Bora (Australian)

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Anthropology of religion
Charles Kerry - An Aboriginal Bora Ceremony, 1898.jpg
Photograph of a Bora ceremony, taken in 1898 by Charles Kerry.
Social and cultural anthropology

Bora is an initiation ceremony of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people of Australia, descended from groups that existed in Australia and surrounding islands prior to European colonisation. The word "bora" also refers to the site on which the initiation is performed. At such a site, boys achieve the status of men. The initiation ceremony differs from Aboriginal culture to culture, but often involves scarification and may also involve the removal of a tooth or part of a finger.[citation needed] The ceremony, and the process leading up to it, involves the learning of traditional sacred songs, stories, dances, and traditional lore. Many different clans will assemble to participate in an initiation ceremony.

The word Bora was originally from south-east Australia, but is also now used throughout Eastern Australia to describe an initiation site or ceremony.[citation needed] It is called a Burbung in the language of the Darkinjung, to the North of Sydney. The name is said to come from the belt worn by initiated men. The appearance of the site varies among cultures, but it is often associated with stone arrangements, rock engravings, or other art works. Women are generally prohibited from entering a bora.

In south-east Australia, the Bora is often associated with the creator-spirit Baiame. In the Sydney region, large earth mounds were made, shaped as long bands or simple circles. Sometimes the boys would have to pass along a path marked on the ground representing the transition from childhood to manhood, and this path might be marked by a stone arrangement or by footsteps, or mundoes, cut into the rock. In other areas of south-east Australia, a Bora site might consist of two circles of stones, and the boys would start the ceremony in the larger, public, one, and end it in the other, smaller, one, to which only initiated men are admitted. Matthews (1897) gives an excellent eye-witness account of a Bora ceremony, and explains the common use of the two circles.

Bora rings are mandala-like formations found in south-east Australia. They comprise circles of foot-hardened earth surrounded by raised embankments. They were generally constructed in concentric pairs (although some sites have three), with a bigger circle about 22 metres (72 ft) in diameter and a smaller one of about 14 metres (46 ft). The rings are joined by a sacred walkway. While most are confined to south-east Queensland and eastern New South Wales, five earth rings have been recorded near the Victorian town of Sunbury, although Aboriginal use has not been documented.[1]

Bora rings in the form of circles of individually placed stones are evident in Werrikimbe National Park in northern New South Wales.


  1. ^ David Frankel, Earth rings at Sunbury, Victoria. Archaeology in Oceania 17.2 (1982) 89–97.Meyer Eidelson, The Melbourne Dreaming: A Guide to the Aboriginal Places of Melbourne, Aboriginal Studies Press, Canberra, (1997; 2000). ISBN 0-85575-306-4, pp 92-97.
  • Footprints on Rock, 1997, Sydney: Metropolitan Local Aboriginal Land Council. ISBN 0-7313-1002-0
  • The Burbung of the Darkinung Tribes, 1897, Matthews, R.H., Proceedings of the Royal Society of Victoria 10, 1: 1–12. May be downloaded from University of Newcastle.