With a culture which stretches as far back as 60,000 years, the Australian Aboriginal people are keepers of one of the oldest civilisations on earth – preserved through their complex system of religious beliefs and tribal law, handed down by word of mouth.
|Traditional welcome ceremony|
But in the past 20 years Western culture has begun to seep into indigenous communities, as access to the mass media has grown.
We spent 48 hours in Ramingining, in the north east corner of Australia's Northern Territory. Home to around 700 people from 23 tribes, speaking 16 different dialects, the community is deeply connected to its spiritual roots and striving to counteract the darker side of modern living.
To preserve the community's ancient traditions and secret ceremonies from the influence of mass tourism, no outsiders are allowed to enter without an official invitation. 48 is lucky enough to have received one, and the team is welcomed with a traditional ceremony of music and dance. Amanda's Aboriginal guide, Gladys Womatti, explains the significance of this ancient rite.
Spirituality is still the keystone linking Yolngu communities in Arnhem Land. Whilst Yolngu beliefs centre around the relationship between humans and the natural world, many consider themselves Christian – a legacy of early twentieth century missionaries. The root of their religion lies in 'The Dreaming', the beginning of the world when their ancestors rose from the earth to inhabit animals, earth, water and sky. Each tribe believes the spirit of their people is embodied in various totems which can take the form of animal, reptile, bird or plant.
'The Dreaming' also bonds the Yolngu closely to their land, connecting them to past and future generations. Indigenous communities own around 49 per cent of the total Northern Territory, reclaimed in 1976 when the Aboriginal Land Rights Act - the first of its kind in Australia - secured legal claim of indigenous people to land with which they held a traditional bond.
Aside from being taught age-old traditions such as basket weaving, Yolngu children attend the local school - award winning for its accelerated literacy programme - where they learn English often as a seventh or even eighth language.
Health education is high on the priority list, with problems such as heart disease and diabetes still hitting Aboriginal communities far harder than elsewhere in Australia – life expectancy is 17 years lower than among non-indigenous people. Amanda attends the school's Health Day, to find out what is being done to bridge the health gap.
A 'dry community', Ramingining has banned alcohol from being sold. Instead Karva – a root-derived sedative drink introduced by Fijian missionaries in the 1960s – can be bought on certain days of the week from licensed vendors. However many fear that Karva may be contributing to apathy in the community and disinterest in traditional affairs.
|Amanda with baby Indigo|
It is difficult to predict what the future holds for this ancient and long-standing way of life, as traditional spirituality begins to mix with the influences of the modern world. Twenty years ago Ramingining had no TVs, few western products and a single phone line to communicate with the rest of the world. But these days young Yolngu men are just as likely to be seen sporting a baseball cap and listening to hip-hop as in traditional tribal dress.
Traditional and contemporary indigenous Australian music for '48' Ramingining was sourced from Skinnyfish Music.
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This edition of 48 aired daily from Saturday 1st September 2007 at the following times GMT:
Saturday 1st September 14:30, 22:30; Sunday 2nd September 02:30, 12:30; Monday 3th September 00:30, 07:30; Tuesday 4th September 06:00, 13:30; Wednesday 5th September 11:30, 19:30; Thursday 6th September 05:30 Friday 7th September 03:00, 16:30; Saturday 8th September 06:30
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