‘They don’t dance corroboree any more’: Youth relations to authority, leadership and civic responsibility in a remote Aboriginal community

‘They don’t dance corroboree any more’: Youth relations to authority, leadership and civic responsibility in a remote Aboriginal community Book Section

Indigenous Australian Youth Futures: Living the Social Determinants of Health

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

Abstract: Introduction: This study of young people’s leadership aspirations begins with a corroboree, which was part of the initiation ceremony for three young boys. This was the final corroboree before the boys were to be circumcised the following day. Circumcision marks the end of a period of exclusion from the mainstream world, after which the boy is reintegrated into society as a man. During his period of removal, he has been taught traditional law, and sacred objects and knowledge are revealed to him. Ivory (2009, 128), in his study of Indigenous leadership, explains that this rite of passage is ‘vital to being considered an adult male and progression towards becoming a leader’. At dusk, the boys and their families gathered at the small settlement of Urapunga, about 20 km from Ngukurr, and waited for the dancers from Numbulwar to arrive. This period was marked by uncertainty; the women said they were unsure about where to sit or what their role would be (and were in fact moved several times until everyone was satisfied). There appeared to be considerable unease about the timing of the ceremony’s start; the men had said it would begin in the late afternoon, but nothing had been heard about the whereabouts of the dancers from Numbulwar by nightfall. Ceremonies such as this were infrequent in Ngukurr and this may have heightened people’s anxieties about their ability to ensure that it was conducted properly. Such anxieties are not a new feature of Ngukurr society. In 1970, Bern described the hesitance of the Djungaii (managers) in the conduct of the Jabadurwa ceremony because they were ‘unsure of their ability’ (Bern 1970, 18). As it got darker and darker, people became more and more anxious, and periodically the men would call out. Finally, their calls were answered with short bursts of digeridoo and song and a large, old, flatbed truck pulled up disgorging a surprising number of people, the men carrying spears and digeridoos. The little boys, who were about eight years old, sat at the front of a bower shade. The Red Flag Dancers from Numbulwar led the dancing, the men acting as though they were pushing the boys forward, the women as though they were trying to bring them back to their world with the actions of hauling in a net. These dances were followed by short explosive ones by small groups of men, appropriate to their own skin and clan. There was considerable reluctance from the local residents to take part in the dancing, some of the women said that they did not feel confident dancing in public, others practised tentative steps at the side of the gathering. Only a few older people attempted any public display, which was met by nervous laughter from the spectators. By 11 pm, there was no sign that the ceremony would end soon, and it was explained that the boys would be cut (circumcised) tomorrow after being kept awake all night by the singing and dancing. This ceremony was an important and highly anticipated community event, but, as the opening quote indicates, there was a feeling among older men that such ceremonies were no longer respected by many people in the community, particularly younger people.

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Senior, Kate, Chenhall, Richard, Daniels, Daphne, 2021, ‘They don’t dance corroboree any more’: Youth relations to authority, leadership and civic responsibility in a remote Aboriginal community, Book Section, viewed 22 October 2021, https://www.nintione.com.au/?p=26684.

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