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The Aborigine Walkabout vs. the Native American Vision Quest

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The Aborigine Walkabout vs. The Native American Vision Quest
Curtis Shane
Instructor Kathryn Cohan
May 12, 2014

The Aborigine Walkabout vs. The Native American Vision Quest
There are many different tribes all around the world that have their own individual types of rituals they perform for a rite of passage. This paper will discuss the differences and the similarities between an Austalian Aborigine walkabout versus a Native American vision quest, and how and why the differences may exist.
The ancestors of today's Aboriginal people arrived in Australia about 50,000 years ago. Scientists believe that these first people came by boat from the Southeastern part of Asia which was the closest land that was inhabited by human beings at that time. This consisted from the tropical rain forests to the central deserts. There were probably from 500,000 to 1 million Aboriginal people living in Australia when European settlers first reached the island continent in 1788 (Rose, D 2014). So it’s safe to say these type practices have been around for a very long time. The aborigine were the first people of Australia. “The word aborigine comes from the Latin phrase ab origine, meaning from the beginning. When spelled with a small a, the word aborigines refers to any people whose ancestors were the first people to live in a country” (Rose, D, 2014). Also, the world was not evolved like it is today, so this type of scenario would seem more common and accepted because life was a lot more difficult long ago.
The aborigine to this day, still performs rite of passage ceremonies by sending their young male children, generally around the age of 12 on a solo journey through the outback bush. Notice that it is mentioned that only males take part in this rite of passage. The Walkabout symbolizes when a child has met his rite of passage into becoming a man, a marriage between a man and woman and even at an old age. Children are taught at a young age that every place they visit has its own song to go with it. “In these songs, the spirits of rocks and rivers are described in detail. To cross the continent, the Aborigine must know these songs of place – musical topographic maps describing the distances between two points, the water holes, even the difficult passages” (Circles, 1992). As this quote implies, the Aboriginal walkabout is full of very difficult challenges. A walkabout generally consists of a lone 6 month long survival expedition. The main goal is to what their ancestors did and learn to live on the land with no help.
The way many people may view religion is a church gathering that takes place on Sunday’s, but if one can take a step back and give it a more anthropological approach; they might be more open to the other types of religion and religion practices that exist all around the world. Aboriginal spirituality is perhaps better described as Aboriginal spiritualties. As a "lived religion," Aboriginal spiritual practices and beliefs vary from tribe to tribe and across geographic boundaries, reflecting the daily lives of its practitioners (Beaman, 2002). The aborigine believe that the land they live on belongs to the spirits of each of their ancestors that have passed on, as well as the animals. Aborigine were believed to have been nomads and were constantly on the move, their lives were not defined by the camps they built but rather by the walks they took and the paths that their feet made weaving together their sacred ancestor’s spirits of the plants and animals. Instead of having alters built or churches, it is said that the aborigine “carry their “religion” with them on their constant walks” (Circles, 1992). As this quote implies, it is safe to state the Aboriginals were very active people and the eventual rite of passage that the young men take in life may seem challenging, but to them it would be something that they have been preparing for their whole lives being that they were constantly on the go walking everywhere. Now that we have discussed the Aboriginal walkabout, let’s move onto the other rite of passage that is going to be discussed; the Native American vision quest.
Like the Aboriginal tribes, the Native Americans also use a form of a “quest” as a rite of passage when a young boy or girl reaches puberty age. In the Native American rite of passage the “quest” is referred to as a vision quest. The vision quest takes place before puberty, where a young boy is sent into the wild wilderness for as little as a couple of days to as long as a month. Girls were subject to the same type of treatment; however, they were usually isolated in a tent.
“The vision quest is one of the oldest tools used by tribal people to seek direction for life” (Wynne-Jones, G. 2002, May 04). As this quote implies, the Native Americans believe this is how they are told to go through life and what the symbols or animals encountered on the quest mean in life. The Native American tribes are also among the few who actively participate in a rite of passage ceremony. Like the aborigine people, Native Americans were the first people on what is now the United States of America. A vision quest was not something just any tribesman could go and do. There had to be extensive guidance from either a medicine man or a spiritual leader to ensure the ritual was not misused.
The vision quest often times has to deal with being under the influence of some sort of mind altering substance that takes the Native American into a different state of mind. This vision that is received explains that they need not be afraid of their four-legged friends. In most situations the animals become teachers as they go on this journey as part of the Native American rite of passage. After discussing the two rites of passage in detail, this paper will now discuss the similarities and differences of them.
In comparing the Aboriginal practices with Native Americans there is a bit of a variation between the two. The Aboriginal are taught to live and survive off the land for extended periods of time, while the Native American’s spend far less time in the wilderness fasting and waiting for their vision or spirit animal to appear. Gender also plays a role between the two cultures; young girls participate in a vision quest in a separate hut. The walkabout does not consist of girls or women. Native Americans are equally as spiritual as the aborigine people in how they treat and respect their ancestors. This means that there is a close kinship between the two cultures that lasts a lifetime.
Both of these tribes are extremely religious in their own ways; they do however believe with all their hearts in the land and the animals that live on the land. This is the last similarity between the two rites of passage that will be discussed in this paper. The religious similarity between the two is that of utilizing the earth and becoming one with nature. The Aboriginals rely on the land and the Native American vision quest sometimes takes them out into the wilderness spiritually meaning that they might not actually be out in the wild, but actually in a more safe area that protects them from the outdoor elements. Now let’s discuss the cultures today.
Aboriginal people of Australia still face many difficulties. They have made great gains in the areas of civil and land rights and in overcoming discrimination. Aboriginal languages, art, religion, ritual, and other aspects of their traditional life are gaining increasing acceptance and support within Australia and abroad. They are underprivileged economically, socially, and politically. They face more problems than white Australians face in such areas as health, education, and employment. (Rose, D, 2014). They have had many years to adapt to the new ways that have evolved around them, but it seems they are so loyal to their ways that they have been by passed by more common practices that have dominated the continent of Australia in today’s society. The Native Americans have a similar story when it comes to explaining their culture today.
“Today, Middle America has the largest Indian population in the Americas”(Kolata, A., Fixico, D.L., & Neely, S. 2014). In spite of the social and economic advances of Indians, many problems still remain today. Unemployment on reservations in the United States averages 40 to 60 percent and the average income per Indian family is significantly lower than the national average. Most of them live in poverty and in the work force they hold low-paying, unskilled jobs. Suicide and infant mortality rates are higher, and life expectancy is lower among Native Americans than among the population of the United States as a whole. Native Americans often struggle to balance their traditional regard for the environment with their need for economic development”(Kolata, A., Fixico, D.L., & Neely, S. 2014). In the end, it can be stated that the aborigine walkabout and the Native American vision quest are very sacred to the respectable groups of people that they belong to. It seems that walkabouts are more likely to be performed today because of geographical location of the aboriginals whereas the Native American vision quests are not as easily performed due to certain rights being taken from them. Rituals like the two discussed in this paper are what this world were born on and it’s sad that they don’t continue to be demonstrated in the same manner that they used to. The two rituals are different in length as far as their process go. The walkabout can be six months long and the vision quest only a week, but they both leave a life time of memories imprinted on the individuals performing them. It doesn’t matter whether you agree with something outside of your comfort zone like a specific ritual being performed, one must learn to accept the process and understand what it means to the people involved. These two rituals that end up being rite of passages tend to have the most meaning in an aborigine and Native Americans life.

Australia. (2013, December). Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th Edition (1),, 1.
Beaman, Lori G. (Winter, 2002). Journal of Church and State: 135-149.
Circles, L. (1992, August). On Walkabout. Backpacker, 20(5) 1.
Kolata, A., Fixico, D.L., & Neely, S. (2014). Indian, American. In Academic World Book. Retrieved from
Rose, D. (2014). Aboriginal people of Australia. In Academic World Book. Retrieved from Wynne-Jones, G. (2002, May 04). Travel: US: Medicine woman: The vision quest is one of the oldest tools used by tribal people to seek direction in life. grace wynne- jones follows their path to enlightenment in the wilderness. The Guardian Retrieved from

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