Arnhem Land Ancestral Music Continues to Make a Difference

Ancestral music from Arnhem Land is different because they mostly tell stories about a lengthy history of trade among Australia’s indigenous people. Arnhem Land’s ancient songs have long been a topic of discussions among scholars. Yet there is renewed interest in the traditional music, which stems from the growing popularity of musicians from Arnhem Land.

The indigenous artists have introduced a new genre of popular music that has in some ways succeeded in reaching music lovers from other countries. The modern representations of Arnhem Land indigenous music is now available at Spotify.

Where is Arnhem Land?

Although there is an Arnhem City in the Netherlands, the Arnhem Land was named by its founder Willem van Colster, a Dutch explorer. The Dutchman actually named thr land after his ship, while the vessel itself was named after the Dutch city of Arnhem (or Aernem). The area then consisted of the northern portion of Australia’s Northern Territory.

Today however, the term Arnhem Land refers to the aboriginal reserve area occupied by indigenous people whose origins date as far back as the Pleistocene period.

About Arnhem Land’s Ancestral Music

What makes Arnhem Land’s ancestral music different is that it does not tell stories about colonization and exploitation. The songs mostly describe trepang (sea cucumber) harvesting, which the indigenous people traded with the people of the Sultanate of Gowa that once existed in ancient Sulawesi in Indonesia.

The ancestral songs about the commercial trade between the aborigines of the Northern Territory and the trepang buyers from neighboring Southeast Asian neighbors, enabled the indigenous people to preserve in their memory their cultural traditions and legacies.

The trade lasted for about 150 years, where ancient Sulawesi (now Makkasan) vessels arrived in north Australia every January. The vessels would then be homeward bound by April carrying loads of trepang, beeswax, ironwood and pearl shells. The Arnhem indigenous folks on the other hand, acquired alcohol, axes, cloth, knives, rice, tamarind and tobacco.

However, trading between the Arnhem Land people and the ancient Sulawesi traders started to ebb after the Krakatoa, the caldera between the Indonesian islands of Java and Sumatra, erupted in 1884. Subsequently, the Northern Territory administrators began imposing taxes on Sulawesi vessels, which by 1907 brought an end to the trading relationship.