Monday, July 8, 2013

Yesterday was Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday in Austraila

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Sunday fell on July 7th (sorry about the ond day delay in posting this!) and brings together the entire Catholic Community to celebrate the gifts that Australia's first peoples bring to the Church in Australia.  It is an event sponsored by National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Catholic Council (NATSICC), an organization which seeks to act "as an avenue that helps Aboriginal and Torres Strait people to have a voice in the Catholic Church in Australia."  Printed online resources for this Sunday's observances can be downloaded here.  For a description of the organization's logo (left), click here.

I didn't know anything about the Torres Strait Islanders, so I did a little research.  The islands are located off the northern tip of Australia.  Wikipedia writes that the inhabitants of these islands are

culturally and genetically Melanesian peoples, as are the peoples of Papua New Guinea. They are distinct from the Aboriginal peoples of the rest of Australia, and are generally referred to separately... Their more recent, post-colonization history has seen new cultural influences, most notably the place of Christianity (particularly of the Baptist and Anglican strains) which caused major shifts in cultural paradigms, as well as subtler additions through the influence of Polynesian (particularly Rotuman) pearl-divers brought by black-birders in the 19th Century.

Apparently most Torres Strait Islanders these days are Christians of some sort or another.  On July 1st (as they do each year), they celebrated the Coming of the Light, which marks the day the London Missionary Society first arrived in Torres Strait.  The day is commemorated with re-enactments, community festivities and a series of feasts.  Below is some artwork that I found online which commemorates this event, from 2007's 24th Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award:

Darnley Island Story of the Coming of the Light by Darnley Island Art Gang
Linocut on paper 

The subject of Torres Island Christianity and art is something that I want to investigate more in the future.  Let me know if you know of any resources that I should particularly check out!

Locals arrive in colourful dress as the Coming of the Light ceremony
on Darnley Island begins. Photo Credit: Cathy Finch

For a few examples of contemporary non-Christian Torres Islander art from the National Gallery of Australia, click here.  According to a video about a 19th century Torres Island mask, most art of this sort was destroyed after the missionaries arrived.  Linocut and woodcut printmaking (as shown in the black and white example above) is an extension of traditional woodcarving practices in the islands.

19th century mask from an island in the Torres Strait

More examples of contemporary Torres Islander art can be seen herehere and here.

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