Aboriginal Culture and Ceremonies

Within traditional Aboriginal Culture, various ceremonies are held for many occasions and reasons. These include mythological (Dreamtime) stories outside of initiation and within, secret events at sacred sites, gatherings, home comings, births and deaths.

[Ceremonies] are extremely important, apart from their meaningful significance, because they are always of a highly emotional nature, which are closely entwined with the beliefs, social behaviour and life of the tribes. The contemplation of the heroes and ancestors of the past through the chanting of myths and the handling of sacred symbols such as churinga’s, the frequent self infliction of bodily pain, the dancing and the tense atmosphere in which the main act occurs, all work on the emotions, and at the same time cause all present to feel themselves as one. They are with and part of the super ancestors of the Dreamtime.”
Professor A.P. Elkin, The Australian Aborigines, 1938.

In Utopia Art one of the most common subjects is Awelye - (Anmatyerre spelling or Awely - Alyawarr spelling). Awelye is a word that describes everything to do with a women’s ceremony which includes the body paint designs. Women perform Awelye ceremonies to demonstrate respect for their country including Dreamtime stories that belong there and the total well-being and health of their community.

The body paint designs are painted onto the chest, breasts, arms and thighs. Powders ground from ochre (clays), charcoal and ash are used as body paint and applied with a flat stick with soft padding. They call this stick ‘typale’. Within the Aboriginal culture the  women sing the songs associated with their awelye as each woman takes her turn to be ‘painted-up’. Every Aboriginal woman can paint her designs on canvas and when one imagines that these designs have been applied to women’s bodies for over 40,000 years (the Australian Aboriginal culture has been dated over 40,000 years old and is known as the world’s oldest living culture) then it may very well be the oldest living art form in the world. Awelye still continues to this day.


Awelye Ceremony - Aboriginal Culture

The Awelye Ceremony has been a part of aboriginal culture for a long time. Utopia artists Queenie Lion Kemarre and Mary Morton Kemarre asked if they could perform an Awelye ceremony in Mbantua Gallery to coincide with an opening of their exhibition of artwork. They didn’t want to perform the ceremony near a window in case Aboriginal men would “walk past and laugh at them” (in Queenie and Mary’s words). An inside area of Mbantua Gallery was set up and Mary’s daughter, Lucky Morton Kngwarreye, and Mary’s sister, Katie Kemarre, were assigned the task of painting Mary and Queenie’s bodies.  The upper bodies were first covered in vegetable oil to protect the skin from the acrylic paint that was to be used.  The white paint was applied first with a paintbrush and the red ochre coloured paint was applied next.  For some ceremonies acrylics are used for paint, but for many, particularly the very important ones, natural mediums are still used.  As the white paint was applied Mary and Queenie sang a song for the white paint, and the same for the red ochre paint as it was applied. There is much significance in just painting each colour onto their bodies and it puts into perspective the importance of the body paint designs in their artworks.  

Queenie belongs to Atnwengerrp country and the red ochre and white are her true colours. Mary’s country is Antarrengeny but she shares in Atnwengerrp country and so is able to perform this ceremony. 

Watch Alyawarr Aboriginal Women perform Ceremony on YouTube....


Aboriginal Culture >>

Aboriginal Initiation Rites>>

Aboriginal Sacred Sites >>




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