Our everyday life with seven children revolves around the following relentless schedule: school Monday to Friday (plus caring full time for my toddler, Nullen); sports every Saturday; sports training during the week; church Wednesday night; kids' Sunday school on Sundays; backyard barbeques and games together to let off steam; movie nights every Friday night with the kids; social obligations with family and friends and of course the ever-present homework.
Does this sound familiar to you? Most families that I know have also been there, done that and have the digital photos to prove it.
Kids naturally want to "be the same as everyone else"
The six older kids (relatives of husband Eddie's that we are raising as our own) ended up feeling they HAD to act and follow what all their white friends were doing. That made us feel sad that they didn't have anything of their own culture to be proud of.
So I consulted my elders (my uncles), and we started by teaching them the cultural dancing from my own tribe, which led to their performances at the dance festival that I described in my previous article: (christiantoday.com.au)
After we experienced how much joy it brought them, we wondered how we could incorporate other elements of their culture into everyday life; their TRUE culture, not the dysfunctional aspect with all this drinking, drugs gambling and child neglect! (That was never part of traditional Aboriginal life, ever).
Teaching them Eddie's culture
We worked out a plan: Eddie now presents them with little cultural talks when we have our weekly family meeting every Sunday, and we brainstorm what words the kids remember in "Guugu Yimithirr" (Eddie's tribal language).
There were well over 500 different languages and dialects before European settlement; as explained on the ABC's "Media Report" which discussed translating the national news into two different indigenous languages in the Northern Territory and explained some potential pitfalls due to different uses of the same word by different tribes. It is only out of ignorance that people think there is only one Aboriginal language. (www.abc.net.au)
He has also started to tell them about their "Dubbi Warra" tribe (pronounced Doopi-Wada) from Hopevale in the Cape York peninsula. This is 46km from Cooktown, named after Captain Cook whose boat "the Endeavour" was damaged on the reef nearby. In 1770, he and his crew were onshore there for seven weeks, when botanists Joseph Banks (that Banksia is named after) and Daniel Solander collected and recorded many plants and interacted with Eddie's ancestors. The Europeans saw many Australian animals for the first time while there, and Banks wrote down a long list of local words – the first recording of an aboriginal language.
Although the sailors had already been to Botany Bay, it was for only a short time and the Aborigines there had been shy and reticent. But in Cooktown, there were various encounters (some more friendly than others!) For example, Banks asked "what's that animal jumping around?" And they said "ganguru" and it was eventually written as "kangaroo" after a few changes of spelling over the years. (en.wikipedia.org)
Eddie has now told the kids to be proud that the word "Kangaroo" comes from their tribe's language; that it is rare and lucky for them to still have access to their language and traditional stories as many aboriginal people today won't ever have that knowledge about their own heritage. (en.wikipedia.org)
Now they eagerly want to learn more about their language and about all the animals' names and about the land. They can still learn as if they were in Hopevale through Eddie's teachings and through his artwork that all depict actual stories from his tribe, even though we now live down here on the NSW north coast. (christiantoday.com.au)
The kids have started to embrace the idea, in their own words, that "this is how God made us and we should be happy with our skin colour and our culture". This reflects
Psalm 139 verse 14 (KJV): "I will praise thee; for I am fearfully and wonderfully made: marvellous are thy works; and that my soul knoweth right well."
I realised that I needed to learn more, too
Doing all this got me back into wanting to learn more myself about the laws and customs of my tribe, so we can then pass that onto the kids too.
Some of these laws are already part of our life, as I didn't even realise that my strict upbringing by my Pop and aunties and uncles had instilled the traditional customs so deeply into my very being.
In my house it is considered appropriate for the girls to only play with the girls (girls/women business) and the boys to only play amongst the boys (boys/men's business). This stems from our ancestors, where they would always be separated: the men and boys would go out hunting and the women and the girls would be gathering berries, eggs and preparing food etc. This is not much different from the some of the Biblical stories of how people lived then.
So even in our modern house today, you will see me and my girls in the kitchen all helping prepare dinner every day and baking or folding clothes and doing our girls business and you will see Eddie in the backyard kicking the footy with the boys or taking the boys fishing down at the nearby river.
Also seeking permission from elders is a major cultural practice. But our elders aren't around us here in suburbia, so our kids can't ask them – but we have always automatically expected permission to be sought from us before our kids do anything – whether big or small. This has the added advantage of keeping them safe in today's society: we always know where they are and they know we care.
But I also learnt that we had super-strict rules and laws that were not to be broken, about interacting with certain people in the tribe. For example, avoidance of particular relatives meant respect for that person. Again, these practices are ingrained in us, passed down the generations even where other customs have been forgotten.
My little girl in grade 4 says a male teacher says to all the kids of they don't look at him they will get in trouble; but culturally our girls have been taught from tiny tots not to look men in the eyes, and they would normally avoid them. Although these "habits" may seem silly to the Anglo white culture, it would be helpful if they were understood and if our children's behaviour was respected more at school.
On the other hand, we need to remind our children that the white teachers do not always understand our own culture, and even if it seems strange, they need to learn the habits and expectations of others when they are at school and later at work. It shows their respect if they try to act in the way that is understood to be polite in the English tradition. On both sides, good manners and mutual understanding can only come if each person makes an effort to make the other person comfortable in a social situation, and doesn't demand that they are always, themselves, right.
I guess Eddie and I still have a long way to go, thinking about these issues and talking openly to our kids – trying to reconcile both cultures within our family – so that our kids can eventually succeed in following their ambitions to be respected professionals in our Australian culture while remembering their own heritage.
Tisha Williams is an indigenous home maker and mother on the Gold Coast / Tweed. He husband Edward is an indigenous painter, training to be a carpenter and teaches their children his language and dream time stories which have parallels in the Bible.
Tisha Williams' previous articles may be viewed at www.pressserviceinternational.org/tisha-williams.html