Aboriginal wisdom and weather forecasts

Cultural Insights — By on May 11, 2007 at 7:55 am

Even with all the achievements of modern science, there are still many times when we can benefit from the accumulated knowledge of the world’s indigenous cultures. One example of this can be found in a recent article in the Christian Science Monitor, which reported on the successes of Australian Aborigines in predicting the weather and understanding changes in the climate.

To white Australians, the flocks of red-tailed black cockatoos which flap above tree canopies are a memorable highlight of any weekend hike. But to Aborigines, the parrots are living, squawking barometers.

“A month ago when the cockatoos were flocking and the wattle bushes were flowering, we saw that as signs of rain,” says Jeremy Clark, chief executive of the Brambuk Aboriginal Cultural Centre in the Grampian Mountains of Victoria State. “Sure enough, we’ve just had two weeks of rain.”

Where meteorologists base their prognostications on satellites and synoptic charts, generations of Aborigines have observed the behavior of animals and the continent’s flowering of plants.

More than two centuries after the first British settlement was established in 1788, there is a belated recognition that 40,000 years of Aboriginal lore may contribute to the complicated science of Australia’s capricious climate.

After seven years of scant rainfall – the worst drought on record – have left vast swathes of the country parched and barren, the Bureau of Meteorology’s Indigenous Weather Knowledge Project hopes to harness Aborigines’ ancient understanding of weather patterns…

For millennia, Aborigines have known that subtle changes to plants and animals provide clues about the weather. Aboriginal weathermen claim that their predictions are 90 percent accurate and as reliable as the evening television forecasts watched by millions of Australians…

“It’s about reading the landscape and the environment through the activities of plants and animals,” says Mr. Clark, a member of the Djabwurrung tribe.

The Aborigines also have a different conception of the annual progression of seasons.

Aboriginal expertise is also challenging the European concept of four seasons, an axiom the British imported to Australia when they arrived in 1788.

The Northern Hemisphere pattern of spring, summer, fall, and winter sits uncomfortably with the reality of Australia’s climate. Aboriginal tribes, in contrast, recognize up to seven distinct seasons. In the Sydney region, for instance, September and October are known by Aboriginal people as Murrai’yunggoray, the time when the red waratah flower blooms.

It is followed by Goraymurrai, a period of warm, wet weather during which Aborigines would not camp near rivers for fear of flooding.

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1 Comment

  1. Comparing the CSM article and the Indigenous Weather Knowledge project web site I think the CSM reporter has way over hyped the utility of aboriginal weather knowledge.

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