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Aboriginal Sorcery & Healing

Aboriginal Sorcery & Healing

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Published by draculavanhelsing
Aboriginal sorcery and healing,
and the alchemy of Aboriginal policy making
Aboriginal sorcery and healing,
and the alchemy of Aboriginal policy making

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Published by: draculavanhelsing on Aug 30, 2012
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08/18/2013

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Martin, D.F. 2008. ‘Aboriginal sorcery and healing, and thealchemy of Aboriginal policy making’,
Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia 
33: 75-128.
75
Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia Vol. 33 - 2008
Aboriginal sorcery and healing,and the alchemy of Aboriginal policy making
David F. Martin
Centre for Aboriginal Economic Policy Research 
Abstract 
Sorcery and healing provide ways by which Wik people of Aurukun, westernCape York Peninsula, attempt through magical means to impact onindividual behaviour and on the ordering of social relations. Aurukun hasbeen the subject of intense scrutiny over recent decades because of itsdramatically disintegrating social fabric. It exemplifies the kind of remote Aboriginal community about which social and political commentators havehad much to say, and at which a whole raft of policies have been directed bygovernments aiming to transform them. This article uses the trope of magicin moving from a consideration of the magical and spiritual bases of Wikhealing, sorcery, and certain forms of masculine power, to an examination of some of the underlying ‘magical’ assumptions in the writings of prominentproponents of market mechanisms in Aboriginal affairs. Just as the medievalalchemists, ignorant of the true properties of matter, sought to use magicalmeans to transmute base metals to gold, so too do these proponents, asignorant of the true nature of their substrate as any alchemist, seek totransmute Aboriginal people from the base nature of communalism andsocial dysfunction to the gold of autonomous economic actors.
Introduction 
Traditional culture has been stultified anddegraded so that it has not moved from sorcery tothe rule of reason, from polygamy to the equality of women with men and from ‘pay-back’ to the rule of law (Helen Hughes, Centre for IndependentStudies).
1
This article is designed for a collection on sorcery and healing,and its ethnographic account of these phenomena is drawnfrom my research
 
David Martin - Aboriginalsorcery and healing 
76
Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia Vol. 33- 2008
Map1GeneralLocationMapCapeYorkRegion
amongst Wik people who live in Aurukun, on the western coastof Cape York Peninsula (see Map 1). Sorcery and healingprovide means by which Wik people, through magical
David Martin - Aboriginal sorcery and healing 
77
Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia Vol. 33 - 2008
measures, attempt to impact on individual behaviour and onthe ordering of social relations. It struck me as I wrote thismaterial that Aurukun has been the subject of intense scrutinyover recent decades because of its dramatically disintegratingsocial fabric, and is almost an exemplar of the kind of remote Aboriginal community about which social and politicalcommentators have had much to say, and at which a wholeraft of policies have been directed by governments aiming totransform them.While the necessity for change in Aurukun is real, and evenmore urgent now than it was three decades ago when I firstwent there, many of the policy prescriptions seemed onreflection to have a quasi-magical quality about them—thecausal connection between the proposed framework and theintended outcome was obscure at best, even mystical,certainly ideological. In this article, I use the trope of magic inmoving from a consideration of the magical and spiritual basesof Wik healing, sorcery, and certain forms of masculine power,to an examination of some of the underlying assumptions inthe writings of two prominent proponents of marketmechanisms in Aboriginal affairs which I characterise as beingakin to alchemy, the medieval precursor to science whichaimed
inter alia 
to transmute base metals to gold.The two individuals whose writings I refer to are associatedwith two related institutions—development economist HelenHughes from the Centre for Independent Studies, and GaryJohns, President of the Bennelong Society. The former organisation describes itself as “… the leading independentpublic policy ‘think tank’ within Australasia (which) is
 
David Martin - Aboriginalsorcery and healing 
78
Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia Vol. 33- 2008
actively engaged in support of a free enterprise economy anda free society under limited government where individuals canprosper and fully develop their talents”.
2
The BennelongSociety is a small lobby group in Aboriginal affairs establishedin 2001, which aims to “promote debate and analysis of  Aboriginal policy in Australia, both contemporary andhistorical”.
3
Both arguably have had a major influence on thepublic debates around Aboriginal affairs and policies, and notonly during the Howard government era; their influencecontinues in many aspects of what can be discerned thus far in Federal Labor’s policy framework.
The religious and magical underpinnings of mundane Wik life 
Wik people do not understand their culture and society asresulting from the actions of individual creative human beings,but ultimately as having been ‘left’ by ancestral Heroes. Whileindividual strategizing is a basic facet of Wik life, and isrecognised explicitly at many levels, culture is represented asessentially unchangeable. The sources of European Australianculture are not clearly defined by Wik, but it too is seen ashaving been ‘leftto Europeans, some suggest by God.General Australian law on the other hand, is said to constantlychange, unlike their ‘Law’. Wik themselves use the Englishword ‘cultureprimarily to refer to their various rituals, their origin and other myths, their totemic institutions, theirelationship to land, and their languages—a usage that in factcorresponded rather closely to the lay general Australian onein its concentration on the exotica of a people’s socialpractices and beliefs, rather than to more mundane life.
David Martin - Aboriginal sorcery and healing 
79
Journal of the Anthropological Society of South Australia Vol. 33 - 2008
In referring to the more anthropological sense of culture asmores, manners and modes of behaviour, Wik talk in Englishof ‘our wayor ‘blackfella way’, and contrast this with their perceptions of that of Whites. In
Wik Mungkan 
itself however,both aspects are encompassed by certain linguistic usages.
4
Aak 
, whose core meaning is place but can also mean time, isone of a number of words that can refer to both of them; thus
aak thinhth 
can, depending on context, refer to either (or perhaps both) a close location or to an event soon to occur.Encompassing both senses however, and implicitlyacknowledging the flow of time and the intimate importance of place in their social practices,
aak 
is also used by Wik to refer to culture in its broad sense.
Aak ngant yimanang wunan 
!(This is our way!) can be used in reference to such diversedomains of culture as the practice (and underpinning beliefs)of mortuary rituals on the one hand, or to how they sawthemselves dealing with money on the other. These practicesand beliefs are not explicitly seen as the product of individualcreativity or will, but as reproducing and being linked throughtime to those of the preceding generations,
aak woyn wuut mangkantam 
, and ultimately to the Creator Heroes.Despite the fact that it is portrayed as essentiallyunchangeable, Wik cosmology however does not provide aseamless and unitary corpus of belief and explanation; inaddition to regional diversity, especially between the coastaland the inland peoples, it is fragmented, discontinuous, andeven individualized and idiosyncratic with conflicting versionsand interpretations (Sutton 1978:131-54, 1987). Nonetheless,despite conflicting versions, the various ritual forms ranging

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