WHAT IS IRITJA...?
Sometimes I get asked what I mean when I say iritja about an interaction I'm having with someone.
IRITJA is the Western Desert & Badimaya term for the spiritual role of a person or clan who act as negotiators/translators/traders/ambassador/messengers between the First Nation next to their own or to send extremely long distance messages to another First Nation far away.
There are early invading colonial accounts of white men coming across iritja men & women who walked or ran along song-lines which had been well traveled over thousands of years by countless iritja before them.
The colonial soldiers on horseback were afraid of them because they refused to stop or look up at them as they passed by. Even as they'd never seen a white man before. The barbaric response to this fear was to shoot the iritja and loot their bodies or claim their skulls for science. What these invaders were destroying in a violent instant was an individual as part of an intricate web of communication and ritual. The reason why the iritja didn't look up at them was because they were in deep meditation and watching for the next nyining (tall tree with carvings or paintings on them) or mountain or a water course so they could find direction/set the time of day to know what stars they would be seeing at night to follow ritual on their journey as well as timing their distance in order to meet others along the way based in their same kinship.
It was a holistic relationalism of the body to nature across vast distances in order to stop conflict, to trade ritual objects that literally sung the same spiritual songs based on the star patterns in the night sky and for a personal spiritual connection to their family.
Star patterns such as the rainbow serpent, the 7 sisters creation story and the two brothers creation story were linked together across many First Nations in 'Australia'.
The largest creation story is the 7 sisters which begins in Western Australia and ends across the continent in Victoria.
Under each star pattern there are great song-line tracks.
The only western travel writer to first discuss this was Bruce Chatwin;
Some of his observations are correct but others are not.
I think he missed plenty of the more intricate details of song-lines to make them appear as if extinct when in fact it was and is a reality today within kinship in Western Australia at least.
People don't walk and run on song-line tracks anymore because the colonial invaders in an act of conquest built their roads over the top of them to form major highways such as the old Fremantle road and parts of the Great Norther Highway.
This didn't stop my Badimaya Nation from using them with other modes of transport...right up until today in cars, bikes and trucks in order to continue their role as iritja for our ritual trade.
My family are iritja for the eastern side of Badimaya country.
In the first contact times Lord Forrest manipulated this use of iritja to gain access to our lands and others before he invaded them with his surveyors who systematical poisoned ever second waterhole and then burnt the bodies after procuring skulls for 'gentlemen', museums & scientists all over the world.
Canning was such a surveyor for the Canning stock route which was named after him.
A telegram request for arsenic to exterminate First Nation people in the Kimberley as they had already done so from 1876 right up until 1910...some say they did this for a lot longer as the last massacre was in 1937 in the Kimberley.
My great grandmother's iritja was between Warriedar Station & Nyinghan Station down to Bruce Rock into the Nyoongar Nations.
Another was into Wongatha to the east of Badimaya country.
She did it till the year she passed away and nobody Non-First Nation ever detected she was still acting in this role for her Nation & kin.
My grandmother was also iritja in spite of the fact that the Roman Catholic Church had inculcated her when her white father stole her from her mother to do so.
As Catholic she still maintained her iritja lore in her own home.
The house where she raised me is in Nyoongar country was her 'battleship' for iritja and she trading out of her own home almost directly under the flight path of the international airport at RedCliffe (near Belmont) in the Perth metro area. She had with countless people talking and trading with her while I was growing up with her.
My grandmother felt she was kept from speaking about it very much...but she still enacted it because it didn't violate her Catholic faith because there is belief of a single great creation spirit in Badimaya lore.
In her mind and in many others of her age we saw it in the same way as other Christians would view God.
If the theology of inculcation exists in Christianity then why didn't they view our law as being part of the evolution of love in all the First Nation communities as seeing that same great creator?
Many assimilationists & Christians thought and some still think...even today... that Badimaya First Nations people believe in animism which is just not true.
We believe that every creature, tree or plant is sent to us to guide us from the creator.
Each clan or kin or skin group has a creature, plant or tree that we are custodian over.
They also speak the truth to us about the great spirit's supreme creation & gift, the earth.
In my family we are custodian and guardian over the Warida, the wedge-tailed eagle.
This creature is connected to the land and the sky and is visible in both Badimaya country and in Nyoongar country in the stars at night.
We use it's skill to help us hunt for food and for water using the stars they make at any particular time of the year as a map.
Others use the emu or whei-gen as it's called in Nyoonagr to the south of Western Australia.
The Warida is linked to a ritual place where we see God in the sky.
It's linked to iritja too because it's song-line is connected though the song-line tracks that have been walked for thousands of years and still are today right into Noongar country to the south.
The warida is also an indicator towards the pride we feel as it's custodians as having keen eyes to see details in any situation in life and is a skill highly admired in our family and First Nation.
As an artist & warida I feel pride with all other artists before me who have been ititja warida because it's something I can share and send messages with to other people & clans from far away.
My mother Ronnie is an iritja with stories.
She also has a keen eye and is an artist too.
When we grew up she kept us safe so that we could be part of the single line of iritja warida in our matriarchal family and now she is our elder in it.
We grew up without tv or the telephone so most of our childhood was us all yarning.
Iritja I think has been used in other forms in other places...such as in Greece with the marathon runners.
Also with the people who run along hill tops to send messages in the Andes or in Mexico in South America.
Yesterday I called into an art event with three artists doing a work titles named #TOUCHMYSOUL
I wanted to participate because I saw what they were trying to achieve.
A relationalism between lots of people using the internet which is like one huge network of messages to me. The internet is kind of like a new way to walk song-lines.
It's not the same as survivalism that creates this fan/star dynamic.
Someone already tried to create an 'artistic' term for it by saying it was meta-modernism but I disagree.
I think it's much more closely connected in how we are in our human spirit.
The option to give is ever present in us.
It's in us so much that it helps us to feel closer to our own creation.
That is the main premise of iritja to the Badimaya warida.
I went to sleep after watching from the beginning about an hour before it finished because it was 2am here in Western Australia and when I woke up one of the artists Shia LeBeouf had been given a tattoo in a kind of ritual sharing saying YOU.NOW.WOW on his inner arm.
I thought it seemed like ritual scaring in a way...Like the artists were making a ritual space for the world to participate in...except I was dreaming by then.
It was very wiru babanyu(strong spirit of friendship) to see him with this as a reminder of all our calls and iritja.
"Can you touch my soul?" they all asked as i called in.
That was the question they all asked together.
I think we all answered each other as iritja.
7/8/2017 10:47:27 am
This is very enlightening Julie.I read 'The Songlines'many years ago.It was also enlightening to me at that time.In these times I have the Internet. The old way is the most special.Connection to the spirit of land and sky so rare and special now.
27/4/2018 02:59:39 pm
16/8/2018 08:10:23 am
What do you mean when you say you are an first nation aboriginal
28/4/2021 04:43:45 am
I'm with Shia LaBeouf.
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