Sunday, February 21, 2016

Spirit Festival

Natasha Wanganeen MCs
I'm in Adelaide for the Spirit Festival - South Australia's indigenous gathering - and was thrilled to find an old friend, Natasha Wanganeen, was the MC for the main concert event.  Natasha, who I first spotted in Rabbit-Proof Fence, played Doolie in our production of Bullie's House: the start of our indigenous work, way back in 2004.  There's previously unseen video material about that show online now - click here!

At the centre of the festival yesterday was a ceremonial mourning event for the Elder Auntie Josie Agius, who I was lucky enough to meet when I was last in Adelaide in 2012. Auntie Josie passed away in January - so I was very surprised to hear her name being spoken very openly throughout the ceremony, printed in the programme etc..  There is a strong tradition in indigenous Australian communities that the name of someone who has recently passed is not spoken - often for as long as eight years.  They are not talked about directly for a long time, and looking on their image is forbidden.  This is an anthropologist's nightmare - and also explains why, for example, there have been no productions of Uncle Jack Davis's plays since his death.  It also explains why Australian films, books and websites often feature warnings that they may contain images of people who have died in recent years.

During the evening, I find myself sitting next to Auntie Josie's son, and I ask him about this.  "We can do that now", he tells me, explaining that there is a video in the South Australia Museum's Aboriginal galleries (wonderful, by the way!) of Auntie Josie talking about her culture, and that special permission was sought to keep it.  It's clearly of comfort and value to him that his mother's memory is being valued so publicly - so the shift away from tradition is a positive one for him.  But at the same time, I can't help feeling a little disturbed that something so culturally specific and distinct should be ebbing away.   How we mourn tells us so much about who we are. 

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