Aboriginal culture came to Merced on Friday evening at the Multicultural Arts Center. A group of four performers from Australia called Gunnay Bu Murrung, visiting the United States for the first time, filled the MAC’s theater with traditional music and dance.
They were welcomed by a ceremonial presentation of gifts from the Yokut Nation, which included cedar, shells, sage, salt, tobacco, and draping one of the performers in a blanket, which symbolized welcoming and protection from the tribe.
“We like to connect with the traditional custodians of the land,” Lewis Burns, the leader of the performers, said as he accepted the gifts. Burns is a painter, didgeridoo player, and circular breathing teacher. He was accompanied by three of his nephews, who represent the growing interest in native culture and traditions happening both in Australia as well as the United States. “We come together to create cultural exchange wherever we go.”
The performances were a combination of dance as well as live music. They provided background for the symbolism of the sounds and moves that took place. They told stories, such as “The Hungry Dingo” which was presented as a heart-racing chase played exclusively through sounds on the didgeridoo, and of the rainbow serpent, a giant snake whose movement across the earth created the rivers, in which the dancers moved across the stage connected to create a slithering illusion.
The evening was both educational as well as entertaining. Burns gave the historical context for their performance, one filled with pride as well as nation-sanctioned tragedy.
They concluded their performance with a question and answer session between the group and the audience. Attendees asked a range of questions, and while the group was open and friendly, some cultural secrets remained just so.