Where Does the Word Aborigine Come From?
Aborigine is a term which comes from the Latin (ab and origo) meaning (from the beginning) and the word aborigines is still sometimes used to describe the earliest inhabitants of any land. The word aboriginal has been in the English language since at least the 16th century to mean, ‘indigenous’. However, Aborigines is usually used to refer to the inhabitants of Australia before the arrival of Europeans in the late 18th century, and to their descendants down to the present.
The Aborigines are thought to have arrived in Australia in two waves, probably about 20,000 years ago. The first group were eventually driven south-east into Tasmania; the second — and racially quite different — group occupied the rest of Australia. The Aborigines developed a complex culture and a religion. These gave rise to an interesting art which included paintings on their bodies, on rocks, in caves and on bark; and chants, and music played on a kind of trumpet, the didgeridoo.
However, their material life remained at a Stone-Age level. They lived in a semi-nomadic fashion, hunting with wood and stone spears, and boomerangs, and gathering (but not cultivating) edible plants, grubs and so on. On this level they were superbly skilful and well-adapted to the Australian environment – until the arrival of Europeans. This was a disaster for the Aborigines. They are believed to have numbered about 3,00,000 in the late 18th century, while now there are only a few tens of thousands.
The Tasmanians were soon completely wiped out, and the Aborigine way of life was destroyed. As in the case of the American Indian, although conditions have improved for many people in the 21st century, the Aborigines remain poor and deprived, and uncertain what their place should be in modern Australia.
The term “Aboriginal” was coined by the British in the 1830s, after they adopted the term “Australian” for themselves. No real attempt to define the term legally was made until the 1980s, despite use of the term twice in the 1901 Constitution of Australia (before these were removed in 1967). Various administrative and legal definitions were proposed and some remain in use today.
Various factors affect Aboriginal people’s self-identification as Aboriginal, including a growing pride in culture, solidarity in a shared history of dispossession (including the Stolen Generations), and, among those are fair-skinned, an increased willingness to acknowledge their ancestors, once considered shameful. Aboriginal identity can be politically controversial in contemporary discourse, among both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. Successive censuses have shown those identifying as Indigenous (Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander) at a rate far exceeding the growth of the whole Australian population.