Body, names and movement : images of identity among the Yolnu of North-east Arnhem Land
This ethnography demonstrates that it is through images of the body and movement that the Yolnu of North-east Arnhem Land uphold their ancestral wisdom and construct their vision of the future in a changing world. The importance of body imagery is examined in the kinship system; features of the landscape; the process of naming and the power of names; the formation of personal and group identities, political outlook and emotional bonds; the behaviour and creation of the ancestors; and in the re-creation of ancestral space and movement in mortuary ceremonies, song and dance. Song and dance are shown to be vital to the "visualisation" of social relations, and to the inheritance and transferral of knowledge, rights and power. Yolnju imagery is neither static nor pre-determined. It is negotiated, created, embodied, maintained and experienced through movement and in processes that make it "visible". These findings have implications for anthropological models of totemism that ignore the labile nature of image formation. Changing, political, social, cultural and economic circumstances are prompting the Yolnju to develop a form of modern vision that is closely connected with their ancestral wisdom. The flexible processes of Yolnju imagery and identity formation that support the creation of a "modern-time vision" also enhance understanding of, and political negotiation with non-Aboriginal bureaucratic institutions.