Aboriginal identities at Galiwin'ku and the conundrum of Christian practices

Date of Completion

January 2007


Religion, General|Anthropology, Cultural




This dissertation examines how postcolonial Yolngu people of the Australian Aboriginal settlement Galiwin'ku currently deploy "Christian" values and behaviors historically rooted in colonial times. Anthropologists studying contemporary Aboriginal Christianity have principally analyzed the relationship of Aboriginal Christians to the traditional religious domain (i.e., the Dreaming) by focusing on the internal dynamics of an autonomous religious arena divorced from the immediate realities of the lived world. I dismantle such a strict dichotomization of what are defined as the religious and the nonreligious fields through the close examination of the taken-for-granted, the ordinary, or the seemingly mundane social experiences. More specifically, I discuss the role of Christian behaviors in the production of both Aboriginal egalitarian tendencies and individualistic practices in Yolngu people's day-to-day struggles. Social relations are performed and mediate the very meanings of Yolngu personhood in general, and non-Christian and Christian identities in particular, within this field of pragmatic engagement extending beyond the ritualized space to daily life. This dissertation argues that what are called "Aboriginal Christianity" and "Aboriginal Law" need to be understood as intertwined processes within which Yolngu people negotiate power. Local and global performances of indigenized Christianity—transformations of the original colonizer's religious tradition—are paradoxically, I argue, forms of political activism by which indigenous people act upon their lives as marginal subjects to exert control over their representation in the neocolonial state.^