What Aboriginal Paintings Can Tell You

This lengthy post has actually been hanging around my draft box for almost a month (when plenty important events conspired to take place at the same time, that is). A week in Melbourne plus three more being inside the government’s system taught me a great deal of lessons, and so do Aboriginal paintings. You will see my attempt to link both of them in this post.

For the record, the following indigenous illustrations of Australia were mostly inspired by Dreamtime, a sacred era when, according to the animist framework, ancestral totemic spirit beings created the world. This includes how the birds got their colors, babies their spirits, and so on. Faith developed from the simplest things can turn out to be the most beautiful, don’t you agree?

1. A wonderful trip and a good home are both about being with the right person(s)—the place never matters.


When did the concept of ‘home’ first appear? Was it after the nomads decided to stay and lead their life in a single area forever, or was it about being where their family lived? I would go with the latter hypothesis: a journey can also be a ‘home’ when you are with the people you care about. This painting portrays the crossed fate between three different creatures, to symbolize my overall adventure in Melbourne: 1) Bu Iim—a motherly host, by whom I was treated like a daughter for more than 6 days, 2) AMUNC kids—wonderful children, really, who patiently listen to whatever inputs I choked them with, as well as 3) Fika and Eno—two cordial friends who volunteered to take me around the city! With these people around, I hardly felt like I was away from home.

2. Every mankind was born with a disease of caring too much about themselves. Life is then a quest to find the only cure: to fall in love.


“We’re all a little weird. And when we find someone whose weirdness is compatible with ours, we fall into mutually satisfying weirdness.” —Robert Fulghum

The geckos above depict the Aboriginal belief that each of us has a soulmate—or someone destined to accompany us for the rest of our life. That’s not where I am going, though. If anything, I simply believe that every mind is under a subconscious quest to discover another mortal whom they can care about so much—that they can forget their own ego for a while. These mortals, they might not always love you back and you can get disappointed every now and then, but believe me: any sane individual will appreciate one’s company and kindness, although they have different ways to express such gratefulness, and sometimes you just have to read between the lines.

Putera shared his magical ‘Rule of 3 Years’ to me after our Finale Ball dance:
“When you fall in love with someone but not sure if you’ll ever going to end up with this person, just wait until 3 years. You’ll be surprised by what destiny is capable of, Fu.”

3. “Everything is a process of a process of a process. The outcome doesn’t matterit might not even exist.” @darlol


See how tangled this web of circles are? Well that’s probably what’s going on with life. Today’s failure, tomorrow’s success, yesterday’s stupidity, they are all simply bits of a bigger scheme: the grand design that God has assigned to us long before we were even born. So stop wasting so much energy on regretting what you have or have not done—focus on enjoying today. Carpe diem, they say. Oh and remember that both good and bad luck are earned; they materialize as a result of something you have done in the past.

4. All encounters are meant to make us thankful of what we havenot to be sad of what we have not. And it’s only a matter of perspective.


This painting, entitled ‘The Meeting Point‘, depicts one of those Daydream stories where the spirits meet each other at one spot—before departing and start their own stories afterwards. What I learned from meeting Australian students and, in particular, my highschool friend Eno, is that one can either be a pathetic whiner and mourn over the good things in life that she missed—or she can opt for being thankful of things that she actually possesses. Eno conducts a high-end, happy life in Melbourne: she rents her own apartment, explores many interesting places in the city, and gets the best education she can put her hands on. On the other side of the globe, I have to survive with whatever my lecturers provide throughout courses, in a hot city where all you can really do is, basically, struggle.

But let’s change the perspective: despite all the sucky things I have to deal with, I do have a lot of things to be proud of—amazing talking partners, lessonful organizations, and spicy foods at its best. And of course, Eno can be more grateful to her so-called ‘monotonous’ life, having listened to how I wish I could go abroad for my undergraduate study.

5. Whereas knowing ourselves is one of the main keys to success, most of us are the worst judges for ourselves.


Human minds are like these abstract lines: they’re terribly winding and incomprehensible. The process becomes twice harder when we have to take a closer look at our own heads. But really, one should first understand him/herself before
he/she can help anyone else.

Being an intern in President’s Delivery Unit for Development Monitoring Oversight, I realize that there is a wide gap of difference between creating changes slowly from the bottom (as what we’ve been doing in Indonesian Future Leaders or other organizations) and doing it rather efficiently quick from the top. My point would be this: regardless what people say about losing your idealism once you got trapped into one of those governmental institutions, do what suits you best. If you think you have what it takes to overhaul the system altogether, then go for it.

What’s important is to be a great person wherever you are, but don’t forget to look down and feel powerless. Today’s common mistake, as hig
hlighted by Pak Kuntoro Mangkusubroto himself, is to feel important when you’re around important people. There’s one message that remains in my head from him: “Jangan sombong. Di sini, kamu akan bertemu banyak orang hebat, tapi kamu bukan salah satu dari mereka.” (“Stay humble. Meeting a lot of great people does not turn you into one of them.”) Powerful words from one of the most respected men in the country, indeed.

6. Humility versus ‘Sungkan’


Despite its unquestionable virtue, humility can sometimes be misunderstood as ‘kesungkanan‘ (you see—I can’t even find the English word for a concept so cultural in the Sundanese and Javanese tradition). The bird in this painting is keeping her head low, but it does not mean that she will let any predator belittles her speed to flee. Don’t get humility wrong: it does not mean feeling like you’re worse than everyone else—it’s acknowledging your strengths while humbly admitting that they will not last forever, and that there are contribution from other people to your owning such talents. And remember: although haters will always find a reason to hate someone, the vulnerability of being disliked because you’re smart is higher than if you’re kind—so stay alarmed. Alarmed, but not conceited, and neither ‘sungkan‘—because it only takes all the chances away.

7. If there’s anything you should never let go, it’s the little kindness inside your heart.


As much as it’s hard for certain people to move on, they change very overwhelmingly quickly. Someone you know from two years ago has become someone else today, and the bad news is, it’s not always towards a betterment. (But then who are we to judge what’s good for everyone in this planet?) So move on, and believe that there’s something better—although unknown—waiting for us in the end of the tunnel. Leave everything behind—except that little kindness inside your heart, for that’s what makes you human.

Mikha once told me, “A powerful picture is not taken with expensive cameras; it simply makes you wonder about how they were shot.” The same premise applies for humans—powerful ones are not wearing the most expensive clothes—but rather thoughts that inspire you to wonder.

8. …Because every mind is a collection of stories.


I love meeting new people not because I’m some network freak who secures her future by befriending cool folks—but more because every individual has a unique story carried at the back of their head. Be it embarassing mistakes they somehow did, the fear they never dared to tell, or failures they managed to bounce back from. It’s always interesting to listen to people’s stories—and share your own in regards. I think that’s how we should live our lives: as storytellers.

I know you’re very much confused with what I’m trying to say in this sloppy, jumpy post—believe me: I am just as puzzled. But I’m glad that I finally managed to post this. Have a great week!


One Comment

  1. And I finally can find another person who..apparently.. has the same way of thinking about this what we call as humbleness. I really love this:"Don’t get humility wrong: it does not mean feeling like you’re worse than everyone else???it’s acknowledging your strengths while humbly admitting that they will not last forever, and that there are contribution from other people to your owning such talents. And remember: although haters will always find a reason to hate someone, the vulnerability of being disliked because you’re smart is higher than if you’re kind."Menjadi rendah hati toh bukan berarti rendah harga diri. Apa susahnya menyamakan status sosial toh sama2 manusia juga :D (terlalu sering dikelilingi orang yang senang ngomong "ih kok lo mau sih? harga diri meenn" kalau someone menyamakan status sosial dengan kalangan yang distereotype sebagai kalangan bawah.aduh panjang bener ni komen ~_~


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