On a trip to visit Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park, I was able to see some original rock drawings by the Anangu people, who are the traditional Aboriginal owners of the Western Desert land. It’s fascinating to learn what the symbols mean and how through storytelling, song, dance, and ceremonies, important Tjukurpa knowledge is passed on through generations. Tjukurpa is the foundation of Anangu culture, teaching of the activities and travels of the ancestral beings, therefore providing knowledge of the land in which the people live. Through generations knowledge gathered over centuries like locations of waterholes, trees, plants, caves, and animals is passed on. This has enabled the people to successfully live off the land for hundreds of thousands of years. All this precious information communicated solely through song, dance, stories, and ceremonies. Some ceremonies are still performed today at Uluru.
Knowledge is considered a very sacred thing in Aboriginal culture, and is only given to those who are old enough and considered ready to use and internalise the information until it is to be passed on to the next generation. With knowledge comes great responsibility.
The rock drawings that I saw were mainly created by young people, as a way of learning the meanings of the various symbols. Some examples of Aboriginal rock art are amongst the oldest-known artistic images by modern humans. In Anangu culture, important Tjukurpa knowledge and information was rarely drawn onto rocks, as it is too sacred to be displayed openly. Sometimes symbols would be drawn in the sand when information needed to be passed on, and then scrubbed away after it had been memorised.
I love the story I heard of one Aboriginal man’s response to books – how crazy it is to write all your information and knowledge down in one place– “Why would you want to do that?” he said, “put all that important information in a place like that you can so easily lose or leave behind!”.