Cassowaries as Cultural Icons

Cassowaries are highly valued by the indigenous people of the Wet Tropics and Cape York. Many Rainforest Aboriginal people have customs, stories, songs and dances about the cassowary. Cassowaries are prized food, and their feathers, claws and bone are used for ornaments and hunting.

Cassowary (c) Leonard Andy

Cassowary images are found on rock art in the Wet Tropics, and artists continue to paint pictures of the birds in artwork and for artefacts to sell to tourists.

Many of the trees cassowaries “plant” are food that Rainforest Aboriginal people enjoy eating, such as Burdekin Plums, Davidson Plums and Blue Quandong.

The fact that cassowaries are now endangered is also of significance to Rainforest Aboriginal people. As modern day pressures threaten the future of cassowaries, they also threaten the customs and traditions associated with cassowaries and impact upon the long term cultural survival of Rainforest Aboriginal people.

The No Wabu No Wuju No Gunduy” (No Rainforest No Food No Cassowary) DVD was produced by the Girringun Aboriginal Corporation (with assistance from EnviroFund and the Wet Tropics Management Authority) and depicts the close links between Rainforest Aboriginal people and the cassowary and their fears for its future survival. Limited copies are available from the WTMA for educational use. Call (07) 4052-0555 or email: wtma.records@derm.qld.gov.au 

Today, cassowaries have also become cultural icons for the wider community, and an important part of the local landscape and identity for Wet Tropics communities like Mission Beach, Kuranda, and Cape Tribulation. Images of cassowaries appear on key-rings and coffee mugs and tea towels, and the recently amalgamated Cassowary Coast Regional Council has adopted the cassowary as an integral part of their logo and corporate identify.

Like tigers in India, and elephants in Africa, cassowaries are considered a keystone species by conservationists. Their importance in maintaining the diversity of the rainforest, means they play a key role in maintaining the ecological balance. However, protecting cassowary habitat doesn’t just benefit other rainforest plants and animals but also contributes to the identity, pride and well-being of human communities.

Artwork: (c) Leonard Andy