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Editorial Introduction

Brenda Farnell

In 2011, JASHM featured a special double issue devoted to papers written by Drid Williams during her lectureship in Aboriginal dance at the University of Sydney, Australia, (1986-89). Those papers were grounded in the ethnographic fieldwork Williams conducted among Aboriginal peoples in the Cape York Peninsula during this period. In her "Survey of Australian Literature on Aboriginal Dancing" (originally published in 1991), Williams identified the unique contribution the study of Australian Aboriginal dancing has to make if allowed to take its place alongside music, theater, and the visual arts. As Williams put it, "[Real] problems now consist of educating and training young Australians of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal descent to the task of coping with the literature, the theoretical and methodological problems that they inherit in an Australian context, and of encouraging them to contribute to the field at local, national and international fields."1 In this issue and the next, we welcome papers by scholars of subsequent generations who are making such contributions: Rosita Henry and Sally Treloyn with Mathew Dembal Martin.

     The first paper in this issue by Rosita Henry, "Engaging with History by Performing Tradition: The Poetic Politics of Indigenous Australian Festivals,"2 focuses our attention on the politics of performance; on the importance of complex protocols and specific histories as these are made manifest at Indigenous festivals--a burgeoning phenomenon both in Australia and the international arena. Henry shows us how two such festivals--one from Cape York and the other from Arnhem Land--provide rich resources for study because they "present spatially and temporally contained domains in which the performative aspects of human social relations and sensual embodied expressions of social practice can be directly observed and experienced."

     Henry also provides evidence that shows how such festivals are only apparently "contained events" because the boundaries between a particular festival event and the social order are highly permeable. She shows how festival performances can be fully understood only "with reference to wider social situations and the political, economic, and social interests and state processes and practices that, in fact, produce them." She notes how "the state deceptively asserts its presence within the festivals as agents and agencies of the state colonize the festivals, so that the festivals become prime sites for recognition of the "effects" of the state (Trouillot 2001: 126)."

     The second paper, "Perspectives on Dancing, Singing, and Well-being from the Kimberley Region, Northwest Australia," advances ethnomusicologist Sally Treloyn's already substantial corpus of papers on Australian Aboriginal song and dance, enriched by insightful contributions from her Aboriginal collaborator Matthew Dembal Martin. The paper argues for the centrality of dance-song expression in the "well-being" of Indigenous and, by extension, all Australians. Although we look forward to future papers that critically examine the notion of 'well-being' in terms of its history and uses as a rhetorical move, the paper's inclusion here serves to identify an important dimension of Aboriginal performance traditions. The paper also exemplifies a significant methodological shift in contemporary ethnographic research, toward explicitly collaborative work conducted with Indigenous peoples, respectful of those who own the knowledge and its primary stakeholders.

     It is with tremendous sadness that we share news of the death of our colleague David Best, who passed away on July 13, 2013. We conclude this issue with a special tribute to David, written by Drid Williams. A distinguished philosopher, his many fine contributions to the philosophy of human movement leave a valuable legacy for future students. Dr. Best was a most valued and regular contributor to JASHM and will be sorely missed.


1 Drid Williams, Ten Lectures on Theories of the Dance. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1991), 361.

2 This paper was first published in The State and the Arts: Articulating Power and Subversion, edited by J. Kapferer, 52-68 (New York: Berghahn Books, 2008). Reproduced by permission of Berghahn Books Inc.



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