Yesterday (Thursday), in the Muckaty radioactive waste court case (Mark L Jangala v the NLC and Commonwealth) there was an attempt by one of the Northern Land Council’s legal representatives to sever the link between Mark L Jangala and the relevant part of the country at Muckaty regarding the proposed radioactive waste facility.
The angle of attack was to invoke Western notions of reality as found in modern anthropology regarding First Peoples forms of representations.
Mark Jangala is said by Warlmanpa people to be kurtungurlu for a key Dreaming (Milwayii – Two Snakes) at the site of the proposed radioactive waste facility.
There are two complementary opposition roles for those whose Being is identified by a particular Dreaming. These are known as ‘kirda’ and ‘kurtungurlu’ (and variations of pronunciations and spellings of those two terms).
There is an alignment between ‘kirda’ and ‘Father’s -side’ and ‘kurtungurlu’ and ‘Mother’s-side’ – but note that Mother and Father in Central Australia include more people than is the case in Western usage of those terms.
We still have little appreciation for how First Peoples categorise relationships based on different considerations to those of modern biology, modern anthropology, and – for that matter – ‘ownership’ of land.
Kirda represent the country in a very direct manner. They are painted up, for example, and dance the Dreaming dances. Kurtungurlu (generally speaking) are the ones who do the painting and provide other services to enable kirda. Both are part of the whole.
In some cases, kurtungurlu also provide a powerful check on the kirda performers to make sure the ritual actions are properly carried out. This is no small matter for senior men in Central Australia – it goes to the very core of life.
Kurtungurlu have very important roles to play in core parts of life for many Central Australian First Peoples. These roles include the provision of services in ceremonies. This has been known in modern anthropology since the work of Meggitt – at Phillip Creek in the Tennant Creek area – in the 1950s. He may have been working with First Peoples whose descendants are now involved in the Muckaty case (I am not sure).
Kurtungurlu, amongst other things, are people who – being in the right cluster of relationships (generally speaking) – have knowledge of ceremonies and Dreamings and who are actually engaged in providing this knowledge (and services) to kirda.
It is an easy step for Western minds to conflate what the roles of kirda and kurtungurlu with the equally Western notions of ‘kinship’. So that, for example, a man’s ‘sister’s sons’ are very well placed to be recognised as ‘kurtungurlu’. This is a common feature associated with the use of the term. Western minds involved in land claims have placed some kind of ‘primary’ notion of this aspect of how the category ‘kurtungurlu’ is formed. Mistakenly in my assessment.
The NLC line of attack on Mark Jangala’s credentials was based on Western forms of reasoning – Western notions of how people should be related – rather than of Warlmanpa realities.
A subsequent witness Jeffery S resisted the attempt by the NLC legal representative to reduce the standing of Mark Jangala. The NLC rep trotted out the tired old 20th century mumbo-jumbo regarding distinctions or degrees of being kurtungurlu. The holy icon of modern Darwinian science – ‘descent’ – was invoked by the NLC rep.
Jeffery S made it quite clear that Mark Jangala was kurtungurlu because – in addition to his earlier links to the group through marriage – he had knowledge!
Having knowledge does not fit well with the preconceived ideas about First Peoples Ways which Western minds bring with them to these cross-culturally situations.
Indeed the ABC reporter at the court case filed a TV news report which made it sound like the NLC had successfully cut the ground out from Mark Jangala. A little premature i felt. Perhaps the ABC reporter had not heard what Jeffery S had to say about the matter. It was quite clear and unambiguous.
The simple fact is this – when senior First Peoples say someone is kurtungurlu then that person is kurtungurlu. Full stop. New para.
Non-indigenous authorities have to drop their dominating stance that only their Western master narratives apply in this country. Enough of dominating masters – time to learn to relate respectfully.
It is up to modern anthropologists and land council professionals to rework their theories to fit the facts rather than to impose foreign systems of metaphysics onto the lives of First Peoples – especially when those systems of metaphysics make a mockery out of First Peoples living realities.
Better still, learn to listen and accept what First Peoples authorities have to say about their own Ways.