The Dreaming glossary

Dear Rifca,indigenous wisdom

Here is the Dreaming glossary I promised. Hopefully it will provide more explanation of some of the terms and beliefs prevalent amongst ninija and her people, and outline some of the Dreaming stories which ninija and gina tell. ninija was adamant that I ensure that everyone who reads her story will understand deep in their hearts. This is her greatest wish.


1. ‘Now’ and ‘Here’native

This represents the innate ability or talent of becoming utterly absorbed in the moment.   Ninija and her People (children are included in the term ‘People’) possess it.  It is also found in certain non-primitive sectors, e.g. young children below the age of 7 of any epoch, modern people who have some kind of sensory deprivation, e.g. visual impairment, auditory/speech impairment, physically or mental disability. It is especially so for those who are diagnosed ‘autistic,’ along with anyone involved in artistic activities i.e. musicians, composers, sculptors and others who express themselves in modes other than language.  I like to use the term ‘aesthetically absorbed,’ as it perhaps makes a distinction between intellectual and aesthetic absorption. This has also been coined by colleagues interested in the phenomenon.

Those experiencing ‘Now’ and ‘Here’ have the capacity to become the thing in which they are absorbed.  They may become a song they are singing, a drum they are playing, a painting, cloud, rain, gong, flower-head.  In this state nothing other than the thing in which they are absorbed matters.  They are absolutely ‘Now’ and ‘Here,’ utterly engaged.  There is no ‘Then’ or ‘There.’ Their senses and spirit are working at maximum capacity, their intellects are quiet. They interact with the natural world as if they are creatures. In other words, they are not driven by thought or language.

To ninija and her People ‘Now and Here’ is their natural state, their native home.  ‘Now and Here’ is not connected with time or place; they are constant states or conditions, and usually they know no other way of being. In the kingdoms of ‘Now and Here,’ they are eternally present, integrated, notched into the Earth, eternally grateful and reverential.

2. ‘Easy-Happy-Sexy’elders

These three words occur a great deal in the text and of course they are simply adjectives known well, for the most part, to us all.  But on the lips of ninija they are her way of describing what happens when you live ‘There’ and ‘Then,’ as she believes most of my people do.  In the story she is forced by lumaluma to experience this state briefly, but generally it is alien to those who live ‘in the moment.’  Often all three words are used together to evoke a cumulative feeling, ie. the second depends on the first, the third on the second, etc. Each component is now described individually.


In more detail, ‘Easy’ is about the convenience of modern living e.g. switching switches, Scan 16opening cans, travelling at high speed in vehicles without effort, stealing from others, and corruption, etc., all of which are unnatural in traditional aboriginal life.  The so-called ‘ease’ with which we live, according to Ninija’s beliefs, means that we lose touch with our native instincts and thus cease to have any direct interaction with our environment. In other words, we live always indirectly, or at a distance, through materials and commodities.  Ninija says that if we have ‘Easy’ then it follows that we also have ‘Happy.’ She considers this to be an illusory happiness which obscures a natural state of being in which ‘Happy’ or ‘Sad’ are not considerations. This concept is elucidated in gina’s story, ‘Mini, Honeybee Girl .’


Then ‘Happy’ leads to ‘Sexy.’ This in ninija’s view is the tireless obsession with physical stimulation because we are no longer directly seeing and sensing the world.  It is also bound up with an enduring power over other people, which ninija believes generally white men have over white women, and of course, children and black women.  The power is created insidiously by developing a dependant state in others, and by a lack of genuine identity.  This concept will become clearer during the course of the story. At this stage it is perhaps important to say that ninija and her People have entirely different moral-sexual codes to those of white Europeans/Americans. There is no such thing as ‘Sexy’ out in the Desert.  This is made clearer by one of the stories ninija tells in chapter 6, namely ‘Sacred Love.’

3. ‘White fella’s flashing pictures’small white plane in desert

Ninija believes that my People live by words and pictures rather than by stories and ritual language, as hers do.  During the events of her own story she discovers that white People often make sense of their individual worlds through millions of pictures which they store in their memories. These consist of both pictures that they take with their cameras and eyes, and those which are forced upon them through the media. There are others which are handed down to them through the nuclear family and other social groups they belong to.  Each person must match him or herself with the pictures.  On top of this, the pictures all have words or captions associated with them so that each person can make a continual internal commentary based on them.  I suggest that this is because my People have largely ceased to use the other senses in tandem with the dominant visual sense, ie. taste, smell, hearing, feeling, the kinaesthetic sense of our bodies moving through space, etc. This means that our lives and our self-images are often constructed totally from words and pictures.

4. ‘white fella’white life

Ninija also believes that ‘white fella,’ a term she will often refer to us by, has the power to flash his pictures into the lives of Peoples who inhabit ‘Here’ and ‘Now,’ thus tempting them away with ‘Easy Happy Sexy.’  This has until now been a common occurrence among the young male and female straightbacks of her tribe, and of many other tribes. This is exemplified by her story for gina called ‘The Telephone Box’ in chapter 3.

5. ‘The Lands’sand storm

This is a state of consciousness rather than a particular place, although of course ninija is also the traditional landowner of a massive tract of Desert. Here she and her People move around with the seasons, and these are called her ‘Lands.’  She does not own them in a material sense, but is the custodian as a result of her spiritual enlightenment.  Often when she refers to ‘the Lands’ she is alluding to the Earth and so to her intimacy with Nature.  ‘The Lands’ could be said to represent her integration with the cosmos, more of which will be revealed in the narrative.   

6.  The Dreaming Legendspainting clan lines

There is a great deal more awareness of the Dreamtime nowadays, but in her precious story, ninija tries to give a special insight.  Its design illustrates how the Dreaming Legends are an integral part of real aboriginal lives, both told as a prayer in ritual language over and over again, and present physically in the Land forms around them.  So the spirits of the Dreaming heroes, known sometimes as the Sky Heroes, are tangible and constant in their daily lives.  They have no choice in whether to believe in them or not.  They do not question.  The heroes represent their moral models as well as the spiritual.

7. ‘Standing and becoming part of Earth’Oceans between Dreams

This is similar to being absolutely in ‘the moment’ or ‘aesthetically absorbed’ (see 1. ‘Now’ and ‘Here’). Ninija and her People are so integrated with nature that by standing completely still and projecting themselves into the Rock on which they stand, and by concentrating on their blackness (their skins are some of the blackest among the Peoples of the world), they are able to get inside the Rock.  They, and nowadays me too, become part of it. There they/we shelter, nourishing themselves/ourselves under the skin of the Earth

8.   Totemsjabaru

A totem is an aboriginal’s main link with the Dreaming legends.  Children are born into a totem  Clan and so become eternal members of a group of People all of whom take the same name and identity of a natural object or phenomena.  They share their soul with this creature or other natural phenomenon, and a great deal of their lives is spent caring for their soul mates.  If an aboriginal should for some reason deny the existence of his or her totem, then they will lose their personal identity totally. More crucially, they will be forced to lead a life of agony and isolation outside Nature.  Ninija’s custodial story, Jundal Gianga, in chapter 4 skilfully describes how totems are bestowed. I too have related my experience of how my own totem Baru, Crocodile, was transmitted to me.

9. ‘Travelling on /Making campfires’Dreaming visions

Ninija and her People believe that physical death signifies the termination of a visit to the physical world, and that this is merely an interlude in perpetuity. After the Djang, the departure of the spirit from the human body, the spirit resumes its travelling on in the Lands of the Dead.  Each spirit lights a campfire which is visible in the Night Sky as it goes. According to western knowledge, this ‘campfire’ is observed as the phenomenon of a star. There is no translation of the word ‘star’ in most Australian languages. I realise now that ‘star’ is merely a concept supported by scientific discovery and by looking into the Universe in ‘white fella’s’ way.  Towards the end of Ninija’s narrative we experience the Djang as her son Ginger’s spirit quits its body and goes ‘travelling on’ in the Sky (chapter 12).

10. ‘Clever Fellas’paint making

This expression is used to denote the elders or wise people of the tribe.  They are similar to shamans in other traditions and occupy a special place between the physical and spiritual worlds.

11. ‘Straightbacks’

These are the young strong People of the tribes who would customarily look after their elders and rear children.  During ‘white-fella’s domination of the native Peoples of Australia, and of New Zealand and Tasmania, there was a movement to ‘civilise’ the young people so that they could live in a ‘normal’ western society.  These cruel acts entailed removing them from their natural state and forcing them to attend colleges where they werechuringa taught hygiene and brainwashed into behaviour which was socially acceptable to the white middle-classes. But in truth, as with Negroes in North America, this was essentially to ensure a supply of slaves. Predictably perhaps, eventually these young unspoiled beings were corrupted by white fella’s money, liquor and drugs, and often died of excess in the backstreets of cities, which were alien to them.

Ninija believes that the way in which her story has been set down will allow my People to understand how balance in their lives may be achieved. Also, how allegedly ‘civilised’ people may discover other ways to live that do not deplete the world’s resources or disconnect them from natural lives.  But perhaps above all, for in all other respects I am confident that her story will speak eloquently without further elucidation, it is important to underline in bold the cruelty and total insensitivity that many of our forefathers and more recent kinfolk have perpetrated on primitives or indigenes.  Their attempts to ‘civilise’ those whose lives are judged as savage is perhaps one of the grossest, most arrogant acts ever.  Speaking as an ex-anthropologist, I believe that all such attempts have been inspired by fear of different value systems, and disdain for magic, spiritual evolution, and the like. But, like ninija, I believe they are forgivable in many ways.  You will discover as you read that forgiveness is always possible where people dwell in the Lands of the Heart, in ninija’s Lands.

In what seems another life time, I took the bus from Alice Springs to visit Ayer’s Rock deep in the interior of Australia. That day ninija called me to her as you will remember. The seemingly genial bus driver was making a commentary by microphone as we drove along. He kept his bespectacled eyes always conscientiously on the endless road ahead.  I see his eyes often in my mind’s eye, dry and myopic. I can also hear his reaction-less flat voice relayed through the sound system of the sleek bus.  We were soon to make the only turn south towards the cul-de-sac of Alice Springs, the last ‘civilised’ outpost before ‘the Dreaming Lands’ begin.  When we drove past the Aboriginal College, established by missionaries of whom he seemed extremely proud, we stared at a utilitarian building. He continued on with  his drawling clever commentary as we looked at it.

‘The aboriginals come to this college from their townships to learn reading, writing, arithmetic….but first they have to learn hygiene.’

He paused to measure his morality.

‘It’s not true that we have a colour bar in this country!  No.  We have a dirt bar.’

I wonder if it was a coincidence that there were no aboriginals cluttering up the front of this deserted college of ablutions and fumigation as living specimens of his discrimination. Neither were there any travelling on the bus?

the Lands

the Lands



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