What is the significance of Aboriginal Art and Symbols

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The significance of aboriginal art and symbols for the indigenous people is that for centuries they have utilized inventive drawings and markings to recount their stories and messages which is a vital ingredient within their culture.

Whilst indigenous art can be presented in various formations such as dots, cross hatching, maps of circles, spirals, lines and dashes which are recognized as being the traditional aboriginal art communication of the Western Desert people. However it is the dot paintings which have become internationally acknowledged as distinctive and fundamental within Australian Indigenous Artwork with symbolic significance.

The recognition of dot painting can be traced back to round about 1971 when a teacher from New South Wales (Geoffrey Barden) was appointed as an art teacher to the Aboriginal children at Papunya (nearby Alice Springs). He observed that whist the men would tell their aboriginal stories to children’s, they would draw symbols in the sand as to how they interrupted these stories. Bardon then encouraged the children to transfer these stories to canvas and board, which started aboriginal art by children. Within a short period a large number of the men followed suit and began painting as well.

Australian aboriginal dot paintings generally portray an account normally related to hunting or food gathering, usually immersed with customary aboriginal symbols ingrained throughout the painting. Upon explanation of these embedded symbols a whole new meaning within the painting is immediately evident.

1. People Sitting

This circular symbol is a representation of either a campsite or water hole. The “U” shaped figures are people sitting around the waterhole or campsite.

2. Animal Tracks

The aboriginal people usually have individual signs which denote what type of animal that each represents – in this case it depicts Australia’s wild native dog “The Dingo”.

3. Sandhill or Cloud

This particular symbol to the aboriginal people has a multi meaning, as the heading states it can highlight a sand hill, cloud or some kind of wind break or shelter.

4. Rain

This icon has great significance to the indigenous artwork for the people of Central Australia. Rain can sometimes be a rare commodity to these people and when it does arrive it is celebrated with song and dance during ceremonies.

5. Honey Ant

Indigenous women with their digging, dig deep into the sand in the hunt for honey ants. The honey ants produce a honey- like liquid in their abdomen, which is regarded as a special treat by Aboriginal people in Central Australia.

6. Spears

This image illustrates two samples of a spear. The spears are hand made by the Aboriginal men and used as weapons for hunting prey. The men heat the spears over fire or in hot ash to straighten or strengthen the wood.

7. Woomera.

The icon known as a “Woomera” however it is also known as a spear thrower launcher.

8. Shield

This implement also can be utilized in a number of ways however on of its main function is for protection especially during inter-tribal rivalry.

9. Emu.

This image illustrates the emu track. The Aboriginal men peruse these tracks in their hunt for emu (large flight-less bird), which is a prime food source (bush tucker) and is used for bush medicine. Within men’s ceremonies, the emu feathers are used as body decoration. There are numerous symbols illustrating the emu track, these vary  based on the artist’s region.

10. Bush Tucker / Bush Berry

Bush berries are a primary food source which is gathered by the women of central Australia. Notice that we have referred to this staple food source as these berries come in many species.

11. Waterholes & Running Water

This icon depicts two waterholes (concentric circles) connected by flowing water (wavy lines).

12. Boomerangs

The boomerang serves as multi-purpose tool by the Australian Aboriginal men. They can be used as a hunting implement or weapons for fighting.  They are also utilized for digging, as cutting knives for lighting fires through friction and also be used as a percussion instrument during ceremonies.

13. Kangaroo Tracks

This image refers to the track of the kangaroo. Aboriginal men hunt the kangaroo by following its tracks in the sand.

14. Tracks/Waterholes

This icon depicts campsite or resting place (circle) and the journey path joined by straight lines connecting with the circles, a common feature seen in a large number of Australian Aboriginal artworks.

15. Meeting Place

This icon represents meeting place (concentric circles) and journey path (lines). The meeting place is culturally a significant site to Aboriginal men and women. It is a place where Aboriginal people gather together, sitting in circles; this is seen as a normal practice among the indigenous people.

16. Campsites / Waterhole

Concentric circle can portray a campsite, meeting place or ceremonial site or perhaps a waterhole These sites are not only culturally important to Aboriginal people living in Central Australia but important from a survival point  given that this symbol may be a waterhole rather than a campsite.

17. Hunting Boomerang

Apart from being used a clapping sticks in ceremonies the hunting boomerang is normally hunt for the larger type of animal either kangaroo or emu. The boomerang is usually a hand crafted implement by the Aboriginal men –it takes the shape of the figure seven the longer part of the instrument is the handle with the shorter wing which is extremely sharp being the damaging part.

18. Coolamon

A Coolamon is a hand-crafted wooden dish, which is used by the Aboriginal women when gathering bush tucker, transporting water or carrying babies.

19. Digging Sticks / Clapping Sticks

Digging sticks are hand crafted wooden tools, sharpened at one end, which the Aboriginal women use to dig for edible bush tucker (roots, tubers, honey ants, reptiles).  In women ceremonies they are used as clapping stick.

20. Woman

This symbol depicts a woman and a digging stick. Aboriginal women use a digging stick to collect out edible bush food (roots, yam, and witchetty grub). In ceremony the women use digging sticks as clapping sticks.

21.  Men

This image represents a man with spears. The spear is a hand-crafted weapon the Aboriginal men use for hunting larger prey. The icon(s) depicted next to the U shape, determines if it is a male or female.

22.  Person

The U shape icon represents a person. The U shape icon can represent male or female.

23. Witchetty Grub

This image shows the witchetty grub which are mainly collected by women living in Central Australia. The witchetty grubs, a principal food source (bush tucker) for the Aboriginal people living in Central Australia.

24. Goanna

This icon represents the tracks of the goanna. Aboriginal people hunt the goanna by following its tracks in the sand. The Goanna and its eggs are again a principal food source (bush tucker). There are various symbols depicting the goanna track, depending on the artist’s region.

Few of Indigenous Australian symbols and aboriginal art symbols.

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