When you have been completely dispossessed of all that has meaning you have no-thing left but your body. You have no voice, no language, no country, no hope – all has been taken from you by those who possess you and you are left with only what you have on – your body.
You wear your body as both a form of defence and of attack against those who continue to commit genocide through policies designed to embed our hopelessness and voicelessness. We are all people of place and context and once the connection to these has been severed without any hope of reconnection, a deep sense of powerlessness sets in. You are powerless to be who you are when you are taken from the place that defines your language, tradition, lore, and spirituality.
This is not just the experience of first-generation exiles but is handed on in the DNA of those who follow. Cross-generational trauma or powerlessness continues and is experienced both consciously and subconsciously by those who come later. Some know why they are the way they are; others are never sure. They just know the shame of being wrong, not grounded, not belonging, and don’t know where it comes from.
Your body carries the memory of a past home and desires to return. It carries the memory of the hurt and grief involved in losing such a precious possession and strives to be heard as you wish to be heard. Yet you have no voice, it has been stolen and given to another to speak on your behalf, to decide if you are worthy to be heard, and when and on what matters you will be heard.
You are in exile, not heard, not seen and invisible to the rest of society which only sees you as an issue to be resolved and not as a person to be respected, not as a person with a voice. What do you do with the trauma, all the grief and loss, all the anger and anxiety if there is no one who recognises you as a real human, not an object to be used to fund the Aboriginal industry – welfare, medical, prison, police and more? The statistics on prison numbers and children in out-of-home care remind us that our bodies fund an entire industry for non-Aboriginal institutions to profit from.
It is our bodies and our children’s bodies that society values, not because we are human but because they can be used to fund the ‘helpers’ it has been decided we need. It is our bodies that universities and private schools seek to black-clad their profit-making exercises when they can point to a black body now acting like a white body. It is our bodies’ people cheer when our young men and women, run fast, kick goals, score tries or achieve a feat that makes us proud.
These are the same bodies heckled loudly and without fear with racial abuse, or whitesplained to when you think they need white knowledge to put them straight, or question the colour of their skin, or how they got their degree or house, or challenge their lived experience with your considered opinion. And more.
These are the same bodies who are blamed for the overcrowding in communities, poor diets while they are being charged exorbitant prices for fresh food, and living in grossly substandard housing without proper facilities – no fresh water, roads and more. Somehow these bodies who are the victims of dispossession become the cause of the situation they find themselves in.
My body is my country. Sovereignty is relational – it is bound by my relationship to country and kin. It is a sacred bond that is never to be relinquished or taken. It is never to be given up or left behind. It cannot be cancelled from the story of my life because it is me – all of me. Despite being ripped from the bosom of my mother by colonial invasion and kept in exile by neo-colonialism I remain Wiradjuri at my centre.
It is to your body you retreat when there is nowhere else to go. Your body becomes the battleground, the last gathering place in your and your country’s fight for survival. It is all you have:
- To protest with, to shout aloud the pain within you and country. Persona nullius means you are not heard or seen and therefore do not exist as a human being, only as a chattel in a possessed land.
- To identify you as existing, as being here – a person, invisible and unseen – but a person, nonetheless. A person without agency for the power to define who has agency now belongs to those who possess you and all that has meaning for you.
- To touch the air, to feel the subtlety of existence and resistance, to take away the claws of power tearing at any hope remaining in a life without purpose or possibility other than becoming another cross in the graveyard, another notch on the colonial matrix of power.
- To offer to society, to add value, to be a part of the Holy Grail of economy and genocide. It has value when it is used to provide collateral for the profiteering of those who capitalise on our destituted existence, the creation of the very system they worship. It is not ours, never was, and never will be.
- To communicate your protest to those who are deaf to your words, blind to your predicament and ignorant of their place in your non-existence. They listen when you self-harm, abuse alcohol, act violently to those close to you and steal from those who first stole from us. These are not acts without meaning. They are the cry of the powerless and demand a different response than paternalism and patriarchal universalism. They ask for eyes that see, ears that hear, and hands that free.
- To grieve for your Mother, country from which you have become estranged, from whom you have been stolen and for whom you pine. You, like water, have a perfect memory, you always desire to return to where you once ran free. Nothing can sate that desire.
As we come to Holy Week and the Easter Triduum (the three days of Easter) we witness the power and importance of the body in the triumph of Jesus. Jesus is a member of an invaded and occupied people. Power and might now sit in the hands of the invaders and those who have collaborated to retain their power over ordinary citizens.
People live in fear of those whose brutal rule sees people crucified, imprisoned, and taxed out of existence. They watch as the religious and the powerful capitalize on the situation to maintain their institutions and their traditional place in society. They find themselves powerless, unable to change either the system under which they live or to rid themselves of the Romans and their corrupt representatives.
Jesus protests the injustices through his body, the incarnated body of an ordinary citizen. He remains from his birth to his death fully connected to his body in relation to all other bodies he shared space with. His miracles and acts of prophecy and teaching are rooted in his body and the bodies of those around him. In the Sermon on the Mount, he desires to be bodily alone only to find himself surrounded by bodies in need.
Wherever he goes it is his body people come to see, touch and witness in action. It is his body that acts when he clears the temple, challenges those who try and trap him, and weeps when friends die. His birth and baptism, like his death and resurrection, are all acts of the body.
His body was all that Jesus had to offer on behalf of a dispossessed people. His body was all he had to identify with them in their pain and their forlorn but undying hope of rescue. It was in and through his body that Jesus defied the powerful and the wilful, ultimately giving up his body to their torture in order to redeem his people.
Jesus is emblematic of the challenge Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who protest their situation, the blindness and deafness of society through tortured bodies. Bodies beset by the ravages of dispossession resulting in the stereotypical typecasting of those who do to want to see. The harm we do to our and others’ bodies is a desperate cry to be seen and heard, it is our protest against the wilful destruction and genocide that continues.
We await the third day, a day when our bodies and our country will be healed.