Language and Kinship Groups
The Aborigines are not a single unified people - they are separated into many different regional language groups, each of which is sub-divided into several kinship groups.
Humans were given their kinship system by the ancestors as part of their Eternal Law. The kinship system defines who belongs to your close family and contains rules on how to treat each other, and who you can and cannot marry. Great emphasis is given to caring for your relatives. The members of each kinship group work together to solve the challenges of everyday life, practical as well as spiritual.
Each kinship group owns an area of land known as a homeland. The homeland is a sacred area and was given to the group by the powerful ancestors who created the land in the Dreamtime. The designs in this exhibition that illustrate the creation stories of a homeland are owned by the kinship group that owns the land. This means that these designs can only be painted by members of the kinship group that owns the homeland. Aborigines inherit their rights to their homeland and associated creation stories along with their membership of a language group and kinship group.
When Aboriginal artists paint these designs they express not only their sense of belonging to a particular language and kinship group, but also their knowledge of the Dreamtime, their homeland, and their own cultural identity. Although there are clear conventions concerning the painting of communally-owned designs, there is also room for creativity and innovation. Dreamtime creation stories are now depicted in new media and Aboriginal artists are constantly developing individual styles. Continuity and change, convention and creativity live side by side in Aboriginal art.