Australia has two distinct Indigenous peoples: Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Spirituality is expressed differently between Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders. Torres Strait Islanders’ spirituality comes from stories of the ‘Tagai’. Torres Strait Islander communities celebrate the Coming of the Light Festival – a religious celebration on the 1st of July each year.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander spiritualities
Australia has two distinct Indigenous peoples: Aboriginal peoples and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Aboriginal peoples are the oldest living culture on earth and comprise some 250 separate language groups with their own law, knowledge and belief systems, often collectively referred to as the Dreaming. The Dreaming is an English word often misinterpreted to indicate that Aboriginal belief systems are not real, but imagined, and therefore many Aboriginal groups or ‘nations’ prefer to use their own particular language name for the Dreaming and the stories, song, dance and ceremonies within it.
Aboriginal people see themselves as part of the natural or physical world, and this everyday realm is also interconnected to and continuous with the spiritual world; past, present and future all exist in the same time and space. For Aboriginal people, the land is our mother, everything is alive and everything is related, law is not man made but given to us and we have responsibility to uphold this, care for each other and the earth. Aboriginal peoples talk about spirituality rather than religion.
Spirituality is expressed differently between Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders. Torres Strait Islanders’ spirituality comes from stories of the ‘Tagai’. Torres Strait Islander communities celebrate the Coming of the Light Festival (1 July) which is a religious celebration.
Coming of the Light (Torres Strait Islanders)
The Coming of the Light commemorates the arrival on Erub (Darnley Island) in the Torres Strait in 1871 of Reverend Samuel MacFarlane, a member of the London Missionary Society accompanied by South Sea Islander evangelists and teachers. In defiance of tribal law Dabad, a Warrior Clan Elder on Erub welcomed the London Missionary Society clergy and teachers. The acceptance of missionaries and the adoption of Christianity throughout Torres Strait communities during the late nineteenth century led to profound changes that affected every aspect of life from that time onwards. Torres Strait Islanders of all faiths living on the islands or on the mainland come together to honour this anniversary every year. Activities include church services and a re-enactment of the landing at Kemus on Erub. Hymn singing, feasting and ailan dans (island dancing) strengthen community and family ties.
Return to Erub Island for Coming of the Light
28-year-old Meriam descendant, Marcus Smith has little understanding of his Torres Strait Island culture after spending his youth growing up in Trinidad-Tobago in the West Indies. Compass travels with Marcus on his revealing journey home to the annual “Coming of the Light” celebration in the Torres Strait Islands commemorating the landing of the first Christian missionaries on Erub Island.
You can read an account of Marcus Smith’s return to his homeland for the Coming of the Light on the ABC Religion and Ethics Website (Opens in new window).
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