I don’t often do this…but I just wanted to share something that I have been feeling recently about the topic of vassa (on the occasion of entry to rains at my monastery, which is Mettarama in Sydney). I don’t know if it will make much sense internationally outside of the Australia-Pacific, but I hope it might, especially if you have heard the word “post-colonial” before. To understand, it helps if you realise that colonialism is a brain and body disease where your language, your culture, and most of the things you think and feel exist in this type of hopeless disconnect to the nature, seasons and world you see and feel around you. Your language lacks the words your need to “see” your own country.
Nothing you feel or think is “real”. When you think of autumn (fall), you think of Northern hemisphere orange tree leaves, and are blind to the pink and purple ripening lilly-pillies. When you think of winter, you think of snowmen, and miss the eucalyptus flowering. Colonial thinking not only is false consciousness- it is dead thinking, which has no poetry, no rhythm, no life.
As a product of the mainstream Australian school system, I grew up intellectually crippled by the way that indigenous knowledge just was not a part of my education. As an adult, I worked for a bit in a federal government funded pre-university pathway for indigenous and rural students, but I became disillusioned by the way the school system basically shames indigenous kids for not being white. From year one, we are taught the four seasons. I went home and talked about this strange piece of information with Mum and Dad, and they told me that there are also two seasons: wet and dry. (Australia’s climate is diverse, but basically nowhere here actually has four seasons.) Were there other students who went home to talk about the “discovery” of the four seasons with Mum and Dad, only to have their eyes opened wide by the reality that the calendar is an annual cycle of animals and flowers, of kangaroos, wedge-tailed eagles, koalas, catfish, possums…?
So I wrote the article below to express my feelings:
Just like my education, my religion is out of tune with the seasons and physical reality around me. It’s vassa, but to be honest, mostly what I have been feeling is not the rainy season at all. It is simply not the rainy season here, as precipitation levels will be decreasing soon. It is the beginning of the lyrebird (Wiritjiribin) season, the cold dry season, and the Marrai’uo (a type of wattle) will be flowering soon.
I love vassa. But there is a level of antipodean seasonal disconnect I have with it. To explain…one of our activities as kids was painting a gum tree stick gold (AKA “making a Christmas tree”) in the middle of boiling Summer and pretending like it’s European Yule. Australia is not Europe, climatically, and the celebration of Christmas requires the suspension of disbelief on more than one level.
Neither is Australia India, nor is it really our rainy season, nor am I inclined to suspend disbelief and live disconnected from my body. The reality of our seasons becomes more obvious when you are actually itinerant in Australia. We put vassa right in the middle of our best, dry travel time here.
Welcome to the lyrebird season, everyone!
Indigenous Weather Knowledge: D’harawal Calendar
Local calendar from one of our Sydney region indigenous language groups: