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This process has been likened to the combining of betel with lime prior to chewing, 4 as practised throughout much of the Asian subcontinent. The mood-enhancing effects of nicotine lent the offering of pituri significance as an overture of friendship, and in some ceremonies the sharing of pituri both symbolised and facilitated social bonding.

Although it is likely that at least a proportion of users were addicted to it, 4,6 because its usage was strictly controlled, 6 it is probable that quantities of pituri used beyond the immediate localities where the plant was to be found were low. Tobacco, and the practice of smoking, first reached the shores of northern Australia at the beginning of the eighteenth century, when Macassan fishermen sailed from the Indonesian island now known as Sulawesi in search of pearls and trepang a seafood delicacy intended for export to China.

The trade was important to the Macassans. About a thousand men would make the voyage each year and stay in the region for several months at a time, until operations were abandoned two centuries later in the early s.


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The Macassans acknowledged Indigenous ownership of the land and offered pipes, tobacco and other valued goods as tribute to local populations and in return for access to coastal waters and camping places ranging between the Kimberley to the Gulf of Carpentaria. Tobacco smoking was also introduced into Cape York and the Torres Strait region, although it is not clear by whom, and according to early eye-witness accounts, Torres Strait Islanders grew plants that contained nicotine and smoked pipes made of bamboo.

With the arrival of the First Fleet in , British patterns of tobacco usage were introduced to Australia. Tobacco was commonly used by all echelons of colonial society; officers and other socially elevated males using snuff and later cigars; the marines and convicts favoured clay pipes.

Tobacco was often presented in early encounters between the Europeans and Indigenous people as a token of goodwill and conciliation.

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The Indigenous desire for tobacco and other wares was quickly recognised by the European settlers, who offered them in exchange for labour, goods and services, and hoped that such inducements would lead the Indigenous occupants of the land to forego their traditional lifestyle and become compliant participants in the settlement's activities.

Communities negotiated and bargained, exacting tobacco and supplies as just consideration for use of the land and resources, in accordance with Indigenous tradition. That said, tobacco trade in the early days of colonisation has been interpreted as a process of 'mutual exploitation', both parties for the most part initially deriving satisfaction from their side of the transaction. Over time, however, this balance would firmly come to favour the new settlers. Over the following years, usage—and hence addiction to nicotine—permeated vast tracts of the continent, with the expansion of European outposts through explorers, missionaries, pastoralists, cattle farmers, miners, fishermen and anthropologists.

The development of tobacco dependency among Indigenous people was variously interpreted by the colonists as a 'civilising' or a 'taming' influence: civilising because it could aid discourse and engender goodwill, and taming because it had the capacity to produce a cheap labour force prepared to work in return for tobacco.

Aboriginal People and Their Plants by Philip A. Clarke

During the s and the early decades of last century, Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islanders worked in often brutal circumstances for the cattle and pastoral industries, on sugar plantations, in road gangs, and in the pearl shell and trepang trade, remunerated in full or in part with tobacco. Material goods, such as artefacts and ceremonial objects, and intellectual property, including language, local knowledge, oral history and cultural heritage, were acquired by collectors, anthropologists and other researchers in return for tobacco.

The decades following European colonisation saw gradual movement of communities of Indigenous peoples into white settlements, in response to a range of influences, including government policies and other prevailing circumstances, and desire for a range of provisions, including tobacco. The drift to white settlement became difficult to resist. On pastoral mission stations, whether run by churches, the government or privately, tobacco formed an important part of rations, and was provided with the expectation of compliance in a regimen of work and, in the Christian missions, participation in religious activities as well.

Pre-existing traditions of nicotine use and barter among much of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island population predisposed them to ready acceptance of European tobacco, 6 but the process of colonisation was to change Indigenous patterns of tobacco use for ever. The cultural mores relating to traditional tobacco use vanished as the 'pituri clans', the custodians of ritual and knowledge, lost their way of life or died out, 5 and ready-processed tobacco became widely available in ample quantities.

Socio-cultural aspects of modern day tobacco use are also discussed in Section 8. Last updated April The pituri story: a review of the historical literature surrounding traditional Australian Aboriginal use of nicotine in Central Australia. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine ; Lindorff KJ. Ivers R.

Indigenous tobacco—a literature review. The ethnopharmacology of pituri. Journal of Ethnopharmacology ; Low T. Pituri: tracing the trade routes of an indigenous intoxicant. Australian Natural History ; Brady M and Long J. Mutual exploitation? This year is the United Nations international year of indigenous languages.

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In this year how wonderful it would be for Australians to learn the original names of our trees? We can begin by saying again the name for the grass tree or xanthorrhoea — which is gadi — the name by which the clan who lived in what is now the Sydney CBD called themselves: the Gadigal. It provides one of the strongest resins in the world.

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A beautiful and ancient long-lived tree that has almost become extinct in the Sydney CBD. The waratah is an icon of Australia and the symbol of the state of New South Wales. Most Australians would not know that its name came into Australian English in the earliest colonial period from the language of the Gadigal clan.

The Gadigal held the spectacular flower in high esteem and gave it a key role in funeral ceremonies as a symbol of the ongoing life of the spirit of the deceased.

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In Sydney we should all know the word damun — the Port Jackson fig tree so common it was said by the Gadigal to be the favourite habitat of a mischievous spirit. In Australia, trees of great significance to Aboriginal communities continue to be destroyed. Currently Djab Wurrung people are trying to stop the Victorian government from cutting down sacred eucalyptus trees, including birthing trees where countless generations of their people have been born.

This is a cultural and environmental loss for all Australians.

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Indigenous communities worldwide suffer from the damage done to their trees. In the Himalayan region of Swat in north Pakistan , my Torwali friend Mujahid told me of the devastation of the ancient deodar forests by the Taliban when they overran his valley in These trees lo see thaam in Torwali are a form of cedar that take years to mature, and live for at least 1, years. The trees are integral to local history: the stand that sheltered the wali ruler of Swat on his travels is now a semi-sacred place.

Trees also help people track seasonal changes so important to an agricultural community. Mujahid explained that his mother would say that the sun rising over a particular tree indicated it was mid-winter. The Taliban commanders cut the beautiful trees to sell the timber to fund their operations. The result was an environmental and social disaster. The trees with their extraordinarily deep roots helped keep the steep mountainsides intact. Deforestation and an unusually early melt of the winter snow in created extreme mudslides and floods that devastated communities from Kalam to Bahrain.