Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Sacred Places of the Women of Uluru

Sacred Uluru Women's Space
The Sacred Places of the Women of Uluru

Location: Mutijulu, Northern Territory, Australia

Some years ago, Jani Roberts set out for Australia's Northern Territory in order to meet local Aboriginal (Anangu) leaders. Her specific destination was what white Australians have called "Ayers Rock." But the Anangu people call it Uluru.

A storekeeper introduced her to the the senior Anangu men, including the chairman. But finally the chairman told her, "The women want you," and pointed to a group of women sitting under a tree some forty feet away. Roberts approached the women.

They made space and warmly welcomed me as if I were expected. We talked, eyes sparkling. Then one said. "We have something to show you." They invited me to climb with them into the back of a truck parked nearby. We drove together towards the long brooding red-grey cliffed monolith that dominated the horizon.

They took me first to a small fenced off area at the base of the rock. Standing well clear of it they explained that this was an area sacred to Aboriginal men. They then took me away from the male area along the side of the great rock to some nearby caves. These they told me gladly were sacred to women and for women alone. No Aboriginal male would dream to come near for the whole area was reserved to women under the strictest of Aboriginal laws. But I saw the women's sanctury was protected by no fence, no warning like to those that had protected the male sites. Tourists could freely enter and were doing so. I saw white men camera in hand ignorantly exploring the most sacred female places. The women explained to me that as men are allowed to tell men about the location of their sacred places, Aboriginal men had been able to tell white male government officers and to persuade them to grant protection. But the women had not had this opportunity. They had not been able to tell a female government officer because our society had not thought to send them a woman officer. So they wanted me to tell the world that the women of Uluru wanted equal protection.

The experience of sacred place that the Anangu women shared with Roberts was certainly a departure from the standard tourist narrative:

 The Aboriginal women escorting me chanted greetings to the spirits of the caves and waterholes as we wound along a footpath at the foot of the high smooth cliffs of Uluru in Australia's heartlands. "See that cave", one woman grinned. "Doesn't it remind you of the vulva?"

Clearly, this experience of women's sacred space was deeply moving for Roberts:

The rest of that day I spent with the women in their sacred places. I saw deep permanent waterholes shaded by trees beneath the cliffs, a precious resource in the desert. I felt as if I were with the ancient tribe of Israel learning of their Garden of Eden sacred story as the Aboriginal Elders told me their equally age old account of divine creation.

The most privileged moment came when I was taken into the birthing cave and was shown how the women sat to give birth. I was instructed how to sit as the woman laughed with the pleasure of the telling.

It was a day of magic.

It seems that the Anagu women eventually won their battle--at least in part--and most of the women's area around the base of the rock was sealed off. But as Roberts conceded back in 1996, "Tourists still climb the rock totally unaware of the sacred lands that lie below and despite Aboriginal protests at this desecration."

So has anything changed since 1996? Sadly, no. White people still hike over and violate the sacred areas with no appreciation or respect for the wishes of the Anangu people. In fact, some even choose to "pay tribute" in amazingly patronizing and colonialist ways. In fact, the following outrage took place just last summer (June 2010):

A tourist on holiday in Australia has angered Aborigines by stripping off on the top of Uluru, a sacred Aboriginal site.

The French woman was holidaying in Australia when she visited Uluru, formerly Ayres Rock, a popular tourist attraction. Climbing the rock is permitted although discouraged by Aboriginal people. Once at the top the woman performed a striptease routine, finishing in a white bikini and white high-heeled boots topped off with a bushman hat.

The woman was filmed performing the stunt and the film then appeared on the Sunday Territorian newspaper website.

Uluru is regarded as a sacred site by Aboriginal people who believe that it is a home for their ancestral spirits. It is also a hugely popular tourist attraction and whilst climbing the rock is frowned upon, it is not yet banned although there have been proposals put forward to that extent. Just recently a huge walkway was erected around the site to encourage visitors to appreciate the World Heritage site from a distance.

Photo: Sacred place reserved for Aborginal women


  1. I accidentally viewed your blog and I was so amazed with your work that it touched the deepness of my heart. It made me sentimental. Thanks for posting.



Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.