"Why those old fellas stopped using them?" Spiritual and ritual dimensions of stone-walled fish trap use amongst the Yanyuwa of northern Australia
Archaeological approaches to stone-walled tidal fish traps of Indigenous Australians focus on the technology and subsistence, with chronological development linked to demands of increased food production associated with demographic change and social intensification. For the Yanyuwa ‘Saltwater People’ of tropical northern Australia, old stone-walled fish traps found within the intertidal zone are associated with the creative acts of ancestral spirit beings. As such, these fish traps are imbued with spiritual potency such that use requires specialized ritual practices (involving ochre and smoke) by senior men who also prescribe who can and can’t use the traps and eat the resulting catch. Today these traps lie dormant, not because the demand for fish has decreased but because of the demise of old highly initiated men of Law. These senior men not only possessed the requisite ritual knowledge to repair and activate the traps but also the specialized social and political knowledge to ensure adherence to strict and religiously codified laws and rules governing fish catch consumption amongst the community. The Yanyuwa teach us that socio-religious factors may be of equal or greater importance than socio-economic factors in understanding why peoples of the past decided to use and dis-use fish trap facilities.
Cite this Record
"Why those old fellas stopped using them?" Spiritual and ritual dimensions of stone-walled fish trap use amongst the Yanyuwa of northern Australia. Ian McNiven, John Bradley. Presented at The 81st Annual Meeting of the Society for American Archaeology, Vancouver, British Columbia. 2017 ( tDAR id: 430927)
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min long: 111.973; min lat: -52.052 ; max long: -87.715; max lat: 53.331 ;
Abstract Id(s): 16844