A STUDY OF THE MYTHS OF AUSTRALIAN ABORIGINES
Australian Aborigines had a unique way of life and culture that we
should learn from and that may give us cause to reconsider our lives fundamentally.
Let me start with introducing points of their culture in those days and
let many people know how wonderful and clever they were.
More than forty thousand years ago, they started from many regions
of South Asia seeking peaceful places where the climate was warm and food
was plentiful. It took a tremendously long time for them to find and settle
a new continent. During their long, long journey south, several hundred
generations passed. They did not cultivate any lands or stock any animals;
instead they gathered food such as kangaroos, goannas, emus, fish, shellfish
and many kinds of fruit.
First of all, I will explain how the Aborigines traveled down to Australia.
About fifty thousand to twelve thousand years ago, the climate was much
colder and the sea level was at least 120 meters lower than it is today.
The Australian continent, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea were combined
into one land mass. In addition, the seas between Java, Borneo and the
Australian continent were so shallow that the Aboriginal people could easily
travel down to Australia. The migration from the north probably lasted
for thousands of years, before the end of the ice age. Australian Aborigines
did not change their environment in forty thousand years, whereas settlement
by white people has changed it completely for about 200 years. Certainly,
Aborigines did not build roads, farms, factories, cities and so on. It
is difficult to discover their culture precisely because they left no written
records or the remains of ancient tools. However, we can surmise their
culture by investigating their myths handed down by word of mouth from
generation to generation. There are many interesting stories in their mythology
called "Dreamtime myths", which refer to their ways of thinking,
life and culture in ancient times.
Now, I will begin with introducing a couple of interesting stories
from the book titled “Legends of The Dreamtime”. The first story, "The
Sun-woman and the Moon-man", starts as follows:
One day, Purukupali (the first man in the world) and his companion,
Japara, were rubbing two sticks together just to see what would happen
when, by chance, they found out the way to make fire.
This story so far describes how to make fire, which is not anything
new or special, but the rest of the story is very interesting. Purukupali
transferred the fire to torches and gave a big torch to his wife, Wuriupranala,
and a small torch to his friend, Japara. Both of them flew up into the
sky; then she transformed into the "Sun-woman" and he transformed
into the "Moon-man".
In Western countries influenced by Christianity, I am not able to find
that the woman symbolizes the sun and the man symbolizes the moon.? On
the contrary, I can easily show you some examples not only in Japan but
in many Asian countries. I would like to describe two examples, and then
introduce a part of the characteristics of the Japanese mythology. The
first story is my digest translation of the passages from Nihonshoki.
Amaterasu Oomikami, whose name literally means "God, shining in
the sky or dominating the world"? is the principal female deity or
goddess of Shinto mythology, is identified with the sun and is regarded
as the ancestor of the Imperial line.
According to the Nihonshoki (720 A.D.), which is the oldest history
book in Japan, she was the offspring of the incestuous relationship between
brother Izanaki and his sister Izanami. She was assigned to rule Takamagahara,
which literally means "the high celestial plain". As Amaterasu
Oomikami was deeply offended by the bad behaviour of her younger brother
Susanoo no Mikoto, she hid herself in a cave called Ama no Iwaya (Iwato),
and left the world in complete darkness and chaos. One day she was tempted
by the merrymaking of the other deities dancing outside the cave, then
she went out of the cave and? gave light to the world again. Let me reconfirm
that Amaterasu Oomikami, who symbolizes the sun, is a female deity. The
Kojiki (712 A.D.), the oldest mythology, also describes almost the same
thing. According to these two books, the female deity, Amaterasu, who literally
means “god of the sun shining the universe” and the male deity, Tsukuyomi,
who literally means "God of the moon or counting months" appeared
in this world.
I would like to introduce the second example from the Ainu mythology
considered to be the oldest story in Japan. Some researchers insist Ainu
mythology must be the roots of Kojiki and Nihonshoki.
Okikirumui (the creator of the universe in Ainu mythology) had created
almost all of the world and said, sitting on the top of the mountain, "I
am very tired. Something is not enough." Okikirumui asked? "God
of Night" to make something nice. "God of Night" thought
alone for a while what he should make. He dug up some mud from the ground
and played with it. Soon he made a shape of a human being and inserted
some stems in it and added some grass to it. Then he made a lot of human
beings and presented them to Okikirumui. He was very pleased with the work
of "God of Night". Soon all the human beings died out because
they were nothing but men. So Okikirumui asked "God of Day" to
make another creature. "God of Day" made a lot of human beings
and presented them to Okikirumui. They were all women, so two types of
human beings appeared and they began to love each other, as the result
it, human beings increased in number. Then "God of Night" who
made men and "God of Day" who made women were both deeply praised
by Okikirumui, afterwards men became the moon and women became the sun.
(My translation of the extract passages from Mythology of Ainu)
By the way, you have already noticed that there is a difference between
Aboriginal culture and Western culture, as well as a similarity between
Aboriginal culture and Japanese culture.
I can indicate one of the reasons, which must be the social structures
in each region in ancient times. The way of life or thinking must often
depend on social structures, whether it is a paternal society or maternal
society. In the case of Aboriginal society and Japanese society, they were
both maternal societies in those days. We can surmise that a mother was
the center in the home and respected more than a father.
Well, we have to explain the other reasons from the side of Aboriginal
culture. When hunters killed a kangaroo on the green or in the woods, they
always brought it to their settlement and shared all the meat equally in
their society. The most remarkable thing to which we should pay attention
was that a way of distribution of the game. According to the book, LEGENDS
OF THE DREAMTIME, it is described as follows:
The distribution of the food is governed by wise laws, decreeing that
everyone receives a share, whether the amount be large or small, or the
recipients men, women, or children. Further, though meat is highly prized,
the hunter gains little advantage from his prowess. The hunter's share
is the lesser portion; his kill is of more value to his family than to
him. His reward is in the joy of achievement and the approbation of his
In their society, women were respected and the weak such as aged persons
or children were treated very warmly. It is? correct that there must be
a tight connection between the woman symbolizing the sun and women being
highly respected in those days. So we cannot help reconsidering the way
of life and the way of thinking today, whether the development of the civilization
was good or not for us.
Now, we will turn to the second story, "The Numbakulla and the First Aborigines", which describes creation of human beings. This is a myth of central Australia where there are very few trees, grass and rivers around, and only rocky mountains, blue sky, and reddish soil can be seen. This story is very different from the Japanese myth mentioned above.
On the contrary, Japan is surrounded by sea, and we have many woods,
lakes and rivers. It is natural that there should be a big difference between
the two stories of creations of human beings. We would like to summarize
the story and make a few comments concerning the background of the story.
Numbakulla brothers descended from the sky to the desert and found a great rock, in which the shapes of human bodies could be seen. Numbakulla brothers took the incomplete bodies out of the rock with stone knives and made them into human beings. When we suppose the environment and climate of the outback in Australia, we can understand the contents of this story.
Australian Aboriginal Mythology has many remarkable stories concerning
the birth of animals and creation of nature. Some stories refer to them.
In the long-distant past, which the Aborigines called poetically the "Dreamtime",
only human beings existed in the universe. However, some human beings transformed
into the sun and the moon, other human beings transformed into mountains,
rivers and various animals, after some experiences on the earth. We can
find such an interesting case as follows: In a certain story, there are
two stars twinkling over the sky; one was a result of a good deed, but
the other was a result of a bad act. It is very interesting for Japanese
that the? Aborigine could be a beautiful star, in spite of doing a bad
In Japan, a country influenced by Buddhism, it is believed that someone
who profaned or committed a certain religious crime had to go to hell and
be transformed into an animal. In Japanese culture, thought of "Inga
Ouhou" or the concept of retribution is widely spreading, but we can
never find such a concept as retribution in the Aboriginal culture.
In conclusion, there are many stories about transformation in Aboriginal mythology. It must be a reflection of the facts that there are many animals around their existence. Aboriginal mythology describes that all the creatures used to be human beings and transformed into various things, animals and so on. We surmise their way of thinking as follows: They thought that all the beings in the universe were their fellows in spite of transforming into the other beings. Therefore they regarded themselves as a part of nature and lived with it harmoniously. They loved Mother Nature deeply as if it were themselves.
It is believed that we can live happily in a civilized country. Can
it be always true, compared to their real life? We cannot imagine so, because
we are destroying nature continuously and making war repeatedly under the
pretext of development and peace. We have to insist that their traditional
culture must be superior to contemporary civilization and we should study
and learn more from their culture.
A List of Books Cited
・”LEGENDS OF THE DREAMTIME” by AINSLIE ROBERTS Australia, Rigby, 1986, P.20,48)
・『アイヌの神謡』(立石 久雄 西田書店? 1991)
・『カムイユカラと昔話』(萱野 茂 小学館 1988)
・『日本書紀（上）』 （宇治谷 孟 講談社学術文庫
・『古事記（上）』(次田 真幸 講談社学術文庫 1987 P.40-41）
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