The first I heard of the Adam Goodes Bumala-y Yuurrama-y (war dance) I was in Aotearoa/New Zealand. I had been watching my son play rugby. It was a carnival (under 12s) and they had just lost the grand final. After leading for the entire game, players and parents alike watched helplessly as the opposing team swept down the field from sideline to sideline, much like the legendary Mark Coyne try in State of Origin.
Every tackle was made but players kept offloading the ball and passes were sticking until a boy went over the try line, taking the corner post with him. We all paused, waiting, before the referee blew the whistle and raised his hand – the try had been scored.
Our players slumped to the ground as whānau (family) and teachers alike from the opposition ran onto the field to celebrate.
An inclusive cultural identity
A young man then screamed a war cry in Māori. That was the signal for parents and teachers to separate in preparation for the children to perform a Haka. As the winners approached our boys, slapping their chests and screaming to their ancestors, our boys raised to take on this second challenge.
The game was over; now it was about “Te Reo Māori”, each school’s representation of the local Iwi (tribe).
Each school has its own Haka and our boys rose to the occasion. Supported by our whānau and teachers as mobile phones immediately uploaded images to Instagram and Facebook, I watched with mana (pride) as my Kamilaroi First Nation Aboriginal Australian boy participated in a celebration of Indigenous culture denied back in his homeland.
These were Pākehā (European), Samoan, Tongan, Cook Island, Indian, Chinese and Māori expressing the culture of Aotearoa as one inclusive cultural identity. It was inspiring and heartbreaking. As a Kamilaroi Aboriginal father, I was left wondering if we will ever see such inclusive cultural practice back in my own traditional homelands.
We drove home and I jumped on Facebook to discover the reaction to Adam Goodes’ Bumala-y Yuurrama-y. That was almost two months ago … but it’s still making headlines around Australia while the celebration of Te Reo Māori by 12-year-old schoolchildren has faded into the cultural landscape of Aotearoa.
Richer for embracing Indigenous culture
Māori culture is embedded in the cultural fabric of New Zealand – it is in evidence everywhere you look, 24 hours a day. Yet, in Australia, no matter what side of the political or culture divide you sit, we all have to admit one thing – ours is a divided nation.
In Aotearoa, presenters, no matter what colour, continually introduce and close shows in the Māori language. My Aboriginal boys think they are in an Indigenous Heaven … or should I say an Indigenous Dreaming. The school handbooks are written in both English and Māori and “Te Reo Māori” is taught in both schools my boys attend.
In Australia, we often hear that Māori speak only one language and that it would be too difficult to implement Aboriginal languages throughout Australia. That is simply not true – Māori has a number of dialects associated with various regions. The differences are overcome with the introduction of a pan-Māori that is spoken and understood throughout the country.
As Aboriginal children, we are taught that when on other people’s land you respect the local culture. Therefore, the fact that many Aboriginal languages are spoken is not problematic; you teach the local language of the region. And with language comes history and place – not just for Aboriginal people but for non-Aboriginal too. Rather than divide the culture, you all become richer.
It’s this easy … having returned from Aotearoa, I have made a conscious decision to speak an Indigenous language as often as I could. I end emails with many Kamilaroi terms and begin with Yammaa, which in my language means welcome. I do this with a translation after these words in English.
Work colleagues return in kind. I now have a collection of phrases in German, Greek, Italian and many other languages from colleagues. This builds solidarity and respect, thereby furthering understanding in the workplace.
Rather than Brisbane I now say Meanjin and instead of Sydney I say Warrang. Melbourne isNarrm and Perth is Boorloo. How and why is becoming educated within the local Indigenous culture so threatening?
Ancient culture can find new expressions
To return to Adam Goodes and that contentious dance of pride and defiance, there is a final important point to be made. Some argue that a major difference between the Haka and the Bumala-y Yuurrama-y is that the Haka has a long history and that the Bumala-y Yuurrama-y is a recent invention.
It was only ten years ago that senior All Blacks voiced serious reservations about whether the Haka was a tradition worth preserving. The issue was that some felt the Haka had become divorced from its original significance and meaning in the 21st century as Aotearoa had so many cultures represented within the All Blacks.
All Blacks management and the senior leaders, led by team captain Tana Umaga, held a series of discussions on how the Haka could be maintained and kept relevant. Consultations were held with the Ngāti Toa tribe to whom Ka Mate Ka Mate, the older Haka, belongs. It was decided to commission Derek Lardelli, an expert in Māori customs, to compose a new Haka tailored specifically for the All Blacks.
And so Kapa o Pango was born. This was less than ten years ago.
The Aboriginal Bumala-y Yuurrama-y went through this exact some process, so why is it being dismissed as not having the same cultural standing? The bottom line is that when the All Blacks do the Haka it is as an entire country: Black, White, Polynesian, Māori and Asian all standing together as one. The one time we do our Bumala-y Yuurrama-y, it is in the Aboriginal All Star games of AFL and NRL and it’s our mob against the rest.
Cultures, no matter how ancient, are allowed to adapt and evolve, but that will not happen in Australia while we remain so divided and our Aboriginal culture excluded from mainstream education and popular culture. All Australians have a right to engage in informed discussion, but this opportunity is denied to people when the 60,000-plus years of Aboriginal occupation and culture was excluded from their formal education.
In finishing, I just received a phone call informing me that NRL stars Johnathan Thurston and Greg Inglis will perform a traditional Aboriginal Bumala-y Yuurrama-y at matches this weekend in a rally cry of support for Adam Goodes. Now that is culture!
Marcus Woolombi Waters, Lecturer, School of Humanities at Griffith University. This article first appeared in The Conversation on 31 July 2015.