The world is fast shifting into a global village. Globalization has enabled the interaction among people from all over the world who have diverse cultural orientations. Neilson (2011) defines globalization as the deliberate transmission of values, meanings and ideas around the world. Political, economic and cultural globalization are the main dimensions of globalization in the contemporary world. The modern-day advancement in technology and communication has particularly enabled the aspect of globalization to become a reality. Currently, one can communicate with millions of people around the world by merely clicking a button thus promoting the interaction of cultures and ultimately, cultural globalization. Cultural globalization, which is a major dimension of general globalization is defined by Cheng (2012) as the extension and intensification of social relations that involves the interconnectedness among different cultures and populations. This interconnectedness is what enables the sharing of knowledge and norms with which different people in the world associate their collective and individual cultural identities.
It is important to note that cultures are not static. They are highly dynamic. In a changing world, for example, the cultural aspects have to change with the times. Although some cultures resist change as a result of the integration and interdependence of their cultural institutions, change is inevitable due to the dynamic cultural change processes that encourage the adoption of new ideas (Ciochinaru, 2013). The contact among societies, environmental changes, and natural forces within a given society influence the process of change (Takacs, 1997). Tomlinson (2003) argues that global processes of cultural change have implications for the proliferation of cultural identities. As a result, populations often refigure their indigenous knowledge and rituals as an expression of identity that responds to a globalized context (Flores, 2014). This paper evaluates the refiguring of the indigenous knowledge and rituals among the First Peoples of Australia as evident in the exhibitions at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at Melbourne Museum. In response to globalization, the exhibitions present a new approach to the history of the Aboriginal people.
Bunjilaka is one of the leading Aboriginal cultural centers in Australia and is diverse in terms of its collection of Aboriginal cultures. It features exhibitions that celebrate the diversity, vitality, strength and continuity of the First Peoples whose culture is deeply intertwined with the land, maintenance of culture, and the impact of British colonization (Lord Alderdice, 2014). The First Peoples is a collective endeavor of the Victorian Aboriginal Community and Museum Victoria. It is important to note that the First Peoples Yulendj community representatives and a group of elders have brought their images, objects, culture, stories, knowledge and rituals to guide the development of the exhibition (Hafner, 2013). Although some of the indigenous cultures of the world seem to have been displaced by the dominant Western view, globalization has provided opportunities for new possibilities for these groups to express and preserve their cultural heritage (Sloggett, 2014). This is done in a transformed social and political context that meets the demands of globalization. Indigenous art connects the people and the land; a very important part of the First Peoples that has fostered cultural revival and continuity in the wake of cultural globalization.
The global processes of cultural change have had a great impact on the explosion of cultural identities in the contemporary world. This is evident in the First Peoples exhibition at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre at the Melbourne Museum. Very many artifacts that were retrieved by the early explorers are showcased in the landmark Bunjilaka exhibition. Some of them, which include beautifully painted shields and spearheads, express the indigenous cultural identity of the First Peoples. Wominjeka, the exhibitions welcome area, provides a forum for an introduction to the over forty languages spoken by the Victorian Aboriginal people. From Wominjeka, one moves on to the Generations section where they can listen to stories of resilience, culture, and family connections of the contemporary Koorie identity, as told by the Victorian people. It is also a good opportunity to admire the poignant and vibrant collection of contemporary and historical photos. Moving on to the spectacular collection of Many Nations, one cannot help but admire the numerous artifacts with digital labels connecting each to the people who made and used them. This represents the cultural diversity of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australia (Edmonds and Wild, 2000). The digital labels, on the other hand, represents the inevitable impact of cultural globalization in a changing context. There is also Our Story section which tells the cultures and histories of the First Peoples. It concentrates on their resilience, law, and customs before and after the European invasion. Generally, in this section, there is evidence of the celebration of the thriving cultures of the First Peoples in modern times.
The Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Exhibition proves one thing: that the First Peoples had a unique attachment to art since it was one of the most important parts of their lives. It connects them to their land because for them, everything begins and ends with the land (Leuzinger and Lyngard, 2016). It is what links them with their past, and regardless of globalization and the challenges that come with it, theirs is beautiful art, moderated according to the times. In the exhibition, there are beautiful Botanical Gardens that have plants that have medicinal value and others that have precious water in their roots. There are also historical Dreamings. These Dreamings are stories of the founding ancestors whose actions created the land (Lord Alderdice, 2014). Each of the Aboriginal Peoples has symbolic ancestors whose Dreamings they narrate, endorse, and paint. In narrating, endorsing and painting these Dreamings, these people learn about their land, the paths through it and their obligations upon it (Hafner, 2013). This helps in realistically adopting to the changes that come with cultural globalization. Although cultural globalization has had an impact on the representation of the First Peoples land, they have managed to maintain unique features such as the Botanical Gardens that signify their outstanding cultural identity. When land rights became a hot legal discussion topic among Australians in the 1970s, many First Peoples looked to art as they sought an explanation for their form of land ownership (Ryan, 2015). Interestingly, some of them succeeded when they took the relevant land paintings to court as statements of title claims. The Aboriginal people seem to have viewed the topography of ancient Australia in a unique way as to spot the landscape and capture it in painting. In the First Peoples Cultural exhibition, the paintings by the Aboriginal people have been refigured to fit in the global context with paintings of everything including canvas, tiles, hubcaps, and brick. Such creatively explosive refiguring is a perfect expression of their cultural identity that has stood the test of time.
Also, the items on exhibition at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal cultural center reveals that the First Peoples indigenous art is very old. Berndt (1966) observes that a lot of Aboriginal, indigenous art, including paintings and rock engravings, is older than the famous paintings of Frances Lascaux Caves by over twenty thousand years. However, much of it was temporary with bodies being painted with sand drawings and ochre occasionally. The traces would then be removed as soon as the ritual was over. Global processes of cultural change seem to have really helped in maintaining the cultural identity of the First Peoples since most of this art is still available at the exhibition. Despite its age, the aboriginal cultural knowledge and ritual can be viewed as a contemporary means of communicating with the uncomprehending global society (Ciochinaru, 2013). In an attempt to express their identity in a highly globalized society, the aboriginal community has ensured the proliferation of their cultural items, rituals, and knowledge. This proliferation has made the artifacts, and their identity remains relevant in the modern cultural dispensation.
Additionally, ancient metal baskets that seem difficult to make are also on display in the First Peoples cultural exhibition at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Center. They hang beautifully in a blue room in the form of reimagined coolamons. The baskets seem to have been modified to fit in the global context despite their age. The baskets resemble the traditional bark-made vessels that were used to hold newborns (Berndt, 1966). The Aboriginal visual art is eloquent enough to convey the intended message of cultural identity. Other forms of cultural art in the exhibition include a portrait of a joyous ceremony in which people are in a celebratory mood. The ceremony is led by a Wurundjeri Willum Elder named William Barak, who successfully negotiated for a farmland on behalf of the Northern Victoria Aboriginal community in 1863(Berndt, 1966). Baraks portrait on a new building is an attempt at the preservation of cultural identity among the Aboriginal community in the context of globalization. The diversification of the artifacts and other items at the exhibition shows the positive response to the globalized world.
Cultural globalization and diversification do not necessarily mean the destruction of one culture to pave the way for another. As Tolimson (2003) observes, through the processes of cultural change, a hybrid, rather than a destroyed culture is formed. The hybrid culture maintains cultural identities that are unique to various cultural communities. The communities carefully refigure indigenous knowledge and rituals to have them express cultural identity in a global world. Although some contemporary human problems such as poverty and resource depletion stem from dissonance in cultural transformation, growth is an integral part of cultural globalization. The First Peoples exhibition at the Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Center reveals that cultural globalization is real. And that cultural processes are constantly taking place as a result of advancements in communication and technology. The diversity of the items that are on exhibition proves that the Aboriginal culture has grown in leaps and bounds in response to the ever-growing demands of globalization. Perhaps, the exhibition could act as an eye opener to the Australians to look beyond the cultural biases they may have had towards the Aboriginal people in Australia.
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Ciochinaru, S. 2013. Globalization and global transformations in the 21st century. International Journal of Academic Research, 5(6), pp.46-51.
Dieguez Leuzinger, M. and Lyngard, K. 2016. The land rights of indigenous and traditional peoples in Brazil and Australia. Revista de Direito Internacional, 13(1).
Edmonds, P. and Wild, E. 2000. New obligations: conservation policy and treatment approaches for Aboriginal collections in Bunjilaka, the Aboriginal Centre, Melbourne Museum. Studies in Conservation, 45(sup1), pp.60-64.
Flores, A. 2014. Impact of the cultural learning process in the competitiveness and the change process. J. for International Business and Entrepreneurship Development, 7(3), p.216.
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