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Dreaming (spirituality)

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Dreaming (spirituality)

"Dreaming (story)" redirects here. For other uses, see Dreaming (disambiguation).

The Dreaming is a common term within the animist creation narrative of indigenous Australians for a personal, or group, creation and for what may be understood as the "timeless time" of formative creation and perpetual creating. In addition, the term applies to places and localities on indigenous Australian traditional land (and throughout non-traditional Australia) where the uncreated creation spirits and totemic ancestors, or genii loci, reside.[1] No word in the English dictionary covers the concept; for example, Anangu who speak Pitjantjatjara use the word Tjukurpa and those who speak Yankunytjatjara use Wapar, but neither means dreaming in the English sense.[2]

The Dreaming has different meanings for different Aboriginal groups. The Dreaming can be seen as an embodiment of Creation, which gives meaning to everything. It establishes the rules governing relationships between the people, the land and all things for Aboriginal people.[3]

Ownership of Dreamings

The world was created during the Dreamtime. A Dreaming is a story owned by different tribes and their members that explains the creation of life, people and animals. A Dreaming story is passed on protectively as it is owned and is a form of "intellectual property". In the modern context, an Aborigine cannot relate, or paint someone else's dreaming or creation story without prior permission of the Dreaming's owner. Someone's dreaming story must be respected, as the individual holds the knowledge to that Dreaming story. Certain behavioural constraints are associated with dreaming ownership; for instance, if a Dreaming is painted without authorisation, such action can meet with accusations of "stealing" someone else's Dreaming.

The late Geoffrey Bardon's three books on Papunya specifically mention conflict related to possession of a dreaming story. He uses as an example the Honey Ant Dreaming painted in contemporary times on the school walls of Papunya. Before the mural could be painted, all tribes in Papunya: the Pintupi, Warlpiri, Arrernte, and Anmatyerre, had to agree that the honey ant was an acceptable mural, since Papunya is the meeting place for all tribes. After the mural was painted, one of the senior elders, Long Tom Onion, reminded Bardon that he, the elder, had suggested the mural be painted. Later, Bardon realised Long Tom Onion owned that Dreaming. He comprehended the importance of Dreaming ownership among indigenous Australians, especially those who retain tribal and traditional connections.

Among the Central Desert tribes of Australia, the passing on of the Dreaming story is for the most part gender-related. For example, the late artist from the Papunya movement, Clifford Possum Tjapaltjarri, painted ceremonial dreamings relating to circumcision and love stories, and lessons for "naughty boys". His daughters Gabriella Possum and Michelle Possum have tended to paint the "Seven Sisters" Dreaming or the Pleiades, as they inherited that Dreaming through the maternal line. Consequently, they have painted their "Grandmother's Country", which is an expression of their inherited ownership of the land through knowledge of the dreamings. Clifford and his daughters have not painted the same subjects; Clifford has never painted the "Seven Sisters Dreaming". By tribal law, his daughters are not allowed to see male tribal ceremonies, let alone paint them.

Dreamings as "property" have also been used by a few Aboriginal tribes to argue before the High Court of Australia their title over traditional tribal land. Paintings of Dreamings, travelling journeys and ceremonies tend to depict the locations where they occur. There have been cases in which 10-metre-long paintings have been presented to the Court, as evidence of the tribe's title deed after terra nullius was struck down during the tenure of Chief Justice Gerard Brennan.

Artists and their Dreamings

  • Gabriella Possum Nungurrayi owns the following Dreaming stories: bush foods, Grandmother's country and the Seven Sisters.
  • Tim Leura Tjapaltjarri had the following Dreaming: death ceremony

See also


  • Bardon, G. and Bardon, J. (2005), Papunya: The Story After the Place, Melbourne: University of Melbourne, Miegunyah Press
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