Dreaming stories: Creation The Rainbow Serpent Background Information


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DREAMING STORIES: Creation - The Rainbow Serpent

Background Information

The serpent as a Creation Being is perhaps the oldest continuing religious belief in the world, dating back several thousands of years. The Rainbow Serpent features in the Dreaming stories of many mainland Aboriginal nations and is always associated with watercourses, such as billabongs, rivers, creeks and lagoons. The Rainbow Serpent is the protector of the land, its people, and the source of all life. However, the Rainbow Serpent can also be a destructive force if it is not properly respected.

The most common version of the Rainbow Serpent story tells that in the Dreaming, the world was flat, bare and cold. The Rainbow Serpent slept under the ground with all the animal tribes in her belly waiting to be born. When it was time, she pushed up, calling to the animals to come from their sleep. She threw the land out, making mountains and hills and spilled water over the land, making rivers and lakes. She made the sun, the fire and all the colours.

To the Gagudju people, the Rainbow Serpent was called Almudj and was a major creator being. It forced passages through rocks and created more waterholes. Today, Almudj is still a great creator, bringing the wet season each year, which causes all forms of life to multiply, and appearing in the sky as a rainbow. But Almudj is also to be feared as he can punish anyone who has broken a law by drowning them in floods. Almudj still lives in a pool under a waterfall in Kakadu.

The Jawoyn people, of the Katherine Gorge area in the Northern Territory, tell how the Rainbow Serpent slept under the ground until she awoke in the Dreaming and pushed her way to the surface. She then traveled the land, sleeping when she tired, and left behind her winding tracks and the imprint of her sleeping body. When she had travelled the earth, she returned and called to the frogs to come out, but they were very slow because their bellies were full of water. The Rainbow Serpent tickled their stomachs and when the frogs laughed, the water flowed out of their mouths and filled the tracks and hollows left by the Rainbow Serpent, creating the rivers and lakes. This woke all of the animals and plants, who then followed the Rainbow Serpent across the land.

Taken from http://www.cultureandrecreation.gov.au/articles/indigenous/dreamtime/

The Rainbow Serpent - a recount

In the Dreamtime all earth lay sleeping. Nothing moved. Nothing grew. One day the Rainbow Serpent awoke from her slumber and came out from under the ground.

She travelled far and wide and eventually grew tired and curled up and slept. She left marks of her sleeping body and her winding tracks. Then she returned to the place where she had first appeared, and called to the frogs, “Come out!”

The frogs came out slow because their bellies were heavy with water, which they had stored in their sleep. The Rainbow serpent tickled their stomachs and when the frogs laughed, water ran all over the earth to fill the tracks of the Rainbow serpents’ wanderings. This is how lakes and rivers were formed.

With water, grass and trees sprang up. Also all animals awoke and followed the rainbow serpent across the land. They were happy on earth and each lived and gathered food with his own tribe. Some animals live in rocks, others on the plains and others in trees and in the air.

The Rainbow Serpent made laws that they all were to obey, but some became quarrelsome and made trouble. The Rainbow Serpent said,” Those who keep my laws will be rewarded; I shall give them human form. Those who break my laws will be punished and turned to stone, never to walk the earth again.

The lawbreakers became stone and turned to mountains and hills, but those who kept the laws were turned into human form. The Rainbow Serpent gave each of them their own totem of the animal, bird or reptile from whence they came. The tribes knew themselves by their totems: kangaroo, emu, carpet snake, and many, many more. So no one would starve, the Rainbow Serpent ruled that no man should eat of his totem, but only of other totems. This way there was food for everyone.

The tribes lived together on the land given to them by the Rainbow Serpent or Mother of Life and knew the land would always be theirs, and no one should ever take it from them.

Taken from http://www.expedition360.com/australia_lessons_literacy/2001/09/dreamtime_stories_the_rainbow.html

The Rainbow Serpent – video clip - http://dl.screenaustralia.gov.au/module/1565/

The story of the Rainbow Serpent, with its emphasis on the preciousness of water to the cycle of life, is very relevant in today’s climate. With rapid climate change impelling us to look closely at the way we relate to each other and to the environment, both now and into the future, this ancient story is a reminder of our inheritance, our purpose and perhaps even our duty.

  • Discuss how the Rainbow Serpent is associated with the beginnings of life and death on Earth

  • How do we show respect to the Rainbow Serpent?

  • When we are not respectful, how does the Rainbow Serpent show its anger?

Different Versions of the Rainbow Serpent

Serpent stories vary according to environmental differences. Read/View a selection of stories…

    • The Dreaming’ (DVD set) P146, ‘The Rainbow Serpent’

    • Warnayarra – the Rainbow Snake’ by Pamela Lofts - or any picture book version of this Dreaming story

    • The Travelling Yamani’ by Trish Albert (First Australians: Plenty Stories)

  • The Rainbow Serpent, a creation story can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pCuuRRrfOXo&feature=related

  • The Rainbow Serpent, a creation story told by Pauline McLeod, can be found at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFxGHPvWcu4&feature=related

Inquiry Questions
  • What is a Dreaming story?

  • How are Dreaming stories structured?

  • What do Dreaming stories teach us?

  • What is the same and/or different in Dreaming stories?

  • What has happened to Dreaming stories over time?

  • How has Christianity impacted on Indigenous Spirituality?

  • How are Dreaming stories similar to the parables of Jesus?

  • How can Dreaming stories guide us in our relationships?

Discussion Questions

  • How do the Dreaming stories connect the land to its people and animals?

  • The Dreaming stories which describe the travels of the Ancestral Beings are integral to Aboriginal spirituality. In the Dreaming, how do Indigenous people explain how the world was created? Give an example of one type of creation story.

  • Why is the Rainbow Serpent used in Kakadu National Park’s logo? ( See http://www.kakadu.com.au/culture/rainbow.html)


  • Useful resource: ‘Storytelling’ by Pauline McLeod (Scholastic)

  • Discuss the connection of the story with the formation of the landscape

  • Compare the Genesis Creation stories (Adam and Eve, creation of the earth in six days) with Aboriginal Dreaming stories or ‘Sun Mother Wakes the World’ an Australian Creation Story, a beautiful tale adapted by Diane Wolkstein and spectacularly illustrated by Bronwyn Bancroft

  • Share ‘Malli, the Singing Snake’ (Message Stick series)

  • Investigate ways in which the Rainbow Serpent is depicted in artworks

  • Students write own ‘creation’ story
  • Create a landscape collage using materials from the local environment e.g. sand, seeds, leaves, bark and grass. Students paint individual pieces of the Rainbow Serpent, join them together and display the work in the classroom or library

  • After reading and discussing Dreaming stories about the Rainbow Serpent and the creation of life forms, students compose a dance. Invite local Aboriginal community members to work with the class, teaching traditional movements to students as culturally appropriate.

  • Involve the school community in an artistic project implemented by an Aboriginal artist. Read about the Largs Bay Schools’ project, ‘Aboriginal Dreaming Trail’ (ceramics, mosaics project) which was named as the Kuranye Metitya Dreaming Trail (the Kaurna translation of Rainbow Serpent)

See http://www.largsbayr7.sa.edu.au/usermedia/news1e2.pdf

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