Not What We Were

by March 24, 2012

In her book Listening to Country, Ros Moriarty laments the erosion of Aboriginal culture in the Northern Territory of Australia. As the Welsh wife of one of the stolen children from Borroloola, she recounts coming to terms with her husband’s quest to find identity and hers in getting to know his bush people. Their journeys in a way parallel the collision of European and Aboriginal societies, but it is the journey of the Aboriginal peoples that is the essence of her story.

As one of the more ancient of the world’s living cultures, the Aborigines (a collective term used to describe 300 distinct tribes with their own languages) have traveled long and far together to establish a Dreamtime culture that now teeters on the brink of extinction. Like Indigenous societies elsewhere, the loss of stories known only by passing elders leads to the inevitable loss of culture, and that leads to the loss of spirit and a meaningful life. As Moriarty observes, it is a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic proportions.

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But while we endure the present, grieve the past, and perhaps fear the future, the spiritual dimension remains, and the power of spirit that is deeper than memory is literally a lifeline for us and those who follow. The laws of generosity, compassion and forgiveness may not be as fully understood by us as those who came before, but they are nevertheless guidelines that can lead us back to purpose, meaning, love and truth.

The journey of the Aborigines — like the journey of humankind — has been both marvelous and misunderstood. As we remake ourselves and create new cultures from the remnants of the old, knowing that inner spirit is the substance of life becomes a route to belonging.

We are not what we were.