The Significance of Birthplace for Central Australian Aborigines in Aputula, Northern Territory

Smith, Margaret Walton, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Handler, Richard, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Metcalf, Peter, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Wagner, Roy, Department of Anthropology, University of Virginia
Shugart, Hank, Department of Environmental Sciences, University of Virginia

This dissertation examines the significance of birthplace among Aboriginal people living at Aputula (Finke, NT). Central Australian Aboriginal people have a unique understanding of the ancestral past and its effect on present-day life. During the creation era, known as the tjukurpa or Dreaming, ancestral beings deposited their spiritual essence in places in the landscape. Children born near such places are identified with the ancestor and obtain entitlements to country and ceremonial knowledge based on this association. Changes over the past century, resulting from migration, employment, permanent settlement, and a growing reliance on medically managed birth, challenged traditional notions of birthplace. Births in urban hospitals are now commonplace, yet people retain their beliefs about bush birth as the "proper way." Notions of birthplace thus comprise an ideal that few people are able to realize, yet it remains foremost in their thoughts. By looking at birthplace in terms of identity, land tenure, ceremonial participation and women's business, I uncover its significance today and ask whether changes in birthplace will affect future relationships to country.

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PHD (Doctor of Philosophy)
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