By Junjirrba Wawu Kaitbal
Yundu yalada, ngayu budi Jingirdba-Wanuginbi Ngayu Julay warra, Kubirri warra bama. Nyaku bubu Julaymba, Buru, Jinkalmu
My names means to embrace my people, I'm a Kuku Yalanji decent and my traditional lands are the Daintree River and Mossman Gorge in Far North Queensland.
A SKY FULL OF SECRETS
Aboriginal culture is embedded into nature, and over time that bond has become so powerful that we understand and communicate with her. The way our ancestors passed on knowledge was through a very sophisticated code and the Yalanji word for this is Ngujakura; our Lore and it’s The Life Code of the world that we live in.
Our old people survived major catastrophic events such as the ice age, giant floods and baring witness to giant meteorites falling from the night skies. Even through a brutal invasion, Indigenous people have been able to still sustain the Indigenous ways of life and that just shows the power and force of The Life Code.
Our ancestors were amazing at observation, and when they looked to the skies, they not only looked at the stars but also the spaces in between them and how the universal eco-system above impacted on the land. This kind of knowledge was collective in nature and the ancient Lore’s connect globally through a memory code that holds many secrets within our universe.
The Life Code of our people stems from thousands of years of studying the universe.
Aboriginal Australia has the first scientists, inventors and ecologists, and it was our deep understanding of how humans can co-exist with nature that enables us to lead discussions and debates about global sustainability. Despite this knowledge, Indigenous peoples are still rarely considered when it comes to discussing sustainability.
It’s not that westerners don’t understand the value of Indigenous knowledge - given for the last 30 years the government, scientists and corporations have used our scientific knowledge for their own gain - it’s just that they can’t seem to bear to listen and open their ears to solutions for reversing things like climate change, one of which Indigenous people have been talking about for so many years. It’s almost as though for our ideas to be taken seriously, it has to have a western voice.
From the work of people like Indigenous author and science educator, Bruce Pascoe, people are now being educated and understanding that astronomy didn’t start with the Greeks; Indigenous Astronomy has been practiced in this country for moreover 100,000 years, making Indigenous Australians the very first astronomers in the world.
Ever since human existence, we have looked to the skies for answers and as such, stories have been passed down, creating an oral history dating back to when our Lore, customs and vast knowledge of the universe began.
There are even ancient cave paintings that tell the stories of giant mystical beings that live beyond our planet, which has shaped the view of what lays in the outer space. However, these stories are very cryptic in nature, but demonstrate how our lore likely holds the secrets to the universe.
As an Indigenous science writer, I’m absolutely fascinated with Indigenous astronomy. The fact that our people understood that when the sky moves– for example, when the moon is full or the seasons change - this would have an impact on our lands and our people.
The sun, the moon and Earth is core to just about every Indigenous culture around the world, and the ceremonies and rituals performed and practiced give us deeper insight our world and beyond.
What is prevalent in the way Indigenous astronomy works is how it has a defining impact on our environments and it ultimately guides the way we walk the Earth. For example, the Yalanji have - not four - but five seasonal categories, known by the typical weather patterns of that period.
- Kambar: proper wet season Late December to March
- Kabakababa: winter rain season April to May
- Buluriji: cold season June to September
- Wungariji: hot season October to November
- Jarramali: stormy season Late November to the middle of December
The intensity of each season will depend on the look and feel of plants. For example, when certain flowers bloom or shooting roots spring to life, we can tell when the seasons are changing. And if a certain species doesn’t follow its usual life cycles, we’re also able to tell something isn’t right with our Bubu (land).
Yalanji elder, Charlie Denmanangka explains how the Kija (the moon) has an impact on our seasons.
‘Yala-yala ngawa Kija bujiljanjiljanjin Dumunbajanga nyulu Kija yarrkan-yirrakajin bama kari kadarinngayurrku yirrkan-yirrkajin. Jikanangka karrban karrkay bamangku kari nyugunmanin banamun. Ngalku yalbay wajul jikan jurrbu dakalbaja. Yinya jikan jirakaldakal kuku bamandamun.’
‘When that little baby, Kija was drowning in the Roaring Meg now. Singing for help. Nobody help him, singing out. That grass grab hold of that little fellow, he got saved, even though the Bama (people of the land) couldn’t help him. Only that grass could save him, Kija. Anyone burn that grass now, it doesn’t matter how big a bush fire, and the young shoots came up. See the green shoots coming up.’
As demonstrated in Uncle Denmanangka’s words, you can see how creation stories were used to highlight the importance of particular objects and species in the universe by giving them the major role and highest value in the most significant of stories. Kija, for example, is translated into an Earth-form in the above story to illustrate that the moon is centre to life cycles.
LORE OF THE LAND
Bruce Pascoe’s novel, Dark Emu discusses how Indigenous astronomy was used to yield better crops and also guided the trade routes.
Just as there are many layers to the universe, there are many layers to Indigenous culture – which is all connected to The Life Code. For example, how our people used totemic symbols to describe land masses (Gayabidji; the dog who lost its tail, related to Snapper Island) gives insight into the many ways we used animals and species that looked similar to land formation, as a geological understanding as well as means of clan identity.
Everyone knows our people are the best storytellers - demonstrated by being the oldest continuing culture on the planet - but these are not just stories as much as they are lessons learnt over time and therefore, a very insightful history of the world and its universe.
Just about every story our old people have passed on has a set of values that provide an undertone - and this is the layering of how our system of Ngujakura (storytelling) works.
My own ancestry extends beyond Australia and I’m only just learning about the influence Celtic people had in science and sustaining ecology. If we all understood our knowledge's from their own ancient perspectives globally, I believe this will build better respect for Indigenous sciences, better working relationships with each other and create a unified value system that will restore our political and social landscape and re-establish The Memory Code.
There are five clan groups that make up the Yalanji nation:
- Kuna Warra most northern group around Annan River Shipton Flats
- Buru Warra China Camp area
- Jalun Warra along the coast from Wujal to Cow Bay
- Julay Warra Daintree River
- Kubirri Warra Mossman Port Douglas
My Grandad’s area where he was born is called Julay, along the Daintree River “Julaymba” and his Yalanji name Jankiba. Jankiba is custodian of the story of Kija and this is the creation story for the Yalanji nation. His totem is Bilkamu the crocodile.
My Grandmothers birth place is called Jinkalmu the Taipan. And her Yalanji name Ngadijina Millbirrba and she is custodian of the story of Kuburri which is a story about how one man Kuburri save the Yalanji nation. The animals in the story are the Wallaby, Cassowary, Turkey, Pigeon, Echidna, Python and they are the animals we hunt. Her totem is Kudi the hawk.
When I introduce myself I say should always say nyayu Jirrburr Wawu KatbalKuku Yalanji, Julay warra, Kubirri warra Bama.
My name is Jirrburr Wawu Katbal and my people I’m from Daintree and Mossman areas in Far Northern Queensland.
When we go to special places we try not to touch too much and always introduce yourself as below:
‘Yuda bama, ngayu kadayda, gurrimadimal jinbal ga doongay kaday badja, gurri bambay boongangayu budi Jingirdba-Wanuginbi Yurdu Yalada.’
Old people I am coming, I won’t be here long, please don’t make me sick my name is Jirrburr Wawu Katbal Thank you.
This is how Yalanji people have always spoken to the mother earth and this is the way we have maintained The Life Code for over 40,000 years a code that tells us were we can walk, who we can talk to and in return the earth looks after us and provides us with richness in food and knowledge.
The moon is the center of Ngujakura (Lore) and with it holds the secrets of the universe. Kija, the moon, controls our seasons guides our trade routes,even tells use the best time to do the burn off and as you dig deeper into the rituals you find they are connected to other stories told at different times of the year. Kija is a significant part of Yalanji people both culturally and spiritually. Kija is part of our creation story and it also gives us the knowledge on the life cycle of life on Earth. There are more than 20 Yalanji stories that depict important role Kija has in our society.
The Yalanji culture is guided by Ngujakura Lore that has been practiced for over 40,000 years and this lore that hold the knowledge of the universe. The rituals and ceremonies we perform heal us and the Earth. When we sing our voices vibrate and our ancestors can hear us. We share the same tone of the old people and when we go on country we let them know that we are here and ask fora safe journey.
Other stories that I was told about, include in the night sky, and as a youth I was introduced to Binyu; the shooting star. As my mother told me, the Binyu are said to be our loved one passing over us and they visit us.
TRUSTING THE CODE
Western Science is a powerful approach, but it is not the only one.
As western science is catching up, they are starting to understand the vast knowledge Indigenous societies all across the globe hold and many truths that our old people have told us for so long. The main difference with Indigenous science is that western science doesn’t value the spiritual aspect of Indigenous science which is a major part of Indigenous culture and its scientific practices.
The Life Code lives on through you and me, and we are all connected through this Code whether you know it or not, and the secrets of the universe is embedded in this Life Code that Indigenous culture. As Indigenous Australians have been innovating for thousands of years, they have been greatly adaptive and creative with new media technologies, using them to suit their own ways of life and maintain cultural boundaries rather than simply assimilating into the dominant social order. Communities that survived the cataclysmic forces of colonisation are now telling their stories and constructing new forms of cultural power in the digital age and we have a lot to offer the world.