The Beginning Time (an Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime Story)
Where Does Inspiration Come From?
With the start of the New Year 2016 I have also decided to seek out new areas of inspiration. I have been reading a wonderful book by Ursula Le Guin called Changing Planes.
Anyway in the front of this science fiction/fantasy novel is a list of other books by the author. I have been using this list of book names (in order) as my inspiration for hubs and so far have written the poems I'm Always Coming Home and The City of Illusion, and now this The Beginning Time (adapted from the book title "The Beginning Place").
The Dreamtime or Creation Period
In order to grasp the unique bond traditional Aborigines have for the land and their culture you need to acquire a basic understanding of the concept of “the Dreamtime”(The Dreaming, Tjukurrpa or Jukurrpa) or Creation period in their mythology.
Traditionally, Aborigines believe the earth always existed and at the beginning of things was only inhabited by supernatural beings. The earth was a dark, featureless, desolate plain and no life of any kind existed on the surface of the planet. Only beneath the surface of the earth did life already exist in the form of thousands of these supernatural beings laying dormant, along with a vague form of human life in the shape of semi-embryonic half developed infants.
Time began when these supernatural beings awoke and broke through the surface of the earth. The earth was soon flooded with light as the sun too rose from the ground. The supernatural beings varied greatly in appearance. Some rose in shapes resembling kangaroos, emus, and other animals, while others emerged in human form looking like men and women. There was an indivisible link between humans, animals and plants. Those beings that looked like animals thought and acted like humans, and those in human form could change at will into animals or plants.
After emerging from their eternal slumber, the beings – referred to as totemic ancestors (such as Kangaroo Dreaming and Emu Dreaming etc) – moved about the earth creating the physical features of the landscape. Mountains, hills, sand dunes, plains and rivers all arose due to the deeds of the wandering totemic ancestors. Not a single prominent feature was created which was not directly or indirectly caused by these supernatural beings.
Sacred songs of their deeds were composed by the supernatural beings themselves.These songs became the subject of the many myths, and ceremonies in which Aboriginal religious beliefs were to find expression. Hence, they were sung on ceremonial occasions (often called corroborees) and body decorations and paint were worn by actors impersonating the totemic ancestors. All sacred ritual was regarded as eternal and unalterable.
The supernatural beings continued to roam until, exhausted by their effort, they again fell asleep and returned to the earth. Many vanished back into the ground, usually into the sites from where they first emerged, while others transformed into physical objects like rocks or trees. The places that marked their final resting places were regarded as sacred sites to be approached only by initiated men. But before they disappeared from the face of the Earth, the sun and the moon and the rest of the earth-born celestial beings rose into the sky, and man was left to wander the earth.
These beings didn't die, they just fell back into an eternal sleep and their spirits live on. In Aboriginal belief, they are just as alive today as they ever were, and will continue to live on into the future. The idea of Dreaming relates to the eternity in most religious belief.
Gods and Godesses
The Australian Aborigines are a deeply religious people and this attitude is expressed, not only in myths and rituals but, in all aspects of social life.
The greatest of the totemic ancestors (spirit beings) were in fact gods and godesses. Of particular importance were the fertility mothers, called the Great Mother, or Old Woman. The most important of these were the Djanggau Sisters, the Kunapipi, or the Gadjeri. Some other gods were shape changers (changelings), such as the Mimi, and the Wadi Gudjara (Two Men) of the Western Desert who could become goannas as well as people.
The Rainbow Serpent
The most important of these ancestral supernatural beings however(at least according to non-Indigenous Australia), is the Rainbow Serpent. In Aboriginal lore it is common to many groups as a Creator and source of fertility, and associated with life-giving water and the creation of rivers, and many different stories about the serpent have been passed down.
It is named for the obvious similarities between the shape of a rainbow and the shape of a snake. The link between snake and rainbow also suggests the cycle of the seasons and the importance of water in human life. When the rainbow is seen in the sky, it is said to be the Rainbow Serpent moving from one waterhole to another, and this explained why some waterholes never dried up when drought struck.
The Rainbow Serpent (or Serpents if there are more than one) is known as Borlung by the Miali, Dhakkan (or Takkan) by the Kuli, Kajura by the Ingarda, Goorialla by the Lardil people, Kunmanggur by the Murinbata, Ngalyod by the Gunwinggu, Numereji by the Kakadu, Taipan by the Wikmunkan, Tulloun by the Mitakoodi, Wagyl by the Noongar, Wanamangura by the Talainji,and Witij by the Yolngu. Other names include Bolung, Galeru, Julunggul, Kanmare, Langal, Myndie, Muit, Ungur, Wollunqua, Wonambi, Wonungar, Worombi, Yero, Yingarna, and Yurlunggur.
There is one major error in the way in which western-educated people, tell the Aboriginal stories in the past tense. For the indigenous people of Australia the stories were "Everywhen" - past, present and future.
A Popular Dreamtime Story
Below is one version of the popular Dreamtime story about the beginning time and the Rainbow Serpent (in this case Goorialla). I hope you enjoy this tale, which is just one of many. I would love to hear your feedback in comments.
Goorialla and the Beginning Time
Far off in the Beginning Time, there were only people, no animals or birds, no trees or bushes, no hills or mountains, creeks or rivers. The country was flat and barren then.
Goorialla, the great Rainbow Serpent, woke from a deep sleep and set off to look for his own tribe. He travelled right across Gondwana Land (Australia) from South to North. He was nearing the very top (Cape York) where he stopped to rest and made a big red mountain called Naralullgan. He listened to the wind and heard only voices speaking strange languages.
“This is not my country, the people here speak a different tongue. I must look for my own people,” Goorialla said to himself. Then he left Naralullgan and his huge body made a deep gorge in his wake. He continued his travels for some days and his tracks made the creeks and rivers as he journeyed further North. Goorialla made two more mountains, one called Naradunga was long and made of granite, the other had sharp peaks and five caves and was called Minalinha.
A gunyah or humpy was a small, temporary shelter made from bark and tree branches, traditionally used by Australian Aborigines, with a standing tree usually used as the main support. The word "humpy" comes from the Jagera language (a Murri people from Coorparoo in Brisbane); other tribes have different names for the structure. (source:Wikipedia)
One day Goorialla heard singing and said, "Those are my people, they are holding a big Corroboree." At the meeting place of two rivers, Goorialla finally found his own people singing and dancing. He watched from a hiding place for a long time, and then he came out and was welcomed by his people. He showed the men how to dress and to dance properly. After awhile a big storm began to build up, so all the people built gunyahs (humpies) for shelter from the weather.
Two young men, the bil-bil or Rainbow Lorikeet brothers had just returned from walk-a-bout and came looking for shelter too, but no one had any room. They asked their grandmother, the Star Woman but she had too many dogs sharing her gunyah and couldn't help them. The Bil-bil brothers went to ask Goorialla who was snoring in his gunyah but he was very large and took up all the room.
The rain continued to get heavier and the boys went back to Goorialla and called out “The rain is very heavy, please let us come in to shelter?” Goorialla said, "All right come in now." Goorialla opened his mouth as the Bil-bil bothers ran in and he swallowed them whole.
He then began to worry what the people would say when they found the boys missing so he decided to travel north to Bora-bunaru, the only great natural mountain in the land. Next morning the people found that the boys were gone and when they saw the Goorialla’s tracks they knew that he must have swallowed them.
You may never see these lakes or mountains created by Goorialla today, but after the rain you will still see his spirit in the sky, which is the rainbow. This is the reason why he is called Goorialla the Rainbow Serpent.
More About the Dreamtime
- Australian Aboriginal Dreamtime - Sacred Era of Creation
The ancient belief system of the Aranda and other Australian Aboriginals is still adhered to today and is closely tied in to their spirituality. This belief is called the Dreamtime. Dreamtime, for the indigenous Australians, is Creation, which gives
© 2016 John Hansen