Living in Harmony
In the forests of an emerging country Brenda was born. Well that was not her original name but the English name given her later. It was in an era when that community was shared between traditional tribes and the white settlers who’d squatted on recent claims and commenced farming with their modest flocks of livestock. The tribes moved around these squatter camps disinterested in white man’s world and unaware their country was being divided up and ownerships established under laws foreign to their understanding.
It was an era of relative goodwill on both sides of the divide. Tribesmen helped the whites build temporary shelters before they’d established sufficient herds and surplus crops to trade for enough cash to invest in more permanent structures and buy items of personal need. Tribesmen also introduced them to the wealth of the land, and an understanding there’s a necessary balance between what is taken from, and what is given to mother earth. In a way settlers there were adopted into a community that had existed as far back as dreamtime.
This all worked because they were far from the nearest goldfield settlement where the sound of heavy machinery intruded on the peace of the land and people elbowed each other aside in the quest for elusive riches.
Tribesmen had watched it all with a mix of amusement and growing concern, and finally withdrawal to more peaceful areas. This was a point of agreement between settlers and tribesmen. They wanted to live in peaceful surrounds, so settlers made infrequent day long trips by horse or wagon to settlements where some crop yields could be traded for personal needs only in extremity. They were always happy to return to tranquil surroundings.
The broad valley was far from the coast and surrounded by a wide circle of mountains which fed an abundance of waterways. Trees flowered in season painting the entire countryside in pastel shades, and pollution free atmosphere accentuated the brilliance of night sky constellations as settlers and tribesmen shared campfire entertainment. Animals and birds completed this idyllic lifestyle as they moved about unafraid.
It would take several days to travel to the coast on horseback so few ventured out of their peaceful valley. Occasionally miners would wander the waterways in their quest for new gold discoveries. Initially tribes welcomed them, but their experience with these foreigners from many lands with their cacophony of languages began a slow distancing of tribes from those who intruded on their folkways and exploited their kindness.
But in that era tribes and settlers interfaced comfortably. Settlers learning their language and attending their corrobborees. Children of settlers and tribes played and learned together, each feeling comfortable in their association.
So it was not surprising with that background Brenda’s father Jim, a settler son, began a long association with one of the tribesmen’s daughters. They’d grown up together and the young girl was often in the house visiting with Jim’s sisters. Jim and his parents cared for her as one of their own. She was his sister with a dark skin. That made no difference then in their little rural community.
Jim was fluent in their dialect and on one of the occasions when the tribe usually migrated to an area where they could weave their dili bags Jim asked permission to accompany them. At first his parents were uncomfortable with the request. There were many dangers to be considered. But this was a season between crops and after some thought Jim’s parents decided it may be well for him to have freedom to make his own decisions. He could hone his hunting skills along the way. After all there was enough help with his sisters and brother to cover any work that had to be done around their land.
And on this trek the little girl who was now a young woman stayed by his side. She was omnipresent as they made their way and Jim began to notice her in a different way as she helped him learn of the bounties of earth he’d not yet discovered. The tribe elders noted it all and his young male friends began to make suggestions which at first Jim resisted. She was his sister! But after a while the suggestions began to make an impact on his thinking. She was not his sister he concluded she was a woman who’d been close to him for most of his life. This realization built a magnetism between them he’d not experienced before and the tribe who liked him continued to push them to a point where they both thought of a life together. The girl spoke to her father and in the hypnotic atmosphere of that evening dance the tribe performed their version of a marriage ceremony.
Jim was both elated and frightened. It was a big step and his family hadn’t been present to grace the occasion. How would they react when he returned home, not with a sister, but with a wife? Well he was confused by that. Was she really his wife? The family were not church goers but they were religious and he knew that marriage was to be recognized by a church and recorded by the remote representatives of government. As far as the tribe was concerned he was one of them. They’d known him from birth.
But his parents were quite accepting. They advised him to make the day’s journey to the nearby goldfield and seek out a Priest or government officer to record the marriage. So buoyed by their acceptance Jim and his new bride made the trip and sought out a Priest. This was to be his first tryst with reality. The Priest refused to perform a ceremony or record an entry in parish records. The local government officer drove both of them out of his hut.
The young woman was impassive. The tribe had blessed their union, what more did they need? Jim felt the sting of rejection from his own community, and as word of their union spread among other settlers in his area he felt their coldness in a later social occasion with them. Halls were beginning to be built in these rural communities where settlers could have occasional dances and meetings. This was partly a reaction to Jim’s taking a tribal wife. They didn’t want their sons or daughters to do the same so these social occasions were ways to ensure their children married their own kind. Jim and his wife were not welcome at those occasions.
So Jim looked to the tribe for his fellowship and increasingly went native as the saying goes. He and his wife left the settlement to live on the extreme edge of the tribal area. They survived on hunting tribal style and enjoyed occasional encounters with their tribe. Meanwhile Brenda grew steadily in her mother’s womb.
But one day Jim crossed the invisible boundary that marked out each tribe’s territory on a hunt and because of cruelties experienced at the hands of some of his race Jim was speared and died. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth transcends racial divides.
His wife’s tribe mourned with her. She noted the grief of Jim’s parents. They’d been her second parents too. She made a decision which to her was a great sacrifice. Depositing the small baby at Jim’s home as a gift in memory of happier days, and thinking this would be appreciated she turned sorrowfully and left in spite of Jim’s family requests she stay. She didn’t fit into their world, she would marry within her tribe and start afresh forgetting what she’d learned in their home as a youth.
So baby Brenda received her English name in this home, and as the baby was of fair enough skin colour the government official in the town emerging from chaos of a goldfield was persuaded to register the child’s birth which they estimated from the time Jim’s tribal marriage occurred.
To be continued.
“© Copyright Ian Grice 2016 All rights reserved”
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