“Daughters of the Dreaming” personally recounts the findings of Diane Bell during her 18 month field study of aboriginal women in central Australia between 1976 and 1978. The intent of her study was to observe the ritual practice of women, something not previously focused on by anthropologists in part that Bell’s predecessors were male and not particularly welcome into the world of female ritual and in part that it was believed women did not have as much to contribute to society as the men did. The focus of Bell’s research was in Warrabri, where she spent most of her time with Warlpiri and Kaytej groups, more so with the former. By centralizing her research on women’s ritual Bell learned how ...view middle of the document...
To further describe the independence of aboriginal women, the jilimi is necessary. Jilimi are the residence, refuge, and ritual centers of women and women alone. It gives women the opportunity to maintain their social separation from men and is a supportive environment for those uncomfortable with situations of their life, such as a young bride that is not yet ready to be with her husband or those seeking shelter from their intoxicated spouses. The main appeal of the jilimi is that it is the central powerhouse of women, where they have sole authority and autonomy.
Contrary to typical forager societies, aboriginal women gather as well as hunt small game (generally the only meat available) on top of being responsible for child rearing. Women gathered a variety of foods that include roots, seeds, berries, honey ants, lizards, goannas, snakes, rats, frogs, birds, crabs, mussels, fish, and when found larger game like echidna, cat, and perentie. With caches so varied it is arguable that women are responsible for a majority of the nutritional support of social groups. Unlike other societies, upon the return trip back to camp whatever was culled was consumed on the way. In this way the women again differ from the men who bring their collection back to be distributed amongst everyone. The hunting parties of men were also smaller than that of women’s, though the women did also bring the children along. An illustrative quote regarding this matter of food consumption is of a man telling Bell “That’s what happens when you stay in camp.” (page 56) in response to the idea that if men wanted to eat what the women got, then they should have accompanied them.
In the mid to late 1800’s, westerners began moving in on the aboriginal territories. Bell describes situations in which ‘pacification’ was attempted, stories that she had heard from the older of women. Pacification was the intent of westerners to subdue and control the aboriginals to gain the lands they resided. This resulted in a negative response from the aboriginals, as they were attempting to ignore these thought to be transients but no longer could. Violent occurrences sprung as the westerners gather up the many widespread small groups and forced them into larger settlements, something unfamiliar to the natives.
It was in these settlements that the white influence truly started seeping into aboriginal culture. Here, the idea that women were subservient and dependent upon men was to be enforced on the aboriginal women. Westerners assumed that men were the sole holders of power and were responsible for all political action, as in white culture. A mistake on their part, as traditionally women held as much sway in the social group as then men. Because of this belief, only men were consulted on issues, while attempts to put women into the lesser housewife type role continued. Even though western culture tried to prevent aboriginal women from working equally as men do, it is continued...