In the Footsteps of the Ancestors: The Dreamtime in the Politics of the Present

In the Footsteps of the Ancestors: The Dreamtime in the Politics of the Present

Howard Morphy, Frances Morphy

November 3, 02015

Anthropologists Howard and Frances Morphy have spent decades working with and studying the Aboriginal people of the Northern Territory of Australia. They shared their expertise on the Yolngu people: their mythology, language, art, and culture--including the belief in a Dreamtime (Wangarr) of world-creation which continues in the present.

Our speakers also discussed the 02008 Blue Mud Bay court decision in which the Yolngu won legal recognition of their rights over their land and coastal waters. The Morphys helped map the ancestral presence of the territory which became evidence used to explain millennia-old traditions to the modern legal system and secure the Yolngu's claim.

Frances Morphy is an anthropologist and linguist who has worked in Arnhem Land, northern Australia, since 01974 and more recently also in the Fitzroy Valley in western Australia. Her research focuses include the anthropological demography of household and settlement formation in remote indigenous areas; social, cultural, and economic aspects of the encapsulation of indigenous Australians within the Australian state; the impact of colonization on indigenous social systems and languages; and cross-cultural translation.

Howard Morphy is currently Distinguished Professor of Anthropology at Australian National University (ANU). He is an anthropologist of art and visual anthropologist and he co-edited two of the main source books in those fields: The Anthropology of Art: a Reader (02006) and Rethinking Visual Anthropology (01997). His other books on indigenous Australian art and culture include Aboriginal Art (01998) and Becoming Art: Exploring Cross-Cultural Categories (02007). He has conducted extensive fieldwork with the Yolngu people of Northern Australia, as well as collaborating on films for Film Australia, and curating indigenous Australia art exhibitions for museums and galleries around the world. Morphy is past-president of the Council for Museum Anthropology of the American Anthropological Association. In 2013 he was awarded the Huxley Memorial Medal by the Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland (RAI).


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