Throughout The 7 Stages of Grieving, as the Woman investigates trauma, grief, and the ravages of colonialism, she also highlights her own journey toward self-love. The play’s experimental vignettes explore what it means to take pride in oneself and one’s heritage in spite of structural, institutional racism and the hopelessness it can create. Ultimately, Enoch and Mailman suggest that pride and resilience in the face of impossible circumstances are vitally important to individual and communal resistance.
Throughout the play, Enoch and Mailman use one Aboriginal woman’s journey to demonstrate the complexities of contemporary Aboriginal identity. While the Woman takes pride in her heritage and in her people’s history, she also finds herself devastated by all they have lost and furious at all they have been forced to endure. Rather than give into despair or hopelessness, the Woman instead expresses determination to rise above the social, political, and economic inequality that surrounds her. When the audience first meets the Woman, she weeps in darkness alone on stage—but then as the lights come up, she performs a purification ritual using eucalypt leaves in order to connect with her ancestors. This demonstrates that, even in the depths of one’s sorrow, there is hope, light, and a sense of grounding to be found in tradition, ritual, and communal identity.
As the play continues, the Woman goes on to share intimate stories about how her family uses ritual, tradition, and pride in their shared identity to cope with profound losses. When the Woman’s grandmother dies, for instance, generations of her family come together to live near one another for a period of communal mourning. As the Woman’s family grieves, they find relief in ritual dances and performances. Though so much of their collective history has been stripped away, the Woman’s family bands together to resist the pull of despair and isolation. Instead, they choose to turn to the safe harbor of ritual, identity, and tradition in the midst of their grief. As the Woman turns to sacred traditions both alone and with family, she underscores the importance of remembering the past, even when doing so is painful or difficult. Even when performed in private, traditional ritual, dance, and other expressions of mourning or celebration create a sense of shared experience. This sense of shared history, shared pain, and shared purpose is vitally important to a community that has been decimated by the violent forces of colonialism and racism.
Despite the joy and connection that the Woman’s culture brings her, her indigenous identity also brings suffering, particularly because of the racism she experiences. In the scene “Murri Gets a Dress,” the Woman—a member of the Murri people—describes the unique challenges she faces on a simple trip to the mall to buy a dress. She is racially profiled in the store, given cruel looks in the elevator, and followed to her car by mall security. On the road home, when her car breaks down, no one will stop to help her. In spite of the struggles she faces on a simple day of shopping, the Woman takes pride in her new dress—and, the following morning upon waking, she looks in the mirror and declares aloud her gratitude for her black skin. As she calls out the word “NUNNA” (which means “me” in Gamilaraay), the Woman demonstrates that—in spite of the horrible racism she has just experienced—she still insists on loving herself. Her refusal to reject her identity or wish she were different is crucial; without loving herself, she wouldn’t be able to go on.
In addition to showing how pride in indigenous identity helps the Woman personally, the play shows how important pride and solidarity are to Australia’s First Nations communities more largely. In the scene “March,” the Woman describes the intense scrutiny that accompanies a peaceful march in Brisbane to protest the death of Daniel Yocke, an Aboriginal man who was brutalized by police. In spite of the presence of police helicopters and reporters who characterize the march as “defiant” and inconvenient, the Woman sees the mass grieving that takes place amongst her people at the Brisbane watchhouse as beautiful and necessary. This scene is a culmination of the theme of Aboriginal identity, pride, and resilience, as it shows how Aboriginal communities can come together, supporting and loving one another (even in the depths of terror and grief) and making a public, unignorable statement of solidarity against racism and abuse.
While some parts of Aboriginal peoples’ cultures will never be restored—and while this knowledge can take a terrible toll on communities and contribute to cycles of generational trauma—Enoch and Mailman’s play suggests that, with pride and resilience, communities and individuals alike will grow stronger. Resisting the social injustices, economic disadvantages, and structural inequalities that are byproducts of Australia’s colonial history is difficult work—but as the Woman demonstrates, self-love and solidarity are important tools of progress and endurance.
Aboriginal Identity, Pride, and Resilience ThemeTracker
Aboriginal Identity, Pride, and Resilience Quotes in The 7 Stages of Grieving
The Woman lights up a wad of eucalypt leaves and watches them burn. She blows out the flame and as the embers smoke she sings a song for the spirits of those that have gone before her and asks permission to tell the story of her grief.
I miss my grandmother. She took so many stories with her to the grave. Stories of her life, our traditions, our heritage from her now gone. I resent that.
Thinking that tomorrow will be a better day, I go to bed. Kicking that sniffer dog out. Still with the sound of sirens in my head. Snuggling up to my doona and pillow. Morning comes, I wake up, looking in the mirror. Nice hair, beautiful black skin, white shiny teeth. I'M STILL BLACK! NUNNA!
I never saw her cry the whole time she was with us.
Dad said she was stuck-up and wasn’t really family. She married this Englishman after World War II. There was a photo of her on a ship waving with this white fella, his arm around her. For some reason she didn’t stay, which in my family is strange.
The Woman paints herself as if preparing for war. Though her movements are restricted her voice assails the audience with a sense of all-encompassing sorrow. She takes the suitcase, opens it, throwing the red earth and family photos it contains all over the floor. The Woman grieves over the photographs.
You know there has always been this grieving,
Grieving for our land, our families.
Our cultures that have been denied us.
But we have been taught to cry quietly
Where only our eyes betray us with tears.
But now, we can no longer wait,
I am scared my heart is hardening.
I fear I can no longer grieve
I am so full and know my capacity for grief