Earth pigments on Stringybark
97 x 48 cm
Yolŋu sacred songs tell of the first rising clouds on the horizons – the first sightings for the year of the Macassan praus’ sails. The grief felt at the time of Macassan trepangers returning to Sulawesi with Bulunu (the S.E winds of the early Dry season) is correlated with the grief at the passing from life of a death in the clan. The return of the Macassans with Luŋgurrma (the Northerly Monsoon winds of the approaching Wet) is an analogue of the rebirth of the spirit following appropriate mortuary ritual. Some of the Macassan language has been adopted into the Yolŋu vocabulary and in some cases genealogies shared. It is probable that Yolŋu seamanship was learnt from the Macassan and it was only a generation or so ago that Yolŋu travelled the coast in dugout canoes, some fitted with Macassan styled sail.
Gurrumuru is another homeland for the Dhalwaŋu. Many of the Ŋarrkala group of Dhalwaŋu moved to Gurrumuru with the great Nyepayŋa, Yumutjin’s father as part of the homeland movement in the seventies. As with Gäṉgaṉ, Gurrumuru is located on permanent sacred water. The Gurrumuru River is ancient and from its end on Arnhem Bay, up into the tidal plains, tributaries are lined with dense mangroves and primeval mud before giving way to pockets of rain forest then open woodland where the community live.
The Macassan trepangers made annual visits up stream to Gurrumuru and made base there to prepare the trepang harvested on the shores of Arnhem Bay for their Asian markets. Over centuries of amiable annual visitation the Maccasans had some influence over the dynamism of Yolŋu culture. Although (according to senior lawmen the sacred clan designs or miny’tji for these estates at Gurrumuru have been all but lost, Yumitjin and Nawurapu as senior for their clan have revived what was left of Gurrumuru miny’tji, sacred clan design (of zig-zagged triangles representing the clouds forming on the horizons – a change of season – of the Maccasan praus returning) and incorporated other elements from the bush and from Gurrumuru mythology stemming from dance and song and recounted tales of the Maccasan coming to these areas up until the beginning of this century.
In 2016 Nawurapu took a monochromatic version of these triangular cloud designs (which are shared by all Yirritja clans and relate to the water cycle of souls going from ocean to vapour to cloud to freshwater rain rebirth) and used them to decorate his mokuy (spirit sculpture). He then also used them on larrakitj (memorial poles for the first time). In other contexts they speak of massive cumulo-nimbus thunderheads decorated with the blacks of storm, the yellow of the suns rays and the red of the sunset.