Initiation permits an Aboriginal person to knowledge of the past, such as mythology and Dreamtime stories, and to share in the embodiment of the ancestors. During initiation, which is for men, the initiate’s blood becomes the blood of his ancestors and he passes into the sacred world of these spirits.
The initiation process is a transition rite and there are various stages of initiation. Only certain levels of information are released and taught and these stages can vary in length from a few days, a few months or even longer. Physical elements occur in initiation such as circumcision, tooth avulsion, plucking of bodily hair, scarification and pulling off of fingernails. These test the initiate - if they cannot endure the pain, then they cannot be trusted with the secrets of the tribe. (Image showing scarred men after initiation processes, taken by Baldwin Spencer)
Mbantua is invited to an initiation ceremony
Mbantua staff members Dale Jennings and Tomoko Kuroda were invited to participate in an initiation ceremony at Mulga Bore in Utopia. Artist Colleen Wallace visited Mbantua and was very excited to invite two girls to dance with them that night for an initiation ceremony.
In the initiation ceremony that night the women would be dancing for two boys, who are not to be named to ensure their safety while they are out being initiated. This initiation can be as short as a couple of weeks or as long as a few months.
Dale was asked to give Lindsay Bird Mpetyane’s wife Mavis a call at Mulga Bore to ask for permission to attend. Colleen explained that the right protocol needed to be followed. After a few attempts calling the payphone in Mulga Bore Mavis was finally reached. She was very happy to extend Colleen’s invitation.
After a quick packing job Dale and Tomoko were ready and arrived at Mulga Bore on dusk. They were directed to see Lindsay Bird where they were greeted and told that the ceremony would begin at dark. When it was time, Dale and Tomoko were escorted through the bushes to the ceremony site by Rosie and Tanya Bird. Torches were advised to avoid stumbling on any snakes.
At the ceremony site there were four fires: three on one side and one about 20 metres away. Dale and Tomoko sat in the middle, facing the three fires, and several men were sitting behind in the darkness. The men were a surprise as Colleen had said the men will be performing their ceremony nearby but wouldn’t be seen. It was deduced that technically they were not visible as the fire and moon only gave off enough glow to see their silhouettes. However, the men could see the women as the second fire was behind them.
The men began to sing and the women and girls rose to dance. This continued on for about an hour and it was learnt that this was one of two half nights of dancing for the initiation ceremony. There are also two full nights of dancing when the initiates are present and a full night goes until the sun comes up.
The best way to describe the dancing is that it is on the spot jumping, or springing up and down from the knees without actually leaving the ground. One shoulder is generally hunched low and the head tilted the same direction. Every now and then Mavis would shout out ‘lalalalalala’ in a high pitch and Tomoko would join in. Mavis would instruct Dale and Tomoko when to get up and dance. They attracted much staring and giggling with their novice dance moves and white skin glowing in the moonlight.
The women and girls were not required to dance the entire time and could sit a song out if a rest was needed. The young girls danced almost the entire time. Young Janella, Jean Petyarre’s daughter, wore a huge smile and seemed to be the first one up all the time. There was one song that no one rose for as all were tired. One little girl, wanting to lead the way, jumped up half way through to dance. She turned around to see that no one had followed her and promptly sat back down. Everyone gave a big friendly laugh and encouraged her up on the next one. There was such pride in the younger generation.
June and Rosie Bird and a couple of ladies shared around a dancing stick (a heavy, plain stick burnt at the top and still holding a red glow). June explained that they are all mothers of one of the initiates because they are, by Aboriginal way, sister to Hilda Bird one of the real mothers. The significance of the dancing stick is to protect the initiates during the entire initiation, particularly from snakes.
After the initiation ceremony all went back to Lindsay Bird’s house to chat about the dancing and the initiation ceremony process.
Thank you to the Mulga Bore mob for letting Mbantua be apart of your initiation ceremony.