Earth pigments on Stringybark
69cm x 40cm
Djapu ga Dhudi-Djapu
The cross hatching grid pattern is the sacred design for the freshwaters of the Djapu clan at their homeland Waṉḏawuy, now an outstation about 150 kilometres south of Yirrkala and inland from Blue Mud Bay.
This Djapu clan outstation (and spiritual residence for Ancestral Beings Mäna the Shark and Bol’ŋu the Thunderman) is surrounded by permanent freshwater. Rains inspired by the actions of Bol’ŋu feed the rivers and fill the billabongs. Catfish and mussels, freshwater crayfish and others feed the Yolŋu and wild life. The waters are home for the shark Mäna.
The grid refers to the landscape of Waṉḏawuy – a network of billabongs surrounded by ridges and high banks. Its structure also having reference at one level to woven fish traps. Ancestral Hunters who set a trap here to snare the Shark but to no avail. These Yolŋu are called Bärngbarng and Monu’a who came to cut the trees named Gu’uwu, Gathurrmakarr, Nyenyi, Rulwirrika and Gananyarra – all Dhuwa trees. They used straight young trees. And cut them with their axes called Gayma’arri, Bitjutju.
Areas of the river are staked by the Yolŋu and branches interwoven through them. Then the water is polluted by a particular pulped bark that anaesthetises the Gaṉŋal that hobble to the surface. With nets constructed similarly to the the beak of Gäḻumay the Pelican, the Yolŋu wade through the waters scooping up the fish. It has been fished since Ancestral times. Gaṉŋal the catfish, totem for the Djapu is ceremonially sung as is Gäḻumay the pelican. Both these species frequent the waters of Waṉḏawuy.
Mäna the Ancestral Shark in its epic travels comes through this way. These ancestors try to trap Mäna in the freshwater by means of these traps in the waterways. They fail. The powers and physical strength of the Shark overcome the efforts of mere mortals. Mäna’s ire and thrashing tail smash the trap and muddy the water. They witness however the strength of Mäna and sing his actions, the thrashing of his tail for one, the muddying or contamination of the water.
The grid lines having reference to the trap, the cross hatched squares referring to differing states of the freshwater – the source of Djapu soul. At ceremony appropriate participants for mortuary rites enter the shelter (woven together like the unsuccessful trap) where the deceased has been lying in state. Sacred spears tipped with stingray barbs, manifestations of Mäna’s teeth, stand up alongside the shelter. The sacred song cycles of Mäna in the water at Waṉḏawuy are intoned with music from the Yiḏaki (didjeridu) and Bilma (clapsticks). At the prescribed time at the conclusion of ceremony the dancers crash through the deceased’s shelter imitating the actions of Mäna at the trap. This action has reference to the release of the deceased’s soul, back to the sacred waters of Waṉḏawuy to be reunited with its ancestors awaiting rebirth.
Waṉḏawuy literally means place of the Sharks head where in the larger context of the song cycles of Mäna’s journey his head came to rest after being butchered and distributed through the land.
The Ancestral shark with the generic name of Mäna travelled country belonging to various Dhuwa clans who share ritual song of his journey. His travels started in Dhuwa country for the Djambarrpuyŋu where he lived at Gurala. A Yirritja Ancestor called Murriyana and his wives came to hunt this place. The women, when out to collecting oysters, saw the shark with a special name of Dhakamawuy. The hunter speared the Shark, wounding him. Mäna left the country to travel an epic journey which is sung and at times reenacted by Dhuwa clan participants in ceremony.
He travelled, as great Creator Ancestors do, under ground to surface through water at various points of significance in north east Arnhem Land. At one such place in Yirritja land near Gaṉgaṉ he “heard the water coming through”. Mäna decided to leave this place and water for his waku (important kin relationship to the opposite moiety through a close female) he re-emerged not so far away at a place named Waṉḏawuy #1, where he hit his head on a rock that marks this spot today. This is spoken of as Mäna transferring some power to the rock hence this place. Mäna moved on, as he had to many other places and on to many more including the islands of Groote and surrounds.
His resting place, however is this area of freshwater belonging to the Dhudi-Djapu clan. The waters of the great Wayawu river that usually are spoken of with a Maŋgalili/Yirritja clan reference ran into this place Rinydjalngu, so then the Shark, imbuing ownership to the Dhuwa. This is made clear by understanding that the sacred clan design woven into this panel represents the power of Gunduyŋuru in the freshwater belonging to the Dhudi – Djapu.
In this lower reach of the Wayawu the water banks up into massive billabongs of which Rinydjalngu is part. Feeling the need to rest, settle and populate the Shark swam through a special thicket of water palm, sung as Darraŋgi that ceased his travels. This design is based upon this plant.