Anthropology Seminar | Regionalising the Riverine or, why patriclans did not exist
Thursday 12 November, 3-4PM. Please connect via this Zoom URL. For other enquiries please contact Terry Woronov
There has long been a tension within Australian anthropology as to whether the Aboriginal people across the continent had similar systems of social and local organisation, with local inflections, or whether there were significant differences. Anthropologists have long tried to identify the homogenizing features of Aboriginal life across the continent and even with the acknowledgement of local and regional differences in recent years, the tendency remains. Differences have been acknowledged in recent debates but largely glossed as ‘the West’ (the Western Desert) and ‘the Rest’. We challenge the homogenizing of ‘the Rest’ by arguing for much great diversity.
This diversity is in ecologically-grounded, as pointed out by Peterson (1986). In the case of the Riverine and North Eastern cultural blocs (using the nomenclature of the Horton AIATSIS map), we argue that presence of totemic matriclans and a cosmology based on a Sky God also constitute major differences that have not received adequate attention.
The early literature of this entire region is distinctive for either not mentioning patriclans, or for the assumption that they existed, notwithstanding the lack of ethnographic detail. Anthropologists have continued to argue that they must have existed, given their ubiquity. We challenge this assumption, putting forward an alternative interpretation by which to understand the local and social organisation of this vast region. We argue that it is characterised by a specifically regionalised cosmology, ecology and social system, that worked against the formation of patriclans.
Professor Emeritus Jeremy Becket, Dr Gaynor Macdonald, with Dr Marina Gold