Mardudjara - Religion and Expressive Culture

Religious Beliefe. Religion, like kinship, is pervasive in Aboriginal society. Founded on the notion of a creative era, now commonly known as "the Dreaming," when everything came into being and the rules for life were instituted by ancestral beings, religion is embodied in the landscape, myths, Rituals, song lines, and sacred paraphernalia. Life was profoundly under spiritual authority, but prayers and worship had no place. Men controlled the most powerful, inner secrets, and ritual performance was believed to ensure the continuance of society, under the watchful eyes of all-powerful, but withdrawn, spiritual beings. Their continued release of life force into the physical world was held to be dependent on the proper observance of "the Law" (their legacy to the living, in the form of a blueprint for the proper conduct of social life) and the correct performance of ritual. Totemism provided each individual with direct and unique links into the realm of the Dreaming and were important in the formation and Maintenance of identity. Despite intensive contact with Whites and a diminution in the frequency of ritual activities, beliefs in the reality of the traditional religion remain strong among Mardu, and all young men continue to be initiated into its secrets. Beliefs in a range of benevolent and malevolent spirits remain strong, and Mardu retain strong fears of travel to Distant areas whose spirits do not know them and therefore are likely to be dangerous. A small minority of Mardu profess Christian beliefs, but none to the exclusion of the traditional religion.

Religious Practitioners. Virtually all Mardu participate in aspects of the religious life, and while different ritual complexes involve different roles or grades, there are no specialist practitioners.

Ceremonies. The traditionally rich ceremonial life, much of which included all community members, now has to compete with many other distractions. It is now more seasonal, and most "big meetings" are held in the very hot summer period. Some kinds of ceremony are no longer performed, but those surrounding male initiation remain as significant as ever, and generally involve several hundred Aborigines from widely separated communities. Ceremonial activities are still generally accorded priority over sociopolitical dealings with the wider society.

Arts. Most artistic endeavor was confined to religious contexts and entailed the manufacture of sacred objects, body decorations, and ground paintings. The making of weapons and other artifacts for sale to Whites has been an informal and minor part of the local economy for several decades.

Medicine. About 10 percent of Mardu males are magician-curers ( mabarn ), part-time specialists who employ magical means to cure (and, allegedly, to harm) people. A range of "bush medicines" is also known and employed by the Mardu, who also have frequent resort to Western medicines and treatment. Belief in the powers and efficacy of mabarn and magic remains unshaken.

Death and Afterlife. The ceremonies surrounding death were not highly elaborated among the Mardu. Their objective was to ensure the passage of the newly released spirit of the deceased back to the place from whence it had emerged, as a spirit child, to enter the body of its mother. Loud mourning, self-injury, and ceremonial exchanges continue to mark death, but there is now only a single burial, since inquests using dug-up bones, prior to reburial, are no longer held. Mabarn attend the burial to speak to the spirit and urge it to leave peacefully and to not harass the living; Christian prayers are also offered in some cases. The Mardu have no beliefs in reincarnation.

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