STU – Ritual Studies I
Ritual Practices of the Australian Tiwi
Andrea Meade, Natasha McGee, Tori Kirkby
STU – Ritual Studies I
Prof. Alison Belyea
Figure 1 - From Google Earth
Figure 2 - From Google Earth
Now partially open to tourists, visits to Tiwi are done through a tour group, as visitor permits are needed for access to the island. The weather is tropical with the rainy season during the summer months of November – April and the dry season stretching from May – October. (http://www.australiasnorthwest.com/en/Weather/default.htm) The weather can get cooler if going deep into the rainforest.
The Tiwi people are Australian Aboriginals who live predominantly in bands. They subsist in an environment where women are married early and perpetually. As a result of the urgency placed on Tiwi women being married, the illegitimacy rate in the Tiwi culture is basically inexistent. Men are ‘allowed’ to remain unmarried; however this rarely happens…“for more than a few weeks at a time. Even if his mother were dead and his father or step-father did not welcome him, he attached himself to some household since, apart from any question of loneliness, this was the only way by which he could eat regularly” (Hart, C.W.M., & Pilling, A. (1960)., 41). Tiwi households live where they see fit, make decisions independent of other households and in larger households, the elder male is seen as an executive director.
At birth, every newborn Tiwi is automatically assigned to their mother’s matrilineal descent group (Goodale, 1971, pp. 71). Siblings belong to specific social units based on the imaninja or maternal grandmother. They are known as “one-granny” siblings and this is a very exclusive set. While there does not appear to be a specific name for this unit, it appears very frequently in Tiwi culture, and is the divide whereby any contact may be made between members of the opposite sex. “One-granny” siblings may not touch each other, and they can only talk to each other through a third person. (Goodale, 1971, p72)
The actual kinship of the Tiwi is very complicated. Men tend to be married to any number of Tiwi women – a result of the huge importance placed on women being perpetually married. There are five kinds of matrilineal units that were documented:
1. The unnamed matrilineal sibling sets, or “one-granny” sets (as discussed above)
2. The named matrilineal sibs - the most exclusive after the sibling set – cannot trace their ancestry but assume a common line of descent through women of the sib)
3. The matrilineal super-sibs or phratry segments – made up of a group of affiliated sibs who consider themselves closely related and an exogamous unit for the purpose of marriage.
4. The matrilineal phratries (also un-named) – made up of a group of affiliated sibs (as with the above group), yet with far less cohesiveness. The subunit organizations are known as arampi (phratries)
5. The two matrilineal moieties – exogamous arrangement that exists in analytically significant social units
(Goodale, 1971, pp. 76-81)
Figure 3 - http://images.google.ca/imgres?imgurl=http://www.theage.com.au/ffximage/2006/06/19/tiwi300.jpg&imgrefurl=http://www.theage.com.au/news/northern-territory/islands-of-art-and-soul/2006/06/14/1149964605579.html&h=386&w=300&sz=24&hl=en&start=19&tbnid=h9tc
There is no clear division of labour that remains in the Tiwi culture today, yet this was not always the case. Husbands, along with their wives and children form their own hunting parties. Historically, certain foods were gathered exclusively by men, and others were left for the women to gather. Foods such as crocodile, turtle and cockatoo were hunted exclusively by the men, while turtle eggs, cabbage palm and cycad nuts were gathered primarily by women. Some foods, such as opossum, oyster and various rats were collected by either men or women. (Goodale, 1971, pp 151-153)
For hunting, women had a variety of tools – the biggest of which was the hunting dog. The dingo (diamini), known as “the boss of the island” (Goodale, 1971, p.154) was a great asset to the gathering of food. In Tiwi culture even though the dingo is given the same kinship status as other members of their sib, it is not acceptable to keep offspring of the family dingo. Instead dingo pups are given sib membership and given to another to raise them. When a dingo dies, it is buried and the family will weep, often cutting themselves in mourning. (Goodale, 1971, p.154)
Steel axes are highly utilized by the Tiwi culture. They are used for cutting funeral poles, cutting vines and hunting. Women of Tiwi also use various containers which are useful for not only gathering nuts, carrying rice and flour, as well as for carrying a change of clothing. They also carry fire – in the form of matches today and previously fire brands which were kept burning. With the appropriate equipment, Tiwi women were fully prepared to hunt, collect, and the cook any animal or vegetable along her route. (Goodale, 1971, pp156-158)
Tiwi women were not the only hunters and gatherers. Tiwi men carried with them spears for larger game and spent much of their hunting in the rivers in dug-out canoes. For hunting geese, Tiwi men used special throwing sticks known as milinjani (Goodale, 1971, p159). They also use ironwood fighting clubs (muragunja) to hunt wallabies and flying foxes. To mask their odors, the men will typically cover their bodies in swamp mud and then flush the prey out of their nesting areas.
Once food is gathered, the distribution of it is very significant. When distributing crocodiles and turtles, the ration depends on the man’s position in the canoe. The paddler (who is in the stern) is also the canoe owner gets all four legs. The center man, whose job it is to bail, gets the body and finally the spearman in the front receives the head. For kinsmen, food is distributed in order of priority. The general rule is that as a tribe, they work for old people, not for younger ones who can work for themselves. If the hunt is successful and there is a lot of food to distribute, everyone present will receive something, however if there is little food those not in the “preferred ranks” know enough not to be angry if they do not receive anything.
The Tiwi religious activities are centered on three main focal points. These include the following:
1) Their day to day Taboo’s.
2) The elaborate beliefs and rituals surrounding death and
3) Their complicated initiation rights for young males.
Along with all the three main aspects we have a few little
things like myths/folklore about their past. Taboos in the Tiwi culture or religion
are very different from those on the mainland of
Anthropologist would consider the Tiwi almost completely lacking in what they call “positive magic” in that they may have believed in magic but lack the knowledge of how to use it (like the mainlanders). The Tiwi never really needed magic, as they were fine with how things ran on the island and it was not a very hostile place like the mainland. The Tiwi were really not even concerned with the neighboring tribes and had no desire to want to know what they were up to because the tribes were of the same culture and just as isolated. Tiwi find their environment very reassuring and friendly to live in when it comes to the wide elaborate and reliance used by the negative forms of magic such as Taboos. Apart from ceremonial occasion the Tiwi do not have very much to do with religion in their day to day lives except through the Pukimani system. Pukimani refers to something sacred, forbidden or even untouchable. The dead were Pukimani until buried. Pukimani also can’t be activity sought after it can only just happen when certain events take place for example a woman having a baby. They are very positive to this was of thinking. (Hart & Pilling pg 88-89)
A Pukumani ceremony of the Tiwi tribe – this is a funeral ceremony that differs from tribe to tribe.
Death is a natural phenomenon which the Tiwi have woven into their very elaborate web of rituals. The most important ceremony is the mourning ceremony which comes in three sizes: small, medium and large. The size depends on the sex and importance of the person who has just died. This ceremony was not performed until about the death. Every body must be buried within twenty-four hours - the body was put in a hole near the camp and it was wrapped in bark. Very seldom was the body carried a long way to be buried. The time between the burial and the mourning would also depend on the importance and sex of the person. The more important the person the longer it took to arrange the ceremony. Small ceremonies were usually held for children if they happened at all. Big ceremonies were never held in wet season due to the height of the grasses and the bush which made it difficult to travel. The Tiwi psychology was that people should maneuver to be present at the death but it was not really necessary to be at the burial unless you wanted to be. The actual family was not allowed to touch the body, wrap it in the bark, or even dig the grave and put the body in it and then fill the hole because they were in a state of Pukimani. So they must ask no mourner to carry out such tasks. (If you think about it, this happens even in our culture through the use of funeral homes). The Tiwi even bring food to the mourning family just like we do in our culture. The ceremony itself drags out for several days with lots of food, dancing and singing - which were rather dull but still consider being ritual. The last ritual to take place is when grand finale happened and everybody present, led by the mourners, change posts then roared pasted them into the bush which was suppose to take away the spirits of the dead and take the mourners out of the state Pukimani. Most of this happened during the dry season. (Hart & Pilling pg 89-92)
Figure 4 - picture taken from http://www.deathreference.com/A-Bi/Australian-Aboriginal-Religion.html
The finial aspect is the initiation ceremonies. Their were no such type of ceremony for females in the Tiwi culture but for the males it is a very long drawn out process which is marked by successive stages or grades which form the status of Marukumarni. This is when the boy turns fourteen and then he is met with ideology of debt and obligation. The elder men gave them obligations to fulfill when needed and if later if had to would bring it back up to him if the young adult tried to refuse anything he was asked to do. The elder males where those that have already fulfilled their obligations and usually male cross cousins who were preferably married or likely to marry the boys sister. Very successful and much older men did not bother with such rituals anymore as the tribe began to grow. The boys father usually started the stages of this affair but when the cross cousin came into the camp with their paint faces and armed teeth and yelling fourteen years old took over the ritual and carried the young boy off. These men were completely in control of the boy’s life until he was 24-26. During this time the boy spent most of the time in the bush with these men isolated from the rest of the tribes and could not speak to anyone not even females, they even had to find their own food. Then when home the boy had to spend his time is seclusion in the bush and the state of Pukimani at home. He had to attend periods of ceremonies when the youth would advance to the stage of initiation. These would take place in public and usually in January and February when the yams where ripe, when the boy finally grades the boy is now and initiated man. Every male had to do this ritual through the full cycle. (Hart & Pilling pg 93-95)
Although the Tiwi consider these three one to part of their religion I find if more of a rite of passage because many males are not even named until they have finished this rite.
Tiwi Birth Rites
The two most prominent rites in Tiwi society in the past have been documented as the Kulama (initiation ceremony) and the Pukamani (funeral ceremony) (Goodale, 1971, pp. xxii). Despite the lack of definitive birth rites, the Tiwi have had a complicated and unique belief system regarding pregnancy and birth.
An important concept integral to the understanding of this viewpoint, is that of the Dreaming. As Andree Grau explains, “[t]he Dreaming brings together past and present since it is both an immemorial past where the world was created and a world parallel to the everyday world which one accesses primarily through “art”; through participating in rituals, dancing and singing one can reach it and regain some of that wholeness that existed in the past when one could move between different realms of existence (Grau, 2003, pp. 174).” Goodale (1971) detailed this idea as consisting of three different worlds “the world of the unborn, the world of the living, and the world of the dead (332)”. In addition, she explains that the Tiwi believed that “one can pass through each of these worlds, but once (332).”
This concept is important in understanding the mythology behind Tiwi conception. Although Tiwi women were permitted to have lovers outside of their marriage, the husband was considered to be the father of the baby, regardless of biology. However, “[a] Tiwi must be dreamed by its father, the man to whom its mother is married before it can be conceived by its mother (Goodale, 1971, pp. 138).” Although there appears to have been the belief that intercourse was at least partly responsible for conception, the “dreaming” was considered an equally essential aspect. This idea of dreaming encompasses both actual dreaming while asleep as well as waking visions of unborn children. These children were called pitapitui and “exist[ed] in the universe before birth into Tiwi society (Goodale, 1971, pp. 138).” Goodale further explains that “if conditions are right, groups of pitapitui may sometimes have been seen by both men and women, playing about the locality with which they are associated (pp. 138).” These pitapitui or unborn children were thought to be located in various centers in each country. “These centers typically [were] said to be on tidal sandbanks (Goodale, 1982, pp. 204)”. Interestingly, pitapitui were described differently depending on the gender of the viewer. Although men reported that the pitapitui resembled small people, women said that they were bird-like in appearance (Goodale, 1982, pp. 204).”
In addition to dreaming his child, the father then sent it to one of his wives (Goodale, 1982, pp. 204). (This is significant because although the Tiwi tend toward monogamy now, in the past men could have many wives.) After this has happened, the pitapitui was said to enter women’s bodies through their vaginas and goes into an egg, located in the placenta. “There it [grew] big until it burst out of the egg, at which point birth [took] place (Goodale, 1971, pp. 143).”
According to Goodale’s (1971) research, a woman knew she was pregnant when “certain food no longer taste[d] good (pp. 136).” Additionally, pregnant women were subject to various restrictions, such as not being allowed to bathe in large bodies of fresh water due to fear of the “maritji (rainbow spirits) (pp. 143)”. They were also not allowed to walk in the bush after dark (which seems to have been a euphemism for meeting a lover) because of the fear that another “pitapitui might pass into her body and two babies would be born at the same time (pp. 144).” Having twins was frowned upon and in the past, one of the babies may have been killed (pp. 144). Certain foods were also considered taboo during pregnancy, such as carpet snakes, fish and hawksbill turtle. Yams were considered to be problematic for much of the year as it was thought that if a pregnant woman ate a new yam with a “sharp pointed tip”, the “end of the yam [would] pierce the womb and tarni sickness [would] kill the baby (pp. 144).”
When the time came for a Tiwi woman to give birth, she would go off into the woods with many members of the community, except her husband in case he got too frightened (Goodale, 1971, pp. 148).” Jane Goodale describes a birth she attended while living with the Tiwi – a woman named Glenda had her baby while attended by several members of the community. They eased her labour pains by pressing hot leaves on her legs and back while she remained in a kneeling position. Goodale explains:
Just before the baby was delivered, the children were told to move a short distance away. Jenny, a cohabitating wife of thirteen, sat nearby but did not take part as did the other women. The baby was allowed to drop on the ground unsupported. Glenda was helped to shift a few feet to the right and her left foot was placed on the umbilical cord. While Barbara continued to assist the new mother in discharging the placenta, one of the other women placed some calico under the infants head and with another cloth began cleaning her. When the afterbirth had been discharged the cord was cut with a razor blade; it was not tied, but allowed to bleed. In the old days, I was told, before they had razor blades, they crushed and severed the cord between two stones (pp. 147).
The afterbirth was subsequently buried and covered with burning logs, and the baby was dusted with earth and her eyes washed out with urine or water. Traditionally, the new mother was given nothing to eat for the rest of the day, but after this period of time, she could have whatever she wanted. She camped at the place where she delivered the baby for five days, during which time the husband was not permitted to see her or the baby. Goodale explains from her experience, “[a]t the end of the period of isolation, but before returning to camp, the mother and baby [were] painted. The baby [was] rubbed with milk and then covered with charcoal. The mother [was] painted… with a red stripe down the center of her body, both back and front and down her upper arms. The lower half of her face from the bridge of her nose down [was] painted black, while the upper half [was] red (pp. 148).” In contrast to this isolation period from her husband, a modern Tiwi woman has the option of giving birth in a hospital and then “first presents her newborn baby to be held by its father and then by his sisters and brothers (Robinson, 1997, pp. 330).”
The birth of a child raised a woman’s status within the community; so that she no longer had to do the most menial or tedious tasks and had now earned the right to make more of her own decisions and to have her opinions heard. Today, though things have changed significantly, Robinson (1997) explains that “Tiwi society is in many ways a baby-centered society in which female fertility is highly valued; babies are an important focus for the cohesion and sociability of relationships within extended family life (pp. 312).”
Figure 5 - http://farm1.static.flickr.com/57/200218656_b559bf628b.jpg?v=0
Although there did not seem to be a naming rite per se within the Tiwi society, names are nonetheless a very important aspect of Tiwi culture. The first name given to a baby was traditionally bestowed upon him/her by the mother’s husband. (Who was assumed to be the father of the baby – even if this was not always the case biologically.) Goodale explains “[t]he subject matter of the name [would] be drawn from the total experience of the father, both on this earth and in his dreams (pp. 29).” Although these names were traditionally based on local factors, Gary Robinson (1997) explains that modern Tiwi “take or are given one or more nicknames taken from movies, football heroes, rock stars, or from other more local sources of inspiration (pp. 330).”
Other names were also bestowed upon the individual throughout his or her lifetime. There did not seem to be a limit to the number, such that Goodale (1971) came across one woman who had “at least eighteen names and was certain that she had forgotten several (pp. 32)”. These additional names were generally given at ceremonial gatherings, but were almost always from men.
Another reason for the preponderance of names was due to the fact that “whenever a husband died and the widows remarried, all the personal names given to their children by the dead man became strictly taboo and the new husbands of the widows had the duty (or right) of providing all the children with new names (Hart & Pilling, 1960, pp. 29).” If a Tiwi woman ended up outliving several husbands, which could be the case, as wives could be significantly younger than their husbands; her children could end up changing their names several times. No-one was granted a permanent name therefore, until after their mothers had died.
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an Australian aboriginal society. Ethos, 3, 303-332.