As Paddy and I were walking the beautiful coastline north of Broome, he would point out things, tell stories, call out to ancestors, and sing songs that belonged to particular places. The songs were important because they were inspirational (in the original Latin sense of a truth being breathed into someone). Their significance was, and is, multiple: they are handed down from ancestors; they tie human and nonhuman worlds together and animate those connections; they are mnemonic and practical, reminding people, for instance, that this is the place of yarrinyarri, the bush onion.
But how on Earth does knowledge transfer work without a concept of mind? Understanding, for Paddy, was ‘hearing’ and that was the word he used (as in, ‘that man can’t hear’), equivalent to the French entendre, which also embraces the meanings of hearing and understanding. When children accompanied us on our walks, I also saw a certain experiential pedagogy in place. Children were not encouraged to ask lots of questions: respect for elders seemed to entail not bothering them too much. These kids were learning to pay attention and thus acquire know-how, which I like to define as practical knowledge-based skills, rather than ‘pure’ knowledge. It’s simply the difference between being told how to point out were South is, and walking outside and showing someone techniques for getting that orientation.
Brilliant piece on Indigenous knowledge.