Cultural Anthropology

What were the traditional languages and garments of the Aborigines?
Answered by Discovery Channel
  • Discovery Channel

    Discovery Channel

  1. For most of their existence, Australian Aborigines have worn little if any clothing because of their beliefs in the sacredness of Australia's natural resources. In some regions, this is highly understandable, as parts of Australia have consistently warm and arid climates. In other regions, however, this lack of clothing is truly remarkable, because some parts of Australia get extremely cold in the winter. Before the European colonization of Australia, most Aborigines subsisted by hunting wild game and collecting uncultivated plant-based foods. Australia did not naturally promote agricultural practices, as it had no native livestock animals and much of its land was unfavorable to crops. Therefore, when Aborigines did create garments to protect themselves from winds and cold weather, they typically made them from animal pelts, along with hair and other non-agricultural fibers.

    It is a common tradition for Aborigines to cover themselves with clay or animal fat. They also favor body decoration, adorning themselves with strings of jewelry or painting their bodies with paints made from charcoal and an orange clay pigment known as ocher. Some male Aborigines traditionally wore riji, which are decorative garments made from pearl shells that hang from interwoven strings of hair or other fiber. Typically, a riji garment would hang as a necklace or cover they pelvic or pubic area. Many of the pearl shells used for this type of ornament also bore carvings that took on religious significance, serving to bring rain or serve other magical functions [source: National Gallery of Australia].

    It's estimated that when the English first began their colonization of Australia, Aborigines spoke between 250 and 300 distinct languages [source: Contemporary Review]. Because of the dislocation and destruction caused by European colonization, researchers believed that more than half of these tongues have disappeared, along with a large part of Aboriginal culture and history.

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