Mutant Message Down Under
Social Work 377
October 25, 2004
The Mutant Message Down Under is a fictional book written by Marlo Morgan. In this book, Marlo tells a story of her experiences with a nomadic tribe called the Aboriginals, in the Outback’s of Australia. Morgan is an American woman who thought she was going to Australia for a meeting to receive an award, but much to her surprise, she wouldn’t be returning for awhile. The Aboriginals call themselves, the “Real People”. Traditionally, each member of the tribe has their own name which reflects a talent or something about them. Later on it will hopefully be understood why Morgan’s tribal name is the Mutant and what exactly the Mutant Message is.
When Morgan first arrived in Australia, she had her driver/interpreter bring her to the meeting. His name was Ooota. When they arrived at what seemed to be a big hut in the middle of the desert, Morgan was informed that in order to attend the meeting she was required to be cleansed first. This cleansing, like Americans would think of a shower, did not involve water. It was performed with fire. Morgan walked anxiously up to the fire. The smoke was then fanned onto her body. The smoke was so thick that it burned her eyes and made it hard for her to breathe. She was then instructed to walk over the fire, through the smoke. After she did that, a woman came and took all of Morgan’s belongings and tossed them into the fire. Morgan was filled with emotions of shock, confusion, and anger. Imagine having your belongings burn right in front of your eyes. Although this was not an act of violence, it was a membership requirement for this Aboriginal tribe. It was a cleansing to release the attachment of objects and material possessions that the American society is so obsessed with. It symbolized leaving behind old beliefs and values to make room for the new ones Morgan was about to learn. She hadn’t expected a meeting quite like this one, yet she decided to stay and see what it was all about. Little did she know that she was about to go on a four-month-long walkabout through the Outback of Australia. Walkabout means to leave for an unknown period of time.
This book sheds light into the world of a group of people called the Aboriginals. They are a nomadic tribe that moves about the deserts of Australia. On her journey with them, Marlo discovers new ways of living. The tribe also helped her to find her inner strength and experience a sense of self-worth. She also experienced how the group of “Real People” worked together and supported each other. Throughout this paper an attempt will be made to describe not only Marlo’s journey, but the life lessons that she learned along the way.
At the end of this analysis, hopefully the Mutant Message will be clear, but in order to get the full effect, one must read the book for themselves and then develop their own message from this story. Morgan’s story contains many themes, such as: how a group develops, how leadership emerges and changes, the group as a social system within other social systems, and the oppression of a group of people.
After Morgan was cleansed, she was then open to learning the ways of the Aborigines. The fire was put out and everyone went inside the hut. There they shared with Morgan some of their history through a festival of song and dance. They did not speak English so Ooota translated for Morgan. The group consisted mainly of older men and women however; there was one teenage boy. When the singing and dancing was over, Ooota introduced Marlo to the group. The leader of the group, the Tribal Elder, came over to Morgan and without saying anything, proceeded to play little games with her while the other members watched. Such games or tests involved throwing objects such as rocks, bones, teeth, and feathers along side where the Elder threw his, blessing a piece of fruit, and choosing a rock from a plate full of them. Morgan was told to “Choose a rock [and] choose it wisely. It has the power to save your life” (Morgan, p.13). These tests were significant because it showed Morgan’s willingness to follow what the group wanted her to do. After the tests were administered, Morgan was accepted by the group to go on the walkabout. At first she was hesitant in going with these people that she just met, as most people are when they join a group. She didn’t know these people; there was no trust yet, and she was not familiar with her surroundings. Morgan being the spiritual person that she was, felt that God had a plan for her so she decided to follow the group. Walking barefoot, with no food or water they headed off into the desert.
Along the way, Morgan’s feet started hurting. She was not used to the rough terrains of the Aborigines’ land. Just when Morgan thought that she couldn’t go on, Ooota came over to her and said “Forget the pain…Learn to endure. Focus your attention elsewhere. We will help your feet later. You can do nothing now” (p.18). These words were very meaningful to Morgan because as a doctor of acupuncture, she had told many clients those words. Now she was expected to do it and realized that it wasn’t that easy. This was one of the first situations where Morgan started to find her inner strength with the help of the group. The group helped to empower Morgan to realize that she could keep going through the pain. Every time Morgan wanted to quit, a falcon would appear in the sky and distract her from the pain. When they camped for the night, a woman came over and took care of Morgan’s feet, teaching her new healing techniques of the Aborigines culture.
Then it came time for the groups’ first meal together. This one was very different than the American meals that Morgan was used to, however; she had never been so hungry. The meal was comprised of worms wrapped in leaves that were cooked over a fire. Here she learned another important lesson, and that is to never say “never”, because that allows no room for situations out of ones control. She could never have imagined herself being in the situation and environment that she was in. So in order to survive, she ate the meal with the rest of the group. Afterwards she noticed the Aborigines rubbing each other and decided to share with them her techniques, the American method, of massages and relaxation. This is an essential part of groups; the sharing of knowledge from one member to another. Except in this situation it was the sharing of cultures. This isn’t the first time that Morgan shares her culture with the Aboriginal people.
Continuing on their journey, Ooota explained to Morgan that this was the first time the Aboriginals had associated with a white person. Historically the Aborigines are dark-skinned natives, the original people of the land of Australia. At that time their land was taken away and “according to them, every other tribe in Australia had submitted to the rule of the white government” (p.45). The land they were given to live on was worthless sand. The only area still considered to be their territory was designated as national parks, so they had to share it with tourists. This situation can be explained using Frantz Fanon’s thoughts regarding oppression. In his Master and Slave Paradigm, he states that “among the first freedoms to be curtailed are basic freedoms like those of movement, expression of opinion, and assembly” (p.122). In this case the Aboriginal tribe was forced off of their traditional lands, limiting their ability to do the traditional jobs they held, such as hunting and gathering. They were discriminated against because of their dark skin color and because they did not follow the norms of the broader society. The Aborigines spoke a different language and they held dissimilar beliefs, values, and ways of living. Their movement was not only limited by the amount and condition of the land they were given but, in society as well. They were not given jobs in the community because they were described as sluggish and always late, however; the Aboriginal culture does not use clocks to tell time. They also have different beliefs and values pertaining to business and how it operates. The Aboriginal tribe believes that people should work together for the common good, to better everyone, rather than “the goal of business [being] to stay in business regardless of the outcome on the people or the product and services” (p.107). Due to the tribes’ skin color and different beliefs, they were oppressed and discriminated against by the people of Australia.
The Aborigines also had very strong beliefs about nature. They respected it and most of all understood it. They believe that everything in nature has a purpose and they did not waste anything. They did not take nature for granted. They thanked it every day for providing food, water, and sometimes shelter. After leaving their camps from the night before, Morgan states that you wouldn’t even know that anyone had stayed there. They leave no trash and recycle everything back into the earth. She says “they are masters of blending in, using yet leaving the universe undisturbed” (p.103). As Morgan continued on this journey, she learned more of the ways of the “Real People”. Gradually she became more accepted and felt less like a mutant in their culture.
The group of Aborigines provided mutual support and mutual aid for each member of the walkabout. All members on the walkabout were experiencing similar feelings of hunger, pain, and fatigue. Going through the same experiences, helps them to keep going. Shulman describes this process as the “All-in-the-same-boat phenomenon…in which members gain support from learning that the other members of the group are dealing with the same concerns, feelings, and problems” (Shulman, p.306). The Aborigines had to work together and support one another because each other was all they had.
The leader of this tribe, known as the Tribal Elder, was not the oldest member like one may think. He was middle-aged, quiet, and had a muscular build. Through out her journey, Morgan could see why this man was the leader of the group. She noticed him being very genuine with the other members and thanking them for all they contributed on the journey. Then one day it was Morgan’s turn to lead the group. At first she was very hesitant because she didn’t know where to go or how to find anything. One member advised Morgan that “it is fine to walk for awhile as the last one in any group, and it is acceptable to spend time mingling in the middle, but ultimately everyone must at some time lead. You have no way of understanding leadership roles until you assume that responsibility” (p.130). So the transition in leadership took place. When Morgan became the leader she was now in charge of leading the group and finding food and water. For two days there was none. Then it came to her. She wasn’t thinking like the Real People. Instead of vocally begging for water she tried using her imagination and mentally connecting with nature and the higher power in a spiritual way. Within no time, there was a pool of water for everyone to drink. Morgan gave a silent thank-you to the Divine- Oneness. She now started feeling like she was one with the universe.
Towards the end of the journey Morgan realized what it was that she was chosen to do. She was the Real People’s messenger. The Aborigines are a dying race. They were not having any more children and when the last was gone, they would all be gone, forever. That is why they chose Morgan to tell “her kind” that they were leaving. They hoped that Morgan would go and spread the knowledge and ways of living that she had learned. The Aboriginal tribe is worried about Mother Earth and what will happen to it when they leave. They “pray you will see what your way of life is doing to the water, the animals, the air, and to each other” (p.148). This was the message that Marlo Morgan was to communicate to her people.
This book illustrates many different aspects of the Aboriginal tribe’s culture, which is very different from the American culture of the author. This book had many lessons in it. Some more established than others. The book also portrays how a group develops, how it functions, how it changes leadership, and how it ends. It also portrays how the group helped Morgan to find her inner strength through mutual support from the other members. It shows the respect and appreciation for the earth and Mother Nature. It also shows the discrimination and oppression of a group of people and how they dealt with it. If one allows themselves to be open to new ideas, this book contains many different values and beliefs of a culture, which one may find meaningful in their life.
Hegel (Class Handout) Master and Slave Paradigms. Chapter 6, p.113-127
Morgan, M. (2004). Mutant Message Down Under. New York: Harper Collins
Shulman, L. (1999). The Skills of Helping Individuals, Groups, Communities (4th Ed.).
United States: Brooks/Cole.