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Australian Aboriginal Literature

MICHAEL R. GRIFFITHS

Subject Imperial, Colonial, and Postcolonial History » Postcolonial History

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781444334982.2016.x


Extract

The continent of Australia was inhabited by indigenous people for at least 40,000 years prior to the beginning of British colonial settlement in 1788. Australian Aboriginal people are in fact a heterogeneous set of indigenous peoples, comprising more than 200 language groups, each characterized by regionally distinct cultural practices. Yet the notion of “Aboriginal” so often employed to unify these 200 or more indigenous peoples remains a fluid locus of signification. As indigenous critic Marcia Langton (1993) notes, the signifier Aboriginal is a much -disputed product of Australian English, and Aboriginality as a concept is therefore first of all a discursive field produced through intersubjective negotiation between indigenous and nonindigenous inhabitants of colonial and postcolonial Australia. Aboriginality, then, is not coterminous with the plural forms of indigenous being and belonging, but rather emerges as a field against which living indigenous people are compelled to define their identity. Anthropologist Elizabeth Povinelli (2002) has developed this concept further, observing the way indigenous subjects are often compelled to identify with constructs produced not only from indigenous self-identifications but also from those ideas about Aboriginality that are produced on a national level by both indigenous and nonindigenous subjects. Aboriginality is a field of signification ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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