Daughters of the Dreaming by Diane Bell

By Diane Bell

Award-winning writer Diane Bell finds the significance of women’s roles in Australian Aboriginal wilderness culture—as maintainers of land, ritual, and culture.

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At times they would stress their mother’s line and membership of a matrimoiety. 5 In some ways my anthropological training was a hindrance and their attempts to clarify created confusion. In this respect I was fortunate to have Warlpiri women as teachers My ‘aunts’, the Napurrula, watch as my ‘mother’s brother’s daughter’, a Napangardi, draws an aspect of the kinship system in the sand for me. Her blindness in no way inhibited her demonstration. 19 Daughters of the Dreaming in the first months of fieldwork.

During the first round of initiations I attended with my Warlpiri women friends, we once blundered into the ritual area when the men were not ready for us. There was a fine to be paid and, although the women were upset at the transgression, I was explicitly excluded from the censure. It was a different matter a year later 34 Into the Field when I was expected to know where and how I should dance, when I should speak and when I should retreat. If I transgressed I was called mad or deaf. I should know.

Latish in the afternoon, shaded from the searing heat of the desert sun by a stunted eucalypt, several elderly Warlpiri women would gather. Inevitably their conversation turned to a consideration of ‘women’s business’, to the ceremonies known as yawulyu, the organization and execution of which is women’s responsibility. Men approached neither the ground where yawulyu was celebrated nor the camps where ritual items were stored, and although they might have been aware that a ceremony was in session, and have seen painted body designs when women returned to the married camps, men’s opinions on staging yawulyu were neither sought nor required.

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