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Australia Message Sticks Remain an Archaic Reminder of World’s Oldest Living Culture

By: Matthew Wang

Inscribed with ornate drawings and carvings, flat, rounded pieces of wood called message sticks represent the written history of the Aboriginal people, who have lived on Australian land for many millennia. These message sticks represent some of the only written records of Aboriginal culture and history, giving them a remarkable role in ensuring the future of the culture of the Aboriginal people.

These sticks have significant cultural value to the Aboriginal people because of the historical records inscribed on them. The BBC states that, “The motifs imprinted on each stick could signify news of war, death, peace, marriage, and more. For people like oral historian Dr Lorina Barker, a descendant of the Wangkumara and Muruwari Indigenous people of Australia, these message sticks carry a meaningful connection to their roots” (BBC, 2023). Additionally, some of these sticks contain the inscribed stories often told by the Aboriginal people, leaving a written path to the mythology and superstitions that they shared.

However, this remarkable form of written language is at risk of dying out, with only tribe elders knowledgeable enough to decipher these messages. The BBC reports that “To decode the inscriptions, it is necessary to enlist the help of Indigenous elders, who understand depictions that may be particular to a certain group, location or idea. Without their help, future generations may lose a link to this valuable relic of their roots” (BBC, 2023). Without a constant flow of people learning this written connection to their culture, the knowledge required to understand and benefit from these carvings may disappear forever. If the knowledge is not passed down, future generations may never experience the same connection that those now experience with their ancestors, leaving only hallowed artifacts, culturally important, yet completely not understood.

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