Review by Janet Dixon Keller, Published in News and Reviews, Spring 2005 Issue

Dream Trackers - Yapa art and knowledge of the Australian desert

Dream Trackers: Yapa Art and Knowledge of the Australian Desert
A CD-ROM by Barbara Glowczewski and Virtual Bazaar. 2000.

This interactive CD is a tremendous educational resource focused on a community's profound investment of memory in its landscape. The author, working since 1979 with Warlpiri community members, or the Lajamanu people, presents a series of narratives and images inspired by the local terrain. By association with trails that crisscross the Central Australian desert ("Yapa" is a Central Australian word for indigenous people), Barbara Glowczewski brings the land and the community alive through reckonings of ancestral beginnings and contemporary spiritual connections.

After offering the viewer a choice regarding language of preference (English or French), the CD opens with a map of landscape trails connecting significant sites with Dreamings*. Glowczewski provides an orienting narrative and then the viewer is off on an adventure. On the map itself, the viewer can select a trail to reveal a listing of lore, music, and imagery associated with it. If one selects a story to hear, it will be told in Warlpiri. The original telling is accompanied by a written translation in the viewer's language of choice. Select vocabulary items are highlighted and with a click these expand to offer additional information. A symbolic key at the top of every page allows the viewer to augment a landscape story with totemic images, "notebook" remembrances, filmed activities, songs, and photographs. Within each of these options, the viewer can often scroll through additional narrative texts or explanatory accounts of emplaced connections. One can scroll through catalogues of totemic painting or images of totemic sites and displays. A viewer can choose to focus in on particular segments of a photographic array for more detailed information, or to enlarge a representation, or to discover additional associated narratives. One can choose to explore "notebooks" where topics related to the texts are developed or view filmed activities relevant to places of note. Authors of dreaming tales and images are identified. The imagery and texts are of uniformly high quality. However, occasionally, the scroll arrows work less well than they might.

The author has worked closely with community members to disseminate these materials through educational contexts where the proper respect for indigenous knowledge and practice is expected. With appropriate supervision and guided participation, students at many educational levels could take advantage of this incredibly rich resource. Younger students will need more scaffolding than more experience students, especially those unfamiliar with aboriginal traditions. In all cases, students should recognize the deep spiritual connections reflected here between aboriginal peoples and their land. Perhaps students should know that in many cases land claims are now contested and aboriginal peoples are losing legal right to the land that has nurtured them and has been nurtured by them in return.

Confusion may arise with regard to taboo practices associated with the images or voices of deceased individuals. The author explains that the Yapa are put at risk if visual and aural representations of the deceased are witnessed. A mechanism exists for blocking out photographs of those who passed away prior to 1998, but consistent updating and comprehensive application of such a feature is not possible. The viewer, therefore, is in a very special relationship of trust with regard to these materials.

Janet Dixon Keller

Janet Dixon Keller is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Dream Trackers: Yapa Art and Knowledge of the Australian Desert is available from UNESCO Publishing. In French/English, with 500 photos included. MAC/PC format. Price for the CD-ROM is $64 for individuals. Licenses to museums, libraries, and academic and research institutions start at $265.

* According to UNESCO Publishing, jukurpa, or Dreamings, link "the dream as a parallel space-time, a past, present, and virtual memory of the earth and the cosmos" which "manifests itself as Ancestral and Eternal Beings, the myths of their adventures, the trails of their travels, the rituals, or sacred objects that embody their living presence."

Published in News and Reviews, Spring 2005 Issue
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