- Mar 2022
Wanta JampijinpaPatrick, a Warlpiri Elder, teaches that north corresponds to ‘Law’,south to ‘ceremony’, west to ‘language’ and east to ‘skin’. ‘Country’lies at the intersection of these directions, at the centre of thecompass: Westerners conceptualise it as ‘here’.
In Warlpiri, the cardinal directions of north, south, east and west associatively correspond with the ideas of "Law", "ceremony", "skin", and "language" respectively. The idea of "Country" lies at the center of these directions in a space that Westerners would describe as "here".
This directional set up underlines the value of each of the related concepts and provides pride of place to "Country" and one's being "in Country".
Compare these with the Japanese pattern of こ (ko), そ (so), あ (a), ど (do) which describe a location with respect to the speaker.
Western readers should notice here, that the author centers the name and position of the origin of this knowledge at the start of the sentence. While it is associated with him, it is also certainly associated with all his preceding ancestors and Elders who passed this information down.
One might suspect that this practice isn't as common with base-level cultural knowledge, but that it becomes more important at succeeding levels of intimate area-based restricted knowledge. Placing the origin of the knowledge here at a more basic level of knowledge may help to instruct Western readers slowly and more surely understand how this foreign culture works.
How closely does this practice generally look like the Western idea of citing one's sources which only evolved slowly over history and became more common with the flood of information in the 1500s?
In the Warlpiri Aboriginal language of Central Australia, you do notdescribe positions of things with yourself as the focal reference point.Rather, your position is defined within the world around you. InWarlpiri, my computer is south of me, my cat is sleeping west of meand the door is east of me. It requires you to always know thecardinal directions (north, south, east and west), no matter yourorientation. Any one person is not the centre of the world, they arepart of it.
Western cultures describe people's position in the world with them as the center, while Indigenous cultures, like those of the Warlpiri Aboriginal language of Central Australia, embed the person as part of the world and describe their position with respect to it using the cardinal directions.