40 x 40cm Paper: BFK RIVES 56 x 66cm
Nyapilingu is a spirit woman who lived in Wangarr times, the Dreaming. Nyapilingu set out from Ambakamba (Groote Eylandt) in a paper bark canoe and travelled across to the mainland and then north and west as far as the central Arnhem Land coast. Wherever she went she marked the country with her activities. She is remembered by the people at these sites, who sing and dance her story.
Nyapilingu gave important culture to the people whose country she passed through. She wrapped herself in a sheet of paperbark so that men could not see her body, so women followed her in this. She used Wapitja (digging stick) to collect food and to peel the bark from the stringybark tree and she made containers from paperbark which she carried on her head. These are identified with her today. Nyapilingu also taught women how to look for the water lily ‘yuku’ and prepare it for eating, and how to make string and weave pandanus for bathi (dilly bags). The possum fur string which she wore in a cross shaped arrangement across her chest is a signature of hers. The wavy lined pattern on the rest of the image belongs only to the Magalili and has very many levels of meaning.
Nyapilingu is particularly important to Manggalili people. One of their most important sacred sites, Djarrakpi is associated with her activities. She also passed through Dhalwangu and Madarrpa country, and these people may also paint or dance her Dreaming. The part of her story belonging to each clan refers to her activities in that clan’s country. In her travels through Manggalili country, Nyapilingu travelled with Marrngu (possum) and with Guwak (nightbird) making Manggalili totems, giving the people sacred objects and ceremony, and using Wapitja, her digging stick, for stripping bark from trees, and making Manggalili water holes – as she plunged her Wapitja into the ground, water would spring up.
Nyapilingu’s blood is very important. Mourning at the first Manggalili funeral ceremony, she tore her scalp as women do today, and the blood flowed down into the clan waterhole at Djarrakpi. This is the blood of the Manggalili people – Manggalili spirit children come from this waterhole.
The artist’s sister, Naminapu, in talking about Nyapilingu used the following words “Nyapilingu was our woman ancestor. She was really important to Manggalili clan because she travelled all over the place claiming land for Manggalili people, and also for Yirritja yolngu. She was really a special woman because she owned all those places and to us it is really important because every clan should have its own totems. Nyapilingu herself was an important miyalk (woman) because she was the only woman in the rest of the clan group who was really special to us as a woman ancestor. Nge (Yes), for us Yolngu, our land-when you go to Djarrakpi, you see all the wänga (land) that she went through…(Messages come from the wänga: it is like a spirit itself in the land… yolngu talking to land, and land talking to yolngu ga wayin (people and animals). That’s how animals connect to human beings and human beings to land… People that have lived there a long time and then came back, that thing remains there, the spirit, the spirit of the people and land itself. Yes…you can talk to your own land and the spirit can hear you.
(She carried on her head) wutjumunggu (container) with munydjutj (wild plums). Or she used to collect mengdung, snails, big ones…ga yoku (lily bulbs) ga gapu gäma (and carry water)… her dilly bag, she can put it on her head or also this one (wutjumunggu) on top of her head…She was also like a teacher. She showed Manggalili people how to make coolamons … ga digging stick, wapitja, ga raki(string), binggal (small sharp wooden tool) that she used (i.e. to jab her scalp with) when she mourned for … her gurrutumi yol’ngu (relatives), or used it on ngatha (food) like `ä`uk (pandanus fruit) when she opened it.”
Printed June 2015