Dirawong - Introduction


Firstly, nearly all of the information known about the deity called the 'Dirawong' and the associated tribal spiritual beliefs, come from the Aboriginal tribes people of the Bundjalung Nation and Europeans; therefore it is necessary to be aware of the possibility of bias in the historical record.

Secondly, the Bundjalung Nation tribal groups have never used a written language. To communicate, they talked, but they never wrote letters or books. This meant there was no common written language or alphabet for all tribes like there is for the English, Greeks, or Italians.

All the world's peoples have a concept of how the world was formed. The Bundjalung Nation tribal groups believe that, in the beginning, the earth was featureless, flat and grey. There were no mountain ranges, no rivers, no billabongs, no birds or animals - in fact not one living thing. Then long, long ago came the Dreamtime.

The Dreamtime (Dreaming or Altjeringa is a sacred 'once upon a time' time out of time in which ancestral Totemic Spirit Beings formed 'The Creation') was a time when giant creatures rose up out of the grey plains where they had been slumbering for countless ages. These mythical Beings looked like animals or plants or insects, but they behaved just like humans. They wandered across the vast grey wastes, performing ceremonies, digging for water, and searching for food and as they searched, because of their giant size, they made huge ravines and rivers in the land. The greatest of all these beings from the Dreamtime took the form of the Rainbow Snake. The movement of his huge multicolored body across the land formed the mountains and the rivers that flow to the ocean. By lifting his tail he makes rainbows. The Bundjalung people tell us that Rainbow Snake and Dirawong worked together to create the Richmond River area. Thus the world took on the shape it has today.

Bundjalung Nation tribal groups believe that in the Dreamtime the traditional Aboriginal way of life was established by these mythical Beings and that this way of life is still followed in traditional Aboriginal society today. They believe that their ancestors were taught about their tribal lands by the mythical Beings, and were told how they, as descendants of these Beings, should behave. This was their Dreamtime and this teaching is as important to them as the "Ten commandments" were to the ancient Hebrews. The Dreamtime ended, no one knows how or why, and the Aboriginal ancestor spirits changed into the landscape, they turn into a rock or mountain range, an isolated hill, island, river or even trees arose to mark the place, and time and life, as we know it, began. For Aboriginal people the land has a very special meaning for all over the land there are features which are reminders of those giant Beings of the Dreamtime. When they see a mountain or river, a rock or a tree, they think of the mythical Beings that had a part in their own creation.

The Bundjalung Nation tribal groups believe that they are directly descended from these mythical Beings. When the Dreamtime ended, the people were left with a social and cultural heritage which came from their ancestors. All the rites and ceremonies are, and always were, aimed at preserving this heritage. Their ancestors from the Dreamtime also gave them possession of tribal lands, and hence tribal land, and all forms of life contained within it, are regarded as a sacred trust.

The bonds with the mythical Beings of the Dreamtime are such that Bundjalung Nation tribal groups believe in a united world of body and spirit for every form of life in the land, both living and non-living. This then means that the rocks, rivers and waterholes are more than just a reminder or a symbol of the Dreamtime they represent reality and eternal truth. The legends in this article are some of the stories about the ancestors from the Dreamtime. The legends portray all sorts of human behaviour, including the less endearing ones such as vanity, lying, cruelty, trickery and cheating. There is a moral in these myths. As you listen to the antics of 'The Three Brothers', or of 'The Rainbow Snake & the Dreamtime', you are warned by the characters' downfall of what might happen to you should you fall into the same temptation.

To non-Aboriginal people, Aboriginal mythology can be confusing because the characters are non-human Beings, but behave like humans. Many of the myths seem only to be concerned with a particular animal or bird. However in symbolic meaning of great importance. For instance, the Sun is a woman, she creates life and she is often symbolized by water, fire, earth and red ochre, the Moon is male and controls the tides and seasonal cycles - he is often symbolized by snake, dog, frog and also water.

Some people may find these legends hard to believe, but because they do not seem real to one person, this does not mean that they are not real to another. Indeed, Aboriginals may find it as difficult to believe the Bible story of Moses parting the waters of the Red Sea as Europeans may find it difficult to believe that the Rainbow snake and Dirawong created parts of the Richmond River, Goanna Headland, Snake Island and Pelican Island . To those who really want to believe, both these events really did take place. Aboriginals believe that each tribe is descended from the Beings of the Dreamtime. Today, every Aboriginal has a special symbol - they are called totems - which represents this spiritual attachment or special link to a particular ancestral Being, such as an animal, fish, bird or plant. Traditionally, Aboriginal people care for their totem as they would a brother or sister or friend. Dirawong's tribe is the 'Nyangbal' tribe from the Far North Coast of New South Wales and Dirawong's totem symbol is the 'Goanna'.

Goanna had a prominent place in the culture of Indigenous Australian Bundjalung Nation tribal groups. This included totemic relationships, anthropomorphic representations in Dreamtime stories, and as a food source. Representations of goannas are common in Indigenous artwork, not just as food, but also as a symbolic spiritual motif. Goannas and the mighty Perentie are often considered two different animals when used in Aboriginal works, as illustrated by the story "How the Goanna and Perentie got their colours".

'Nyangbal' tribes people believe that they are direct descendants in spirit of “mythical supernatural being architects”, the Rainbow Snake and Dirawong who created the land and the two totems; the Snake & the Goanna and the land in which Bundjalung Nation tribal groups live. This belief is very important to Nyangbal people, and the goanna of today constantly reminds Nyangbal people of that spiritual ancestor. These symbols are also important because they help to show man's unity with nature. They feel special affinity with their related totem animal species.

It is believed that sacred ceremonies have to be re-enacted on a regular basis to maintain the animal species and ensure survival of the humans. Each Bundjalung Nation tribal groups families owns a special area of land and must protect sacred sites representing their personal totems Dreamtime spirits. Bundjalung Nation people travel long distances from all directions to participate in the initiation ceremonies and to educate the young. The journey could last days or several months and women hunt and collect food during the voyage. All animals, birds, insects, reptiles, plants and other life forms, including man, are part of nature, it is only outward forms that are different.

In summary, the legendary tales of the Bundjalung Nation tribal groups have come down to us from a series of European people. The Aboriginal story-teller would have added facial and bodily gestures and voice inflection to a narrative that was sparing in words. In the re-telling by European people, additional words and phrases have been necessary, while occasional interpolations and omissions have produced different versions. In each case the version used in this article is the one that makes the best story while being consistent with what is known of the beliefs and customs of the Bundjalung Nation tribal groups.

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