Charles Darwin University (School for Social Policy & Research) is active with a project which documents ‘cultural signs’ in Central Australian Aboriginal languages. The project overview says that: “These [‘cultural signs’] are the social and environmental indicators used by Aboriginal people in Central Australia. For example, there are signs that tell people when food is available, predict the weather, warn people of bad events and signal when certain kin are coming. Much of this knowledge is in danger of being lost as Aboriginal society rapidly changes. Many Aboriginal people are concerned that such knowledge should be documented and that resources should be created to assist in the teaching of this knowledge.”
One product from their research is a series of posters which feature birds that indicate ecological and social events in four Central Australian Aboriginal languages: Arrernte, Anmatyerr, Alyawarr and Kaytetye. The posters called ‘Birds which tell people things’ illustrate the bird species and the messages they bring. Click here to view the posters.
In many cultures, birds are used as indicators for things happening in the environment. They play a central role in ancient and modern mythology and may be seen as ‘messengers’. This CDU project says that “Birds can signal where water can be found, the presence of game or other food, seasonal events, as well as danger or bad news.”
So are these type of message unique to Aboriginal and Indigenous cultures? Or are there examples from Western cultures? What are the differences and similiarities? Is it ‘just’ superstition? Distorted perception? Or is there evidence that such signs (or what some may call ‘omens’) point to personal and societal ‘truths’? Do these signs help (re)connect us to nature and provide meaning to our experience on earth? Do such beliefs encourage us to conserve biodiversity? Is this knowledge and experience under threat? How?
Let us know what you think and help eyes4earth research answer these many questions…