Bush medicine knowledge and use among young Kriol speakers in Ngukurr

Bush medicine knowledge and use among young Kriol speakers in Ngukurr Book Section

Indigenous Australian Youth Futures: Living the Social Determinants of Health

  • Author(s): Dickson, Greg
  • Secondary Author(s): Senior, Kate, Chenhall, Richard, Burbank, Victoria
  • Published: 2021
  • Publisher: ANU Press
  • ISBN: 9781760464448

Abstract: In 2013, in a Ngukurr backyard, I was preparing to interview a young mother about her knowledge and use of bush medicine. It was a familiar remote community scene—outdoor social space populated by ebbing and flowing tides of various relatives. Present at the time was me, the young Kriol-speaking mum who had agreed to be interviewed, some kids, the parents of the interviewee and a visiting elder of some stature in the community. Each generation had distinctive upbringings: the visiting elder had been born in the bush and the parents of the interviewee were mission raised. Their daughter—the target of my interview—was old enough to have spent considerable time on local outstations when they were funded, while the children were a southern Arnhem Land version of ‘urbanised’ in Ngukurr. We all spoke in Kriol, as is the norm in Ngukurr, despite the older people present having knowledge of traditional languages. I was explaining the premise of my little study—in Kriol. Hearing that I was investigating what young people know about bush medicine, the visiting elder declared, with some disdain, ‘they don’t know nothing’. This chapter focuses on the issue of language retention among youth in this community. The research was conducted at the same time as the Ngukurr research that generated the other chapters in this book and so is situated within an exchange of ideas about health and wellbeing, particularly in regard to traditional knowledge and bush medicine. Stated beliefs that younger generations are not retaining cultural knowledge and practices of their forebears are common. They can be heard coming from elders, from non-local/non-Indigenous commentators and even among young people themselves. These perceptions are unsurprising given the sharp shifts in lifestyles that remote Aboriginal societies have experienced in so few generations. Language shift—in which younger generations speak a different language from preceding generations—is a salient phenomenon, inescapably noticeable given the obvious primacy of verbal communication in daily life. Loss of language (or, more accurately, language shift) becomes an easy hook on which to hang feelings of loss when a group or society is stressed and ways of life are threatened. In its crudest form, this manifests as the sentiment: ‘got no language, got no culture’. There is certainly good anecdotal evidence to affirm ideas of disappearing cultural knowledge and practices. In Ngukurr, no one has made or paddled a dugout canoe for decades and there are now two generations who have never seen or hunted goanna. But, as a blanket statement, beliefs that young people are not retaining cultural knowledge are rarely investigated.

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Suggested Citation
Dickson, Greg, 2021, Bush medicine knowledge and use among young Kriol speakers in Ngukurr, Book Section, viewed 22 October 2021, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=26701.

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