Tony’s Notes From The Bony Novels (Part 19)

Posted on Mon 04/25/2011 by

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ABORIGINAL TRIBAL ETIQUETTE.

Upfield was very deliberate when he explained the complex procedures involved with meeting people from other tribes, and even with other families of the same extended tribe, and here we look upon the white people as just another tribe in their eyes.

As white people, we follow certain polite procedures when visiting, and meeting with other people. We knock on the front door of a house we are visiting, wait for the occupant to answer the knock, and then to open the door while we wait outside. There is preliminary chat, and then the occupant asks the visitor to enter.

From the time of white settlement in Australia however, that all seemed to be forgotten when the white people came across the aborigines. Keep in mind that those people who did settle here in Australia were all from an English background, so in matters of etiquette when it came to visiting people would have been common knowledge to them. However, it seemed that none of this applied when white people were dealing with aborigines.

This was not solely the one domain of the English, because it happened all over the World when Countries with an already existing indigenous people were ‘invaded’ by other Countries.

We think of the English when they came to North America, and settled there. The existing Indians were looked upon as savages by those ‘supposedly’ civilised people, and were systematically poorly treated by those white settlers.

Later on in time, the same happened during the Indian Wars when the Indians were systematically wiped out, resettled onto reservations, and culled.

As I mentioned, this was not the sole province of English speaking people.

The French with assistance from the English did the same in Canada with the Inuit home people there.

The Spanish and the Portuguese became masters at it, even worse by far than the English. The Spaniards and Portuguese systematically wiped off the face of the Earth the Mayans, the Incas and the Aztecs, all three of these highly intelligent and developed peoples themselves, but unable to deal with the guns of the Spanish and Portuguese in their quest to root out all the gold and treasure they could find. These Spanish and Portuguese did what they did in the name of their Christian religion also.

Going back even further, the invading tribes from the North virtually wiped out all of the original Egyptians.

All of these people I have mentioned were a highly moral, intelligent, and in the main, peaceful people. The things that they had in place were destroyed by the invaders, and now, we look back at some of those things and wonder how they did what they did. All of that is lost.

The same applied here in Australia.

It would seem that common courtesy and politeness went out the window, as we as white people perceived them only as savages.

The exact opposite end of this scale is what usually happened when the white man met with the aborigine.

The aborigine lived in an open camp within the vast expanse of his own tribe’s land. The white man, having no concept of what he was doing, walked straight into the camp, straight up to the man sitting at the small fire, (because he looked to be the most important person there) stood in front of him, stood over him in fact, and proceeded to start talking to him, and mainly, not in a very polite manner at all.

This would be similar to walking up to a house, opening the door, walking straight in, sitting down and just butting in on the occupant. We wouldn’t think of doing that, and yet this is the way it was done when barging in on the aborigines.

Upfield specifically explained the way Bony entered a tribal camp.

There were a few occasions that he wanted to enter the camp surreptitiously, and these were explained in great, and very careful, detail, because there is virtually no way another person could enter the camp of an aboriginal group of people without it being immediately known, and this was reinforced by Upfield, often explaining that the aborigines were absolutely astounded when they found that Bony was there in the camp, and so close to the chief and his little fire, without anyone knowing. These entrances were to serve a purpose, but Upfield was very detailed in explaining the correct procedure for entry into another man’s camp.

In every other case when Bony visited aboriginal camps, he walked up to the boundary of the camp, and squatted down on the back of his heels. More often that not, he then proceeded to roll a cigarette, and smoke it, and sometimes more than one. It was painfully obvious that he was there, as he was in plain view of one and all.

At the chief’s leisure, someone would be detailed to come and ask his business, that someone always a lowly man of the tribe. Bony would explain the reason for his visit, still squatting on his heels. The man would go back and explain the reason for this visit. The man would then return, again at the chief’s leisure, and invite Bony to enter. He would then take Bony to where the chief squatted at his little fire, and the man would introduce Bony to the chief, who would then dismiss the man, and ask Bony to sit with him. Bony would then squat on the back of his heels on the opposite side to the chief, and wait for the chief to start talking.

Sometimes he would roll another smoke, and as part of good etiquette, would offer the chief some of his tobacco, before lighting his own cigarette, remembering never to use a stick from the chief’s fire to light that cigarette, as this little fire was the sole province of the chief alone.

Other elders might approach, but only on the invitation of the chief, and only elders were the ones to approach.

The only leeway seemed to involve the medicine man, the Shaman, who seemed to be of almost the same rank as the head man, but even here, there seemed to be some reticence to approach without an invitation.

The chief (who was the most senior of the elders) was always the one who directed the conversation.

Others joined in by invitation only and only at the request of the chief.

The process of leaving was also along the same lines. You only left when the chief had finished with you.

There were a couple of times that Bony bypassed the procedure, but that was only because he wanted to look like he was the one who was holding the whip hand. Each time this etiquette was not strictly adhered to, Upfield was careful to explain why Bony was doing it this way.

If you ask me, all this sounds pretty civilised to me. You don’t just walk into a building, walk straight into the managing director’s office, sit down, light up and smoke and start talking to him about why you’ve come. It seems that they had all these procedures down pat eons before we decided that it was only a matter of common courtesy.

Little things as seemingly simple as this were things that Upfield detailed quite carefully, and here you must realise that he started doing this right from his very early novels dating back to the late 1920’s and early 30’s.

So, contrary to the perception that these people were basically savages, it would seem that they were in fact quite a civilised and moral people, something we never even considered.

Also what needs to be considered here is that Upfield, a white man, was someone who not only found all this out, and found it out without any outside help, but that he then wrote it into, as part of his novels at that time, when thinking like this was not even something people even considered.

It would seem from this, that far contrary to the opinion that Upfield reinforced old stereotypes about the aborigines, he was, in fact, years, and even many many decades ahead of his time, as even now, some of these things are not even considered, and in fact, have almost disappeared completely.

UpfieldTony.

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