What It Means To Be Indigenous: Part I - Bob Randall Defines Kanyini

Link to previous posts in this series:
What It Means to Be Indigenous: An Introduction

The documentary film, Kanyini, raises many important issues, and educates us about racial discrimination, stereotyping and perception. Bob Randall explains in excruciatingly human terms how and why the Australian Aborigines are living in such a desperate situation (suicides, smoking, alcohol, petrol/gasoline sniffing, and depression). Despite this hardship, Uncle Bob leaves us with hope and he shows us how we can overcome, survive, without sacrificing who and what we are.

I believe what we learn from this film will help us understand all Indigenous people whether they are the Pygmy of Central and West Africa, the Nubians of Egypt, the San Bushman of South Africa, the First Peoples/Native Americans of North America, the Garifuna of the Honduras and Belize, the Ainu of Hokkaido Japan, or the Sami of Scandinavia.

The documentary opens with a warning: This film contains pictures and voices of Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjara people who have passed away.

With the exception of one baby, I have decided not to show these images out of respect for those who have passed away and their descendants.
At the beginning of the film, we see an elderly man with a head full of white hair and a full white beard driving a truck through the Australian bush. He soon passes the world’s greatest monolith, a large sandstone rock formation called Uluru (Ayers Rock). When he sees it, he says it makes him feels as though he’s home and that home is a “secure, relaxed feeling—mentally, spiritually, psychically as well as physically.”

It’s his big home and it’s where he belongs.

The man introduces himself as a Bob Randall, an Anangu man from Uluru.

“My culture’s been around for 40,000 years. We’re probably the oldest culture in the world. When Caesar and Christ was walking the Earth, we were living here, living in the moment. When Cleopatra was ruling on her throne, we were living here, living in the moment. For thousands of years, these things you think ancient, we were here living here, living in the moment.”

Randall explains that his people were from the desert, a very hot place, but it was also very beautiful. It was where he grew up and everything around him was his family. What the rest of us think of as the bush, he thinks of as his home, his ngura. He was born in the bush. He was a bush baby. He, like his parents, wore no clothes. Instead, they walked around in their natural state, the same as the trees, the kangaroo and the emu.

Children, along with their mothers walked throughout the country. As they walked, their mothers provided them with food, water and shelter. They always slept on Mother Earth.

“Our life, quite often, was really disciplined. We were trained to look after the ceremonies, the land and each other. That was important to our people. We had this discipline in place of not to take more than you need or not to destroy anything that’s there to the level where it cannot produce again.”

To the Anangus people, the purpose of life was to be a part of all there is. Every living thing, the trees, the kangaroos, the emus, and all living creatures were a part of their family. The Oldies, the parents and grandparents said that they were connected to everything else and the proof of that was being alive. Because they were connected to everything, they were never lost and never alone. In this way, a person was one with everything else that is there. For his people to have such a connection to the Earth meant that every single inch of the land was sacred.

What Randall remembers most is the non-restrictive nature of his early life. He was completely free and the choices he made we always his.

Many so-called civilized people cannot grasp the concept of either connectedness or oneness. Nor can they understand that some people have no need for a permanent home. Randall’s people didn’t need a permanency of shelter because they were alive and since they were alive, they didn’t need a house. They were free to move, to leave it all behind. They didn’t imprison themselves into one little box.

“That openness of having no access to a building which is “mine”— you know that “mine-ness. Ours was a life of an “ours-ness” and everything is ours. None is without in that way of thinking and living and that’s how we were raised.”

In Indigenous Australian culture, everything is already created in a perfect state and they’re a part of it. Living in the bush gave them a confidence of life that they could never be trained into because it was so much a natural part of them. They communicated with everything—the trees, the flowers, the grass… everything. People were kind and consideration for others was the norm. It was that niceness and that connection that made everyone feel so good.
Then the Europeans arrived.

“We were once so proud, so big, so responsible. We were so big with our caring and sharing. It was our way of life. Then everything changed. We changed. We started to shrink.”

The Anangus people were taken from Uluru. They were taken from their families. They were snatched away the trees, the animals, the reptiles, and the birds that lived there among them. The people were taken away from everything that they knew.

“Everything changed. Everything changed. The government took away Kanyini… the connectedness from me to four concepts. Tjukurrpal, which is my belief system. My Kurunpa, which is my spirituality. My land, which is my ngura, and my family, which is my walytja. I gotta connect with each of these four things to be whole. You take away my Kanyini—my connectedness, my life, my essence of all I’m here for, all my purpose— you take that away and I’m nothing. I’m dead. I’m nothing. I’m a living dead. I’m a corpse in space. I become nothing.”

And it was this that the Australian government took away from the Aborigine people. Once the people were forced to live without Kanyini, the dependence came in and people began to spiritually die. Eventually, this kind of life takes a toll and then people literally die.

“You can almost say that the time of death is the moment you accept that. It’s suicide. You can see how the disconnectedness happened when you look at it in turn.”

The next part will focus on the early stage of the disconnect between the Aborigine people and their Kanyini.

SOURCE: Kanyini DVD -- Kanyini is the copyright and intellectual property of Melanie Hogan, Bob Randall and Hopscotch Films (2006).


  1. When I first saw this film, I cried. I'm not a particularly emotional person, yet so much resonated with me. Just listening to Uncle Bob explain in such detail how one group of people hollowed out another was a life-altering experience. Intellectually, I've always known what my ancestors lost when they were snatched away from Africa or were forcibly removed from their ancestral homelands in America, yet I never truly understood just how devastating this effect has been on me today. This film changed my life.

  2. Something tells me I would cry too if I watched this.

  3. Just by reading what he's said I feel like it will be paramount to the lives of everyone. I can't wait for the next part. Thank you all the writers on the Blasiannarrative you always bring the humor, the reality, but always wisdom.

  4. This is really sad,but it's a documentary that I will forever hold dear to my heart and something that will always to remind not to forget where I came from.I remembered reading about the Aboriginal lost generation of people and how much that saddened me.

  5. Damn. I don't know if I could get through this film.

  6. Class is in session, indeed. Thanks for such an excellent piece. I learned a lot.

  7. @Everyone
    Thank you so much for your thoughts.

    Something tells me I would cry too if I watched this.

    Uncle Bob mostly relates the story of his people in a rather matter-of-face way, yet his choice of words and where he chooses to inject the heavy emotions, cut right through to the core of me.

    ...you always bring the humor, the reality, but always wisdom.

    Over the past few years, I've had a rather paranoid view that "Blackness" is being "whited-out" and that somehow I'm losing touch with who I am. Bob Randall not only invigorated me, he also gave me the power to get off my tush and do something to save myself.

    ...I will forever hold dear to my heart and something that will always to remind not to forget where I came from.

    In this white-washed world of ours, we're particularly vulnerable to being assimilated. Bob Randall story is poignant because he reminds us that OUR way was not WRONG, but rather different and it was the best way for OUR people.

    Damn. I don't know if I could get through this film.

    Sadness wasn't the only part of this documentary that inspired tears, so did PRIDE in my people and our heritage. This one man made me understand that my ancestors are still a part of me NOW. They exist within me. The big gaping hole I once had in my essence is gone. Now that I've fully connected with my heritage, I am now a COMPLETE person. Although it took several decades, I finally understand how Alex Hailey felt when he finally found Kunta Kinte. Unlike him, I don't need to trace my roots anywhere. Africa and Indigenous America are seared in my soul.

    I learned a lot.

    Bob Randall is an excellent teacher. There's so much more to share and I'm working on that now.

  8. I was there when Uncle Bob spoke to an audience at Byron Bay. He was very calm and lovely when he spoke and when he later answered questions from the audience.


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