National Magazine of the Lutheran Church of Australia

Why we look after this land

May 2016

by Robert Borgas

All aspects of traditional Aboriginal people’s lives revolve around the Dreaming (tjukurrpa in Pitjantjatjara language).

The Dreaming provides laws and ceremonies about how to look after the land and each other, and about art and culture, food and hunting.

Initially the Dreaming referred to the time long ago when the ancestor spirits came up from the ground and began moving over the unformed earth, giving form and life to rocks, hills, plants and animals on the land and things in the sky. The ancestor spirits made new things by dividing or increasing their ‘spirit essence’ (or kurrunpa in Pitjantjatjara).

People become part of their Dreaming by receiving the ‘kurrunpa’ from the site where they were born (or the place their mother first discovered she was pregnant). The child also receives part of its parent’s kurrunpa, and kurrunpa from ceremonies it may attend throughout its life.

Charlie (Kunia) Chirrup was born south of Docker River, Northern Territory, just near his mother’s birth country, Wankari, part of the Seven Sisters Dreaming song line. His father’s birth country is Ilurpa, near Blackstone in Western Australia. This place lies on the Kunia (probably a Woma or Stimson’s python) Dreaming song line that extends to Uluru. Because Charlie belongs to this Dreaming, he must not eat or kill any Kunia snake and must look after his father’s country, his mother’s country, and behave in a peaceful manner, like the Kunia.

Because he is on renal dialysis and can no longer live on his country, Charlie’s relatives care for it on his behalf. Western Desert people care for their country by practising ceremonies, burning-off sections of land to control weeds and promote more growth of the plants and animals they want to thrive. Among the many obligations to their Dreaming, they also clean and protect rock holes from feral animals so that the native animals can find water to survive.

Charlie Chirrup is also a Christian and a Lutheran pastor.

‘God the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ really created the whole world’, Pastor Charlie says.

‘We know that now because the first missionaries and Aboriginal pastors and evangelists taught us God’s word. His spirit was also hovering over the sea when he made the light, the sky and the land. Then God commanded the land itself to produce plants and animals.

‘Even though we believe that God really created the world, we still have to hold onto and respect the laws given to us by our fathers and grandfathers or else we will lose our culture and our land. But we also do not confuse our Christian faith with these laws; for our faith and our culture to properly survive we must keep them both separate.’

Pastor Robert Borgas is the Pastoral Support Worker for the Pitjantjatjara area of the Finke River Mission Parish.