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The Lajamanu Warlpiri community and the democratising power of YouTube

In a week when the headlines are all about media moguls and their doings, there is a another media story which is about the democratising power of new media.

Anyone who doubts the ability of the internet to allow people who are normally overlooked to make their own stories heard should look at this.

It is a recording made by the elders of the Lajamanu Warlpiri community of the northwest Tanami region to protest at the violation by police of their gender specific sacred business.

It is surely the first time that the importance of ancient Aboriginal ceremonial tradition has been defended on YouTube.

Each year at about this time, the Lajamanu Warlpiri community holds an important men’s initiation ceremony. The traditional culture is sharply divided on gender lines, with both men and women having “business” from which members of the opposite s-x are excluded. The men’s initiation ceremony is called the Kurdiji and lasts for several weeks.

This year the ceremony was interrupted when police – including a female police officer — entered the restricted ceremony area at a time when women were meant to be excluded.

Nevertheless the resulting pain and hurt has resulted in this YouTube posting of a passionate piece of advocacy from the senior men of the community. Their complaints are summed up by these concluding words from Martin Japanangka:

Canberra is a sacred place for government people to meet and people with authority and we respect that. Why can’t police department and police women and men respect our sacred sites and our law?

Since the video was posted, Northern Territory police have apologised for the incident. The intrusion was accidental, and they were on routine police business.

The words and the sentiments are the elders’ own, but the man who made this posting possible was filmmaker Stewart Carter, a whitefella who is living in the community. Carter is behind the company People Pictures. His multiple credits for documentaries and the like are here and he is presently doing work with the Warlpiri Media Association.

There have been other YouTube postings, including this striking explanation by an elder of Warlpiri culture.

Warlpiri produces content for Indigenous community television and radio and a wealth of other material. One of Warlpiri’s best known outputs was the astounding Bush Mechanics documentary, but as their website shows, there is a great deal else going on as well.

This is a story about the importance of access to content making resources, including community television and the internet.

Nice to have some evidence that not everything happening in media concerns the shuffling of ownership between very rich men.

12
  • 1
    Japaljarri
    Posted Thursday, 24 January 2008 at 3:34 am | Permalink

    Transitive. To respond to your comment they don;t. And there is no suggestion of that in this case. It was a traffic matter.

  • 2
    Commentariatchik
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2008 at 8:42 pm | Permalink

    This is the law. It’s not white law, it’s Warlpiri law and it was here long before we non-Indigenous got here. Our law didn’t respect the law that was already was, and still is, here. It’s not a ‘cultural norm’ it’s the law.

  • 3
    Transitive
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2008 at 11:19 pm | Permalink

    The fact Aboriginal law is ancient or wasn’t respected by our ancestors does not mean it is relevant to contemporary circumstances or deserving of respect by us, especially if its main present practitioners often use it as an excuse for base purposes.

  • 4
    Patrick Sullivan
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2008 at 1:58 pm | Permalink

    The Warburton Youth Arts group have been posting on You Tube for a while. Warburton is about 1000kms west of Kalgoorlie and a similar distance east of Uluru/Ayers Rock. They also have a blog: http://www.warburtonyoutharts.blogspot.com/

  • 5
    Transitive
    Posted Thursday, 24 January 2008 at 2:25 pm | Permalink

    Japaljarri, they do. Initiated men have continually told me that women must always obey them or face physical punishment. EDs, cops & courts deal daily with the consequences of such beliefs. Louis Nowra documented this in his Bad Dreaming book last year.

  • 6
    Tom McLoughlin
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2008 at 5:38 pm | Permalink

    Nice article. Great indigenous stuff on YouTube like Warumpi too. Good crack at the end M.S. …. so WILL Christian Kerr still write for Crikey after March 2008 when he fronts for The Australian? Just asking, CK won’t take the comment/question (!)

  • 7
    Greg Angelo
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2008 at 2:33 pm | Permalink

    The tragedy of this situation is the clash of cultural belief, which is not dissimilar to the isolation of women in religious observances of both the Moslem and Jewish faith to nominate to so-called civilised examples.

    Perhaps part of the problem is that the culturally significant area was not a purpose-built edifice with “men only” written on the door, or where generations of misogynistic discrimination segregate men and women in relation to religious activities.

  • 8
    FunkyJ
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2008 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    I’m all for respecting people’s cultures, but I think the law is more important than ANY culture; indigenous, religious or otherwise.

  • 9
    Japaljarri
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2008 at 4:18 pm | Permalink

    Warlpiri Media works (Now P.A.W. media) are an excellent, long running and shamefully lowly funded organisation. Ditto for their highly skillful, committed and professional local and non-local staff. See also recent film http://www.aboriginalrules.com

  • 10
    dermot mcguire
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2008 at 8:32 pm | Permalink

    FunkyJ I respect the law but the law is not an end in itself the law belongs to our society and our society is better served by respecting cultural norms

  • 11
    Commentariatchik
    Posted Wednesday, 23 January 2008 at 3:15 pm | Permalink

    The issue is intrusion - serious intrusion - onto ceremony grounds. Gender issues made it worse but the analogy to western religious misogyny is weak, in that Warlpiri women have their own large body of secret knowledge that men are barred from access to.

  • 12
    Commentariatchik
    Posted Thursday, 24 January 2008 at 8:41 am | Permalink

    Warlpiri law (and I’d guess other Australian legal systems) has harsh sanctions for rape, child abuse, etc. What evidence is there that its ’ main present practitioners often use it as an excuse for base purposes’? Uninformed media beat-ups?

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