An analysis of the movie “Women of the sun” based on the life of the “Nyari People”. Australian Aboriginals
This movie introduces us to the customs and culture of the Australian Aboriginals, giving a fascinating insight into the rituals and legends of the Nyari people. This movie, set in 1824, shows us the lives of the Nyari people, who are completely undisturbed until they discover two convicts washed up on the beach of their tribal lands.
After this, the Nyari people meet other white settlers searching for grazing land. The abuse of the Nyari’s sacred tribal ways follows this.
Even though the Aboriginals showed empathy to the white man, the white men exploited and dominated them. They forced them off their land and eventually led to the annihilation of the tribe
Based on the video “Women of the Sun” and my own personal research on aboriginal culture, the following issues of
* Values and beliefs,
* Social identity,
* Laws and sanctions
Are of great significance in aboriginal society and I will elaborate on these points below.
To start off with, let us go over the term socialisation to understand the meaning of this word. Socialisation is a term referring to the way people learn to become members of a society by accepting the social norms and mores that the society accepts and doesn’t accept.
This can also mean understanding laws and sanctions that may be imposed if you do something that is out of the norm or socially rejected.
In this case, the most prevalent agents of socialisation and their respective examples are -
* Family- Close knit community life, elders nurturing children with love and devotion. An example of a micro world
* Peers- People your own age whom share the experience of growing up. E.g. Young Alinta fishing with her friend. Micro world
* Location- Secluded Northern Australia previously untouched by colonialism. This is their macro world.
* Media- Ancient stories about the dreamtime recited by elders to make young people socially literate. An example of a macro world.
* Education- Learning how to hunt or nurture young, depending on gender.
It is all these factors combined that determines how people are socialised in this particular society and also determines their social identity.
Alinta’s mother could sense that “Man of the sea” wasn’t trying to socialise with the tribe, but on the same token, her intuition also led her to believe that “Hair of fire” was. “Hair of fire” made the attempt to socialise with them and was accepted into the tribe but “Man of the sea” didn’t and got killed.
In the eyes of the British explorers, the social identity that the aboriginals had was a race of barbarians
Explorers might have thought that the aboriginals were barbarians due to the fact they didn’t wear any clothes and that they were mostly nomadic people. The reasons for these facts are, Aboriginals did not have a need for clothes as they were a very close knit family group and didn’t have the same norms that the British did (being naked is a taboo etc) and they were nomadic because they were constantly looking for places with more food and water rather than suffering in the same place once they have consumed all of its resources.
Contrary to what early British settlers and colonialists thought, aboriginals were not barbarians. Any society with strong norms and mores have laws which must be abided by if not a sanction is imposed. Barbaric societies did not have such rules and laws in their society and were living in a state of anarchy. This is proven by the scenes when the aboriginals encountered the white men, they were very hospitable to them, offering them water and not just murdering them. This is because they felt sorry for them.
Ceremonies (rituals and rites of passage)-
Aboriginal people have many types ceremonies but only two of which were shown in this movie.
In order for children to be socialised into the world of adults they have to undergo a ceremonial ritual. This particular movie focuses on the step from childhood to womanhood.
The movie also shows us how an engagement ceremony was conducted.
An example of the “growing up” ceremony is when Alintas mother places hot earth on Alintas tongue. This is done to prevent her from lying in adulthood (this example can tie in with values and beliefs).
After that, when Alinta was to get married they showed an engagement ceremony. The ceremony seemed to be a time where the whole family sat around the fire with the bride and groom to be and recited songs.
Values and Beliefs-
Aboriginals, like us, have many values and beliefs. This video focuses on the Nyari people and their customs.
The aboriginals thought of the land as their mother, and they had sacred sites. When the white men came to the tribe they settled on one of these sacred sites and angered one of the tribal elders (Alintas Mother). They were so ignorant that they shot her and didn’t care that the land the settled on meant a lot to the aboriginals.
Aboriginal society has a hierarchy where tribal elders are placed on the top; everyone looks up to them for advice and guidance. They make the decisions that govern the fate of the tribe. This is proven in the movie when the tribal elders get together in a somewhat democratic meeting to determine the destiny of the two white men.
This hierarchy also extends to the children at the bottom, who are nurtured and taken care of as the future generation to carry on the honour of the tribe. This is shown by how loving and protective Alintas mother is of her and the tribe as a whole.
Another aboriginal ritual shown to us in this movie was how they named people by their appearance (e.g. “Hair of Fire”). Infact the name Alinta in Dhamarrandju (their native language) means “The flame”.
As well as all this the Nyari people bless engaged couples by rubbing the sweat from their armpits onto the bride and groom.
Sanctions and tribal law-
As briefly mentioned above, aboriginal society has tribal laws. All members of this society have to adhere to these laws if not a sanction may be imposed. All societies must have laws to protect the members living in that society.
When finely molested Alinta he had broken a tribal law, and because of that he had to face the sanction of getting speared to death.
Although they are very family orientated, if something serious happened they knew how to uphold their laws.
I do not believe that the intercultural contact that occurred in the 1800-1900′s in Australia was based on considerations of cultural awareness and justice of aboriginals at all.
The reason I believe this is because a while after Captain Cook founded Australia in 1788, Australia was dubbed “Terra Nullius” (see glossary) even though the explorers knew that the land was inhibited by aborigines. Because they didn’t see fences they assumed the land was empty. To them the aboriginals didn’t exist and were treated like second class citizens.
If the explorers had any consideration to the welfare and justice of the aboriginals, they wouldn’t have declared Australia Terra Nullius in the first place.
As mentioned in the beginning to part A, the aboriginals were friendly with the whites, but the whites came along and paternalised them, they took their children from their parents and put them in special homes (Cootamundra for girls and Kempsey for boys).
Therefore any form of intercultural contact with the aboriginals in the 1800-1900′s in Australia was not based on considerations of cultural awareness and justice in any way.
Colonialism exploited the indigenous people of Australia in many ways, this includes-
* Taking over their land
* Taking away their babies
* Showing them total disregard and relocating them into camps etc.
To the aboriginals, their land was very sacred to them. Land was their mother to them, so in a way the colonialists took their mother away from them and they were forced to live in designated areas, away from their own dreaming sites.
Apart from just taking away their land the aboriginals were further exploited. To the whites the aboriginals weren’t taking good enough care of their children so the British took their children away from them and raised them to be like the whites. This was the process of assimilation in which generations of aboriginals lost their culture.
In general aboriginals were treated like animals in this time period and were ordered by the British to do many things that they didn’t want to do (like the above paragraphs state). This was the case due to how modern the British weapons were compared to those of the aboriginal people. The Aboriginals had no hope of defeating the colonialists with such primitive weapons.
The English people played by their own rules because they had far superior weapons and the aboriginals couldn’t stand up to them.
* Heinemann Society and Culture textbook
* Personal Notes