Aboriginal people expressing spirituality

Spirituality is expressed by ceremony, rituals or paintings. It can change and has absorbed elements of other beliefs.

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Aboriginal ways to express spirituality

Aboriginal people express and identify with their spirituality in different ways. These include ceremony (corroborees), rituals, totems, paintings, storytelling, community gathering, dance, songs, dreamings and designs.

[Aboriginal] spirituality is preoccupied with the relationship of the earth, nature and people in the sense that the earth is accepted as a member of our family, blood of our blood, bone of our bone.

— Mudrooroo, Aboriginal writer
Three Aboriginal people put ochre into the outlines of a turtle which have been carved into a tree.
Ceremony as a way to express spirituality. These Aboriginal people fill ochre into the pits of an old tree carving. The carving represents a deceased person's totem. Filling the totem with ochre is a symbol of healing.

Examples of a ritual

One example of how Aboriginal people express spirituality is a ritual they do before they walk across country. To express respect for the country's spirits they perform a welcome ritual whose exact nature varies from nation to nation.

  • In some NSW nations Aboriginal people put ochre on the forehead, top of the palms and chest. This signalled that they were open to receive information .
  • Other NSW Aboriginal people pick up a pebble or earth, throw it into the air and say "I am John, I'm in your country, please welcome me."
  • The Nyoongar in the Perth region rubbed soil into their armpits so that it would take on their smell. The soil was then released back to the land. This told the ancestral spirits about the person asking for the protection while travelling on the land .
  • Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory placed a rock under their armpit and threw it into the river to let the water spirit know they were around .

Expressing spirituality:
A ceremony for Australia Day

Aboriginal dance ceremony on Australia Day.

Take part in an Aboriginal opening ceremony for Australia Day and watch young girls and boys performing contemporary and traditional dance moves.

Gallery:An Aboriginal ceremony for Australia Day

Yolngu ceremony

Riyawarray: Common Ground is a film that honours and celebrates Yolngu (Aboriginal) customary law and culture. Yolngu people's right to live their lives as free people without the inappropriate impositions of the Federal Government's emergency response the intervention.

This powerful snapshot documentary on Yolngu rites, rights and rituals as expressed through the recent Yirritja Ngarra Ceremony, was filmed in August 2008 at Milingimbi, Arnhemland, about 450 kms east of Darwin.


View article sources (4)

[1] Us Mob, Mudrooroo, 1995, p.47
[2] Personal communication with an Aboriginal tour guide in Sydney.
[3] Personal communication with an Aboriginal Elder in Perth.
[4] 'Boys learn skills new and old', Koori Mail 512 p.43

Cite this page

Korff, J 2020, Aboriginal people expressing spirituality, <https://www.creativespirits.info/aboriginalculture/spirituality/aboriginal-people-expressing-spirituality>, retrieved 14 June 2024

Creative Spirits is a starting point for everyone to learn about Aboriginal culture. Please use primary sources for academic work.

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