Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Human Complex Systems


Aboriginal Men Coming of Age in Central Australia


This is a quantitative analysis of the replication of Dreamtime traditions among the Alyawarra of Central Australia in 1971-72. A narrative summary presents observational data recorded during the enactment of a 108-hours long tone poem that embodied oral traditions, songs, dances and visual arts as aides-mémoire that facilitated the synthesis and persistence of a reliable society comprised of unreliable people. The tone poem, presented by 69 men and women, marked the beginning of one young man’s lifelong education in the all-encompassing Aboriginal Dreamtime. A tabular summary follows the narrative summary and describes demographic, genealogical, kinship and other quantified relations that were embedded in the narrative and that young men were required to learn before they could marry and sire children. The paper ends with a discussion of the two summaries that together shaped the education of young Aboriginal men. Instantaneous scan sampling and unsupervised pattern detection formed a reductionist research strategy for finding points of entry into an otherwise impenetrably complex alien civilization in which male circumcision was a major feature. The paper does not pretend to be an exercise in explanation, but it has major implications for identifying what needs to be explained. When observations and descriptions are problematic, formulating testable theories of human behavior is doomed from the outset. 

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View