July 2014

Message Sticks

I have heard about Aboriginal message sticks. What exactly is a message stick, what is written on it and how is it used?

Answer

Traditional Message Sticks Ceremonial message sticks Modern message sticks

Message sticks have been used by Aboriginal peoples for thousands of years as a means to disseminate information from one community to another. They are made of wood and the carved markings on message sticks are symbols that are specific to the area where they are made. Message sticks were carried by couriers and served as a reminder list of what the courier had to tell the other communities upon arrival.  Invitations to festivals such as the Bunya Nut Festival, and important announcements such as births, marriages and deaths were also sent to communities via message sticks. The message stick also served as a passport to ensure that the courier could travel safely through other people’s countries to get the final destination.  Because the courier had to carry message sticks a long way, they were often small enough to fit into the palm of the hand.   

Message sticks are still being used today. School groups may study message sticks as part of the curriculum on Aboriginal history.  A ceremonial message stick may also be given to a person or group during a repatriation ceremony, for example, to thank community members for their help in returning the ancestors to their country.
View more information on message sticks on the Queensland Museum Network Blog.

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