky, sometimes to be with God, but sometimes to be banished to an evil place. Another part of one's spirit, which originally came from a totemic ancestor, goes back into the ground to become the land. This spirit may be reincarnated in another human being, but this is not regarded as personal survival or immortality.

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