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The poem “We are Going” by Oodgeroo Noonuccal “depicts the murder of an entire civilization and way of life
The poem “We Are Going” by Oodgeroo Noonuccal is a powerful and evocative work that addresses the historical and ongoing injustices faced by Indigenous Australians, particularly the Aboriginal people. The poem reflects on the impact of colonization and the loss of their traditional way of life. While the poem does not explicitly depict the murder of an entire civilization, it does offer a poignant portrayal of the profound disruption and devastation experienced by Indigenous communities in the wake of European settlement.
All about the Poem “We Are Going”:
Before delving into the statement’s evaluation, it is essential to provide an overview of the poem and its context. “We Are Going” is a seminal work by Oodgeroo Noonuccal, one of Australia’s most prominent Indigenous poets. Published in the 1960s, the poem is a poignant reflection on the experiences of Aboriginal people in the aftermath of European colonization.
The poem explores themes of dispossession, cultural erasure, dislocation, and the profound sense of loss experienced by Indigenous communities. It speaks to the enduring impact of colonization on Aboriginal cultures and their relationship with the land. The title itself, “We Are Going,” encapsulates the idea of a continuous journey, a testament to the resilience and determination of Indigenous Australians to persevere despite the challenges they face.
The Loss of Culture and Way of Life:
The central theme of “We Are Going” is the loss of Indigenous culture and traditional ways of life. The poem vividly conveys the pain and sorrow associated with this loss. It speaks to the destruction of Aboriginal languages, customs, and spiritual practices, which have been undermined and eroded by European colonization.
The poem’s opening lines, “They came in to the little town / A semi-naked band subdued and silent,” immediately establish a sense of vulnerability and dispossession. The arrival of Europeans, symbolized by “the little town,” represents the intrusion into the Indigenous world, leading to the marginalization and suppression of Aboriginal traditions. The subsequent lines, “Their death in life had drained them of power,” allude to the weakening of Indigenous communities in the face of colonization.
The Impact of Dispossession:
The poem goes on to depict the impact of dispossession, as Indigenous people are driven from their ancestral lands. Noonuccal writes, “The fruit of the years of death and life, / the silent suffering / And the knowledge / They are going like bats and the eyes go dim.”
Here, the reference to “the fruit of the years of death and life” conveys the profound connection that Indigenous people have with their land, which has sustained them for countless generations. The metaphor of going “like bats” and the dimming of eyesight reflects the forced displacement and the loss of cultural clarity. This suggests that the ongoing dispossession of land and culture has resulted in a sense of disorientation and loss of identity among Indigenous communities.
The Symbolism of the Fire:
One of the most poignant symbols in the poem is the fire. Noonuccal writes, “Once we were strong / And proud and our fire’s / Kept the night at bay.” The fire, a traditional element deeply embedded in Indigenous culture, is a symbol of warmth, protection, and community. It represents the strength and resilience of Indigenous communities.
However, the poem continues, “Now that fire’s / Has gone out, we are the shadow-people, / We the quiet one, the walkers in twilight.” The extinguishing of the fire symbolizes the loss of Indigenous strength and cultural vitality. The “shadow-people” and “walkers in twilight” evoke a sense of fading into obscurity and powerlessness.
The Concept of “The Silent Suffering”:
The line “the silent suffering” encapsulates the emotional and psychological pain experienced by Indigenous people. It reflects the idea that their suffering often goes unnoticed or unacknowledged by the broader Australian society. The invisibility of this suffering is a recurring theme in the poem and underscores the marginalization of Indigenous voices and experiences.
The Concept of Murder:
The statement that the poem “We Are Going” depicts the murder of an entire civilization and way of life raises the question of whether the term “murder” can be applied metaphorically to cultural destruction and dispossession. While the poem does not explicitly depict physical violence or the literal murder of individuals, it does vividly portray the cultural violence and devastation wrought by colonization.
Metaphorically, the loss of language, spirituality, and connection to the land can be seen as the death of a civilization’s core values and way of life. It is an erasure of cultural identity that has deep spiritual and emotional significance. In this sense, the term “murder” may be seen as a powerful metaphor for the profound and lasting harm inflicted on Indigenous communities by the process of colonization.
The Continuation of Culture:
Despite the overwhelmingly somber tone of “We Are Going,” there is also a sense of resilience and determination in the poem. The closing lines, “The teeming life … / We are the old … / but we are going,” suggest that while aspects of Indigenous culture may have been lost or weakened, there is an enduring spirit that persists. The poem is a testament to the ongoing cultural practices and traditions of Indigenous communities, despite the challenges they have faced.
The statement that the poem “We Are Going” by Oodgeroo Noonuccal (formerly known as Kath Walker) depicts the murder of an entire civilization and way of life can be seen as a metaphorical expression of the profound cultural and social devastation experienced by Indigenous Australians during and after European colonization. While the poem does not explicitly depict physical violence or the literal murder of individuals, it poignantly portrays the loss of language, spirituality, and connection to the land, as well as the sense of dispossession and dislocation faced by Indigenous communities.
The word “murder” is used in a metaphorical way to highlight the seriousness of the suffering and cultural violence done to Indigenous societies. “We Are Going” is a potent monument to the long-lasting effects of colonization on Indigenous culture as well as the continuous efforts, tenacity, and resolve of Indigenous people to protect and revive their cultural identity in the face of past and present difficulties.
Who is Oodgeroo Noonuccal, and why is she significant in Australian literature?
Oodgeroo Noonuccal, formerly known as Kath Walker, was a prominent Australian Aboriginal poet, activist, and writer. She is significant in Australian literature for her contributions to Indigenous literature and her advocacy for Indigenous rights. Her work, including the poem “We Are Going,” has played a crucial role in raising awareness of Indigenous issues in Australia.
Is “We Are Going” the only work by Oodgeroo Noonuccal that addresses Indigenous issues?
No, “We Are Going” is just one of many works by Oodgeroo Noonuccal that addresses Indigenous issues. She wrote poetry, essays, and books that explore themes related to Indigenous culture, social justice, and the impact of colonization on Aboriginal communities.
What is the significance of the metaphorical use of “murder” in the poem “We Are Going”?
The metaphorical use of “murder” in the poem emphasizes the profound cultural and social devastation experienced by Indigenous Australians due to colonization. While it does not depict literal violence, it underscores the gravity of the harm inflicted upon Indigenous communities, particularly the loss of language, spirituality, and connection to the land.
How does “We Are Going” reflect the ongoing struggles and resilience of Indigenous people?
The poem “We Are Going” reflects the ongoing struggles and resilience of Indigenous people by acknowledging the challenges and losses they have faced while also emphasizing their determination to preserve and revitalize their cultural identity. The closing lines of the poem suggest that despite the cultural devastation, aspects of Indigenous culture continue to endure.
What other works by Oodgeroo Noonuccal are notable for addressing Indigenous issues?
Other notable works by Oodgeroo Noonuccal addressing Indigenous issues include “No More Boomerang,” “The Past,” “My People,” and “The Dispossessed.” These works explore the impact of colonization on Indigenous communities, the loss of traditional ways of life, and the call for social justice and reconciliation.