Finding Out About...
  Australia, Kuwait, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates  

Indigenous People


In Explore Australia we meet Gabirri Yunupingu, a young Aboriginal boy who is growing up in both his traditional world, and the modern one.

Here is Gabirri’s description of his people’s history in Australia:

Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for over 60,000 years.

Archaeologists say that Aboriginal people could have reached Australia from Asia at times when the sea was lower, and more land was exposed. This would have meant a series of short journeys between islands until the Australian mainland was reached. Then we gradually occupied the whole of the mighty island.

Some Aboriginal peoples have stories that we have always been in Australia, that we were created there. These stories are part of what is called the ‘Dreaming’, a word used to describe Aboriginal people’s beliefs, stories, customs and culture.

The land is sacred to Aboriginal people. We rely on it for all we have, and it influences every part of our lives. We have learned to use it without damaging it. We have used and still use the land and its resources for all our needs. We used animals, birds, fish and insects for food; we used trees and reeds for spears, clubs, boomerangs and shelter; we used bones for needles and points; we used plants for food, medicine and adhesives; we used hair, shells, rocks, feathers and animal skin for warmth and decoration; we used soft rocks, dirt and ochre for decorative paints. Even today we still make use of the land for our traditional food.

We speak many different languages, and have distinct lifestyles and religious and cultural traditions in different regions.

There are also big differences between Aboriginal people, and Torres Strait Islander people, but we are all Indigenous people.

Contact with the Europeans happened in different parts of Australia at different times, but our population decreased dramatically, and our traditional ways and culture were disrupted. In some places both Aboriginal and European people died in clashes over the land. However, in many places Aboriginal people soon decided to work with the new people, at least for part of the time.

In some areas of Australia, our traditions, customs and languages all survived contact with religions such as Islam in the north quite strongly. In others, Christian missionaries protected Aboriginal people, but the introduction of European religious beliefs sometimes weakened traditional customs and beliefs.

In the areas closest to where the Europeans were in largest numbers, Aboriginal culture had far less chance of surviving intact.

Some of our people were taken away from their parents by the government when they were children, and they have lost many of their traditions and some of their culture. My family was able to stay together, and my father and mother have passed on stories and knowledge to me, and I will make sure I do that that with my children. I know that as the son of an elder, I have the important job of being a bridge between the black and the white cultures, and explaining the different cultures and ways to both groups of people.

Here at Nhulunbuy where I live we have kept many of our traditions alive, despite the invasion of our country after Captain Cook, and the changes brought by the missionaries. We still have our language, some special ceremonies, some sacred sites, and our attachment to the land and the sea.

Today the Australian courts and governments are realising that Aboriginal people were unfairly forced off their land, and we can claim ownership back if we can show a continuing association or link with that land. For many, especially those in cities, this legal justice has come too late, as the traditional association with the special places has been destroyed.

Some of my people are angry at what the Europeans have done to our culture, but my attitude is that we need to work together for all Australian people to be able to face the future successfully, while keeping our past ways and our culture strong. This is what I am trying to achieve — remembering and valuing our history, and carrying it forward into a successful future.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are found in all walks of life today; there are well-known Aboriginal athletes, lawyers, politicians, artists, musicians, and actors. My uncle, Manduwuy Yunupingu, was a member of the famous Australian rock band, Yothu Yindi.

However, I know from my father that poor conditions in many isolated communities mean that many Aboriginal people also have a far higher death rate than other Australians, and do less well in many areas where you expect a good quality of life— such as educational standards, health, imprisonment rates, and poverty rates.

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United Arab Emirates

The Arabian peninsula was the home of the Bedouin — is a term generally applied to Arab nomadic groups, who are found throughout most of the desert belt extending from the Atlantic coast of the Sahara via the Western Desert, Sinai, and Negev to the eastern coast of the Arabian desert.

The word Bedouin, or Bedu, is from the Arabic word Bedawi, meaning ‘the ones who live in the desert’.

Traditionally, the Bedouin roamed freely, searching for good grazing for their camels, living in large tents made of goat hair and sheep wool. It was a simple existence. Animals provided them with their living – wool for weaving, meat, milk and butter, a method of drawing water from wells, and transport. To protect the camps at night from wolves and raiders, and to hunt animals such as hares and gazelle, it was common for the Bedouin to keep Saluki dogs. Most dogs are considered unclean, but the Saluki were so useful that they were allowed inside the tents, and given special treatment. Able to outrun a gazelle, and with excellent eyesight, the Saluki has been used for hunting in Arabia for thousands of years. To catch additional food, the Bedouin needed to trap migrating falcons and train them to hunt bustards and smaller prey.

As their animals were so vital to everyday life, the Bedouin cared well for them, travelling great distances to seek good grazing provided by the erratic and unreliable rains. Money was made from offering camels and protection to the thousands of pilgrims who had to cross the interior of the Kingdom on long journeys to Mecca – at the time such a journey was simply not possible without the large camel caravans provided by the Bedouin.

The camel was viewed as a gift from God, the very spirit of the desert, and life revolved around it. Prior to the arrival of the car, the Bedouin depended on the camel for milk and meat, and as an essential mode of transport. On a camel it was possible to travel up to forty kilometres in one day. Today, in a car, travelling across trackless desert, distances of 150 kilometres are achievable, with journeys of over 300 kilometres possible on graded tracks. This has signalled a period of great change. Many of the young people have left to seek their fortune in the city, and it is often the elderly who choose to stay put. Those who remain have become more sedentary, using vehicles to bring supplies of water, and fodder, to their animals, rather than moving. The ability to keep larger herds of animals in one area has led to problems of overgrazing, with the desert losing much of its precious vegetation cover.

Whilst for many Bedouin life has been transformed in recent decades, their traditional qualities of hospitality and nobility remain an integral part of life.

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