Corn, Aaron: Friday essay: Dr Joe Gumbula, the ancestral chorus, and how we value Indigenous knowledges

Aaron Corn

Friday essay: Dr Joe Gumbula, the ancestral chorus, and how we value Indigenous knowledges‘, The Conversation, 29 September 2017

An edited version of the Dr Joe Gumbula Memorial Lecture presented at the 16th Symposium on Indigenous Music and Dance at the University of Melbourne.

In Yolŋu epistemology, whenever people sing Manikay, their voices are not their own, but rather mingle with those of the ancestors themselves – all those who have gone before and all those who are yet to be. The Manikay tradition codifies all the observations and strategies for living given to the Yolŋu by the original ancestors who originally named, shaped and populated their myriad homelands in northeast Arnhem Land …

The Manikay tradition has been carefully curated over successive generations to maintain an observable and repeatable record of this expansive body of knowledge, while simultaneously being able to accommodate both reinterpretations of old observations and additions of new ones.

Learned singers of Manikay constantly reset and reinterpret the themes and meanings of their repertoires in response to arising circumstances of celebration, loss, negotiation and commemoration …

If learned exponents of traditions such as Manikay are truly deserving of our recognition as thinkers, then we should also recognise and value the media they have long cultivated to perpetuate their discourses as being equivalent to the written word.

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