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     Volume 4 Issue 37 | March 11, 2005 |

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Dancing to Life

The aborigines across Australia have their own way of announcing their cultural heritage. There are festivals to lay claim to cultures that are as ancient as the land. The lives of the people who originally owned the land were dynamically connected to the land; the festivals too reveal an affinity with it. For the Aboriginal people dance is the most dominant form to declaim their culture, next to it is story-telling.

The cultural diversity of the indigenous people bespeaks their heterogeneity. Across the breadth and length of Australia social organisations and spiritual beliefs are as diverse as the land itself.

In the main land and in Torres Strait Islands, there are festivals to celebrate cultures that base itself on oral history and dance ceremonies. A lot goes on to keep the tradition as well as the spiritual beliefs alive. Garma Festival in Gulkula, northern Australia, brings to light one of the oldest living cultures in human history. Torres Strait Cultural Festival in Torres Strait celebrates the bond of the people with the sea. Stompen Ground, Broome, western Australia, is one of the festivals that thrive on multiculturalism, and Larapuna, Tasmania, where most of the aborigines have adopted to city life, is mostly about entertainment.

All events are organised and managed by the aboriginal people. There are events where the modern-day innovations are given space. Most of them may look light-hearted, but the dances associated with ceremonial practices are serious events. It is through these events that the heritage is handed down from one generation to the next.

"Kicking up Dust" is an exhibition that encapsulates all this. It has travelled to Dhaka courtesy of the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island Programme. Bengal Gallery of Fine Arts hosts the show that seems like an eye-opener for most Dhakaites. It kicked off on February and will last till March 18.


1. Nanydjaka [na-ne-dja-ka] (Cape Arnhem) is an Indigenous Protected Area on the edge of the Arafura Sea. The Garma site at Gulkula ([goo-koo-la] is situated on the escarpment overlooking this tropical paradise.
2. 3. The opportunity of sharing the dance with their elders and the thrill of getting the steps right in such illustrious company shows in the self-confidence of these young boys.
4. Many different devices are used in performances. Here is one of the more unusual ones with images of ancestral stories carried on the shoulders of one of the dancers.
5. A member of the Thursday Island High School Dance Troupe performing the Wave Dance from Boigu [Boy-goo] Island. The group is a big draw card for the Festival and gets the crowd pumped up.
6. The nationally popular Aboriginal performer Mary G entertains the crowd with her particular style of ribald comedy, music and insightful political comment.

Mustafa Zaman


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