Earth pigments on Stringybark
153 x 48cm
Gurala River empties into Buckingham Bay left of the peninsula named on maps after navigator Flinders. This is country called Djawalŋgurr by the Yolŋu is Djambarrpuyŋu clan country.
Close to Ŋoŋu’s homeland – Rorruwuy, the Peter John River (named after a son of Donald Thompson) reaches the sea. The shark generically named Mäna and more specifically named Bulmandji rested here on a sand bar to heal his wounds from a spearing received from the Yirritja.
This was also the residence of the power totem Mäna for the Ḏäṯiwuy clan group. Both were salt water sharks and legend has it compatible according to kinship. However Bulmandji moved on, as players in epic creation journeys do, to the freshwaters of the Dhudi-Djapu homeland at Dhurruputjpi.
The life force within Ḏäṯiwuy freshwater is held in its Sharks jaws.
The basis of this painting is the Däṯiwuy clan design for saltwater agitated into rough sea and foam by the thrashing of the sharks’ tail.
Clan groups most closely associated with Mäna are the Djapu, Djambarrpuyŋu and the Ḏäṯiwuy clans. Mäna is sung and danced with spears at important ritual, sometimes the violent nature of the shark is enacted at Makarrata to settle dispute.
During Wangarr, the time before the first morning, Muriyana a hunter of the Yirritja moiety with his wives were hunting on the beaches of Gurala. Getting oysters the wives saw a large shark on the beach – they informed their husband. Muriyana entered into a state known as Maḏakarritj becoming violently dangerous. Bending his spear over his head in the threatening pose of the warrior he snapped it in two. His anger was now sufficient to kill the shark – Bulmandji.
The deed was done and Bulmandji was butchered at Gurala. The segments of his body are sung today by the various clan groups of the Dhuwa moiety (Ḏäṯiwuy, Dhudi Djapu and Djapu) whose homelands ended up being affected in some way by this death. On the beach Bulmandji’s eyes – Boliny- remained focused on two places, namely Gurala and Waṉḏawuy #1 across Arnhem Bay at the mouth of the Peter John River that is close to the Ḏäṯiwuy homeland of Rorruwuy.
The beaches and saltwater of Gurala became contaminated with the blood and fat of Bulmandji. This attracted the Yothu, children of the shark, the concept of fat in the water a manifestation of the Yothu.
The bands of crosshatching depicting the muddied tidal waters of Arnhem Bay claims ownership to this saltwater country for the Ḏäṯiwuy. The concepts of the washing of tides and altered states of the water is a particularly potent one for the Yolŋu of north east Arnhem Land. The qualities of the saltwater at Gurala are lasting.