Oceanic Mythologies: Australian Aborigine and Polynesian

Australian Aborigines and the Dreaming

Is there an Australian pantheon?

As there are many aboriginal groups, there are many groups of gods, but rarely complex family arrangements of gods such as we find in Greece or Egypt, for instance. The following are some of the most important of the aboriginal deities.

The sun is usually personified by male deities but in Australia, as in Japan, the sun is represented by a female goddess. In some areas she is Alinga, in others Wuriupranili. In southeast Australia she is Gnowee, who in Dreamtime, when the world was still dark, lost her son. She lights a torch and climbs the sky each day looking for him. In northern Australia the solar goddess can be Wala, who travels across the sky each day. In the west, Bila is a sun goddess who had cannibal tendencies, roasting humans each day over the fire that provided light for the world. To save humans, Kudnu, the Lizard Man, and Muda, the Gecko man, threw a boomerang at her, injuring her and causing her to turn into a ball of fire, which ran off, leaving the world in darkness. Kudnu threw several more boomerangs and finally caught the fireball in the east, from which direction it returns each day to bring warmth and light to the world.

As in most mythologies, the creator god holds an important place in many aboriginal mythologies. In southeast Australia, Biame is the creator. Among the Bandicoot clan in Aranda, Karora is the creator. In the north, some groups claim a Great Mother, Eingana, as the creator. She is a snake goddess who in Dreamtime created water, animals, and land. In the beginning Eingana had no vagina and became swollen with creation until the god Barraiya relieved her pain by creating a vagina for her with his spear. Like Kali and Durga, expressions of the great goddess in India, Eingana is also a goddess of death; without death, creation could not continue.

There are many other important Dreamtime deities. Anjea in Queensland is a fertility goddess. Julunggul in the north is another fertility goddess; like Eingana, she is a snake.

In northeast Arnhem Land the Djanggawul Sisters are important. Djanggawul was a child of the sun, who had two sisters. The three Djanggawuls traveled about the country in a bark canoe. Djanggawul had a very long, uncircumcised and decorated penis, and his sisters had exaggerated clitorises. On approaching land they performed a walkabout, their dragging genitals leaving sacred marks on the ground, marks still present today. The Djanggawuls also left “dreamings” in the form of stories and ceremonies, including models of the brother’s penis as decorated poles. In each place where they stopped, Djanggawul had intercourse with his sisters, and humans were born. As in the Indian Vedas and many other mythological sources around the world, incest in the early stages of creation is a common theme among the Australian Aborigines. Some say that to remove some of their over-sized genital equipment Djanggawul and his sisters instituted the tradition of circumcision.

Two sisters—from the north—are the Wawalag Sisters, who also roam the world in Dreamtime, naming creatures and plants. They are swallowed and then regurgitated by the snake deity Yurlunger. Still another creative pair known to the northern Gunwinggu people were Wurugag, the first male, and Waramurungundi, the first female, who was in effect a Great Mother goddess as she gave birth to earth itself.

Trickster figures exist among the Aborigines. In the northern area Bamapana is popular, a trickster who, like tricksters in other parts of the world, is amoral, a sower of discord who uses his creative powers as a kind of anticulture hero, even committing incest. Among the Wurundjeri people, a more helpful trickster is Crow, who in Dreamtime stole fire and enjoys playing tricks on other animals, such as Swamp Hawk and Eagle.


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