A World of Relationships: Itineraries, Dreams, and Events in the Australian Western Desert


306 pages
Contains Photos, Maps, Bibliography, Index
ISBN 0-8020-8414-1
DDC 305.89'91509415




Reviewed by Joan A. Lovisek

Joan Lovisek, Ph.D., is a consulting anthropologist and ethnohistorian
in British Columbia.


Sylvie Poirier explores dream narratives in the Aboriginal community of
Balgo Hills (Wirrimanu) in the Western Australian desert. In this
academic study focused on Aboriginal perspective, anthropologist Poirier
explores how humans relate to the world through the cultural system of
dream sharing as narrative events. She considers what used to be
referred to as “dream time” as obsolete for its neglect of spatial
dimension. For the Australian Aborigine, “ancestrality” is at the
forefront and it means being accountable not only for the past, but for
the present and the future; this derives from their view that ancestors
are not only everywhere but “everywhen.”

According to the Australian Aboriginal perspective, land is the
embodiment of ancestral actions and events. Landscapes are active,
sentient, ancestral, intentional, and endowed with consciousness. Rather
than the disembodied Western emphasis on ego and the individual, Poirier
stresses the importance of the “dividual,” or the Australian
Aborigine, which is based on a network of social relationships intrinsic
to the sense of self and its composite identities.

In a particularly interesting chapter, Poirier investigates the
Aboriginal sense of time and describes it as relational and
process-oriented, rather than lineal and genealogical. This is
especially important in a culture where genealogical order does not go
back more than three generations, and beyond this point, events merge
with the ancestral order. Transformation or change is thus a form of
space–time conception.

A World of Relationships is a masterful piece of work that puts faith
back in the ethnographic enterprise. Poirier provides a profound
understanding of the Aboriginal perspective and the ontology of sacred
knowledge. Her book’s contribution to anthropology is not limited to
Australian Aborigines, but has important application to understanding
Aboriginal perspectives from indigenous peoples across North America.


Poirier, Sylvie., “A World of Relationships: Itineraries, Dreams, and Events in the Australian Western Desert,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed April 24, 2024, https://cbra.library.utoronto.ca/items/show/30256.