Aboriginal Ceremonies and Dancing


Traditional Ceremonial Rituals are cherished by all Australian Aboriginal people. They differ in content, style and reason however, they have been and still are an inherent part of the culture of the Aborigine throughout the country, from the Top End, Kimberley, Central and Western Desert, Tiwi Islands, Arnhem Land, Alice Springs, Utopia, to the far south of the Continent.

Many associate the words “Aboriginal Ceremony” with deeply sensitive and serious themes, and indeed they are Initiation Ceremonies, Dreaming Ceremonies, Bereavements.. However, Aborigines perform ceremonies for many different occasions these incorporate song and dance events to celebrate Christmas, Holiday (“sit-down time”), important seasonal changes and social events.


The primary reason for this ritual is to teach the young boys and girls of the tribe the law, much about their country, their spiritual beliefs for the Elders to pass on to the youngsters all the knowledge they need to take their place as an Adult in the Community. These ceremonies very often are lengthy, and sometimes take place over a period of years, in stages of “learning” and “proving”.

It is a time of instruction, passing down of skills, behaviour, beliefs. It is a private Aboriginal ceremony of great importance.


Again, the structure and nature of the ceremony for tribes may be different but the underlying reasons are similar. Men and women have very different roles to play in their tribal community respect amongst their own gender and between men and women as individuals and family as a whole, is of utmost importance in the Aboriginal way of life. This respect and strength of both men and women in their differing yet combined roles is brought to fruition as the men adhere to the women’s rules during Women’s Law, and the reverse on the occasion of Men’s Law.


Many of our Indigenous people have embraced Christianity and this is very apparent on the occasion of a funeral. A great number of these services are celebrated dually with the Traditional Aboriginal service followed by the Christian service. The remarkable characteristic of these occasions is the similarity between both the sprinkling of the water and the smoking of the coffin, the family bringing flowers to the coffin and paying their last respects in their own way to their lost one and yet this has been the way of many Aboriginal people long before the white man came to their shores. Usually, after burial, there is a wake where relatives and friends celebrate the life of the lost one. Exactly as most Australian funerals are conducted.


These can be for any good reason at all! The celebration of a Dreamtime Story, where the whole tribe dance, sing and play music in honour of the Ancestral spirit responsible for the way things are or the reason they came to be – Children at Christmas time dancing for their seasonal gifts old friends visiting and the rekindling of friendship and the good old times shared by kindred tribes even the opening of a school, a cultural or art centre. Aboriginal people love to have a good time, and they certainly know how to “throw a party”.


IMAGINE THIS a scene in the Kimberley a huge amphitheatre encircling the audience “dry lightning” flashing across the mountains in the background and a slight breeze blowing. A backdrop that Andrew Lloyd Webber would die for!!!

Women and girls to one side of the “stage setting” in colourful skirts and full painted faces and bodies men and boys to the other side, in nagas and again bodies painted with ochre. No stage lighting needed the heavens are taking care of the pyrotechnics unaided.

The clapsticks begin, followed in rhythm by the digeridoos, then the singers all in perfect unison. The women dance first, with the girls they are the food gatherers, their dancing is precise, each step meaningful, they shade their eyes with their hands and look down to the earth then together they look up to the sun to see how much time left in the day to bring enough bush tucker back to the camp they wend their way towards the sitting audience, the singers and the music players, and abruptly, with a guttural sound and a flick of the arm, the dance finishes in exact beat with the “band”.

Then the men begin theirs is a much more vibrant style they hop, jump, wave a boomerang, spear or twist a nulla nulla they were the hunters, they had to be watchful when the animals came at dusk to drink at the waterholes you see the dancers looking, looking, coming towards the audience with their forceful body movements then with a jump in the air and flashing white teeth smiling, the dance is over.

These celebrations can continue for hours each dance with a different theme, a song to complement every dance.