When I first started my journey travelling North-er I was told by my Aboriginal friends, “Do NOT ask Aboriginals questions!”
Well, I found out why with the desert people in Australia who are very strong in the Aboriginal culture.
In my last blog I introduced a book that I had read called “White Fella Culture”. It’s a small book I found in a bookstore in Alice Springs. I haven’t seen it any where else yet so I’m pretty grateful to have found it at all. It’s very simply written as it was originally written for Aboriginal to explain white fella culture.
“Brian was the chairman of the community council. He was talking to Richard, the whitefella who worked at the local art centre Richard had lived in the community for five years. Now he and his family were leaving and going down South to live.
Richard asked Brian, “Do you remember when I first came here? I was asking too many questions and going place where I wasn’t supposed to go. I was an ignorant person then. I didn’t understand about Aboriginal culture and Aboriginal people.”
The two friends decided to write a book.
But let me retreat to just a few days ago when I stopped in Coober Pedy. Coober Pedy was my first introduction to the desert Aboriginal Australian people. We stayed at my friend’s friend/brother’s place who is an Aboriginal from Port Augusta way.
When I first met this Aboriginal man we shook hands and I asked his name. Now to me this is a normal and polite way to greet someone in whitefella culture but he promptly corrected me and told me to say my name first. At first I was shocked and taken back by his seemingly rude answer to my polite question but then I had to think about it. He was teaching me something about Aboriginal culture that I didn’t know yet.
According to this helpful little book Aboriginal Australian people do not traditionally greet each other each time they meet. Not like white folk greet each other- each time they meet.
Also, if when you first meet an Aboriginal and they don’t greet you or don’t talk to you it doesn’t necessarily mean they don’t like you. They actually prefer to take time to get to know someone before they start communicating so they know how to talk. I believe this stems from their LORE (Aboriginal Law) where it is against the rules to talk to your in-laws -and hence, better not say anything when first meeting otherwise you could be breaking the law. (They have large extended families)
In most Aboriginal communities it is not polite to ask a person directly for their name. Aboriginals don’t like to give this information as a name is considered a private possession similar to a body part.
(It’ll be hard to remind myself of this habit!)
AND, it’s considered rude to ask questions. Aboriginal children are taught to watch and observe to see what’s going on. When you ask a direct question you haven’t observed the obvious, but are also being in their face so to say.
“White people ask a lot of questions. They often ask questions that expect a yes or no answer. And white people want straight out answers.
In Aboriginal culture, people don’t ask so many questions, especially direct questions. They find out what they need to know by watching and listening or by asking in roundabout ways. And Aboriginal people usually don’t ask questions that ask about two different things, questions about ‘this’ or ‘that’. They will probably just say ‘yes’ to that kind of question because it can be very rude in Aboriginal culture to say a straight out ‘no’.
It would be better for the whitefella to say something like this, “Maybe you would like tea. Or maybe you would like coffee. Rather than say, “Would you like tea or coffee.?”
So, hinting towards something, roundabout questions or just simply observing is the acceptable norms of finding out things in an Aboriginal community.
How does this affect me?
Well, I was taught in school that if you ask questions you learn quicker. I was taught that when travelling you ask for directions you’re less likely to get lost. Questions – to me – are a quick way to gather the truth about a situation and clarify what’s really going on. They are my key source for knowledge!
Uh. Yah, now I’m going to learn how NOT to ask questions yet still get the information needed.
Boy oh boy what an adventure!
(Handy little book really explains the DO NOT ASKED QUESTIONS advice my friends gave me last year.)
A real insight into Australian Aboriginal culture.