Earth pigments on Stringybark hollow pole
261 x 20cm
Garrapara ga Baraltja
There are two designs on this pole. One is Garrapara (zigzag) and one is Baraltja (eliptical).
Every season, the systems that feed the mangrove creek of Baraltja (home of Burrut’tji, the Lightning Snake) bring in the new season freshwaters. One source is from the Dhalwaŋu clan estates of Gäṉgaṉ depicted by this diamond design. As it does Burrut’tji ‘tastes” the first freshwater coming down. At this the Lightning Snake at its residence stands on its tail and spits lightning into the storm. Incoming waters flood first the plains then the mangrove lined creeks that finally empty into the sea. Leaves of the mangroves fallen into the water bank up on the surface in fields of red, yellow and black known as Motu. The serpent has been depicted spitting lightning. This action shows communication between the different lightning snakes of different Yirritja clans located hundreds of miles away which is seen in the lightning. They are located to the East and south West and this is why the snakes indicate direction in a mirrored way. In ancestral times, Burrut’tji travelled underground to Gäṉgaṉ (homeland of the Dhaḻwaŋu people) and other places far away from his home and into country belonging to other clans including the Maŋgalili. The spine of the snake is important as it was laid underwater as part of a fish trap made by ancestral Yirritja. It is the ancestral remains of this trap that cause a natural barrage across the tidal creek leading out of Baraltja that concentrates the flow from the plain banking up the motu (fallen mangrove leaves) at this site. The water rat is a colleague and food source of Mundukul. In mortuary ceremonies held for Yolŋu in the past, a hollow log was used to contain the bones of the deceased. Burrut’tji is closely associated with the hollow log in mortuary ceremonies. Burrut’tji and his home are most sacred aspects of the ceremony which would be conducted only by elder men. Women would not be able to enter the area of the ceremonial ground used to represent Burrut’tji’s home – the journey of the spirit of the deceased Maḏarrpa person begins from this site. In the less restricted sections of this story, both men and women dance the fish, birds, mangrove leaves, fish trap, dogs, tide lines and other elements and tell the same story through song and dance. In summary, the diamond based field which includes an elliptical shape is the muddied freshwater of the bottom Dhalwaŋu clan downstream from Gangan. The conception that this flows out through Baraltja (a small mangrove creek in a different watercouse) is actually technically possible at the time of Wet Season inundation of the floodplains behind the mangroves where an expanse of water up to 50km long can exist connecting the two. But the real connection being mapped is that between the Dhalwangu and their mother’s mothers- the Madarrpa. The artist said that Burrut’tji has a place at Gangan and this site mirrors the one at Baraltja, side by side.
Garrapara is a coastal headland and bay area within Blue Mud Bay. It is known on the maps in English a Djalma Bay. It marks the spot of a sacred burial area for the Dhalwangu clan and a site where dispute was formally settled by Makarrata (a trial of ordeal by spear which settled serious grievance and sealed the peace forever). At Garrapara sacred Casuarina trees held these barbed spears whilst not in use.
Makani the Queenfish hugs the shore almost beaching itself as it attacks schools of baitfish and has actually formed the features of the coastline of Djalma Bay.
During the creation times of the ‘first mornings’ ancestral hunters left the shores of Garrapara in their canoe towards the horizon hunting for turtle. Sacred songs and dance narrate the heroic adventures of these two men as they passed sacred areas, rocks and saw ancestral totems on their way. Their hunting came to grief, with the canoe capsizing and the hunters being drowned. The bodies washed back to the shores of Garrapara with the currents and the tides, as the Wangupini (maternal Thunderhead cumulo- nimbus cloud) followed with its rain and wind. Their canoe with paddle and their totems Makani (Queenfish) and Minyga (Long Tom) and Gärun (Loggerhead Turtle) are all referred to in the songs and landscape.
Garrapara has been rendered by the wavy design for Yirritja saltwater in Blue Mud Bay called Mungurru. The Mungurru is deep water that has many states and connects with the sacred waters coming from the land estates by currents and tidal action. This sacred design shows the water of Djalma Bay chopped up by the blustery South Easterlies of the early Dry season.
The miny’tji (sacred clan design) on this piece identifies the Dhalwaŋu saltwater estate of Garrapara on Blue Mud Bay. Here is the sacred site for the Dhalwaŋu Yiŋapuŋapu, a mortuary based sand sculpture used for the initial rites of the dead. The deceased placed within the Yiŋapuŋapu’s elliptical confines has its own contamination kept at bay.
Yingapungapu used in ritual by the Maŋgalili, Madarrpa and the Dhalwaŋu clans. Detail in its construction identifies particular clan ownership thus tenure to its particular site, Dhalwaŋu saltwater country at Garrapara, a peninsula within Blue Mud Bay.
A giant tide that capsized the ancestral Hunters canoe called Yinikambu washed it back to shore from the waters there out deep, to cleanse the site of Yiŋapuŋapu, the waters then imbued with the deceased’s Dhalwaŋu life force washes back out to the sanctified saltwaters of Garrapara.
In the songs the hooked spears sit under the Mawurraki (Casuarina) trees at the place Bati’wuy and conjur the connections between the ancient mariners and the law of mortuary for Dhalwangu. At the conclusion of the ceremony participants feast with Yambirrku (Parrot fish) within the ground. Gunyan the sand crab cleanse and renew. It is happening in the distant time before time and also in the present and the far future.
The songs include reference to the maternal Thunderhead cloud Waŋupini and suggest the presence of Nyapiliŋu the ancestral female being who travelled from Groote Eyelandt. The saltwater on the horizon has to metamorphose through a different dimension becoming vapour in order to overcome the obstacle of mortality to be absorbed as life giving freshwater in the belly of the mother. These clouds then cross the coast and rain life into the hinterland behind the beach which flows down through the rivers to the sea again. Thus the water traces the spiritual kinship connections of the artist’s identity, and leaves a metaphor for the cycle of life. The painting records both of these aspects as well as the political and physical geography of this area. The Makarr or ceremonial spears make this site a centre for dispute resolution.
The Larrakitj had its traditional use for the Yolŋu of North east Arnhem Land as an ossuary or bone container erected as a memorial to a dead kinsman up to a decade after death. After death the body of the deceased was often ceremonially placed on a raised platform and left to the elements for an appropriate time. The area would then be abandoned until the next stage of the ritual.
This took place once it was determined that the essential eternal spirit of the deceased had completed its cyclical journey to the spring from which it had originated and would in time return again. This might be several years. Whilst the body was ‘lying in state’ others got wind of the death, perhaps by subliminal message and made preparations to journey to the site of mortuary. Usually enough time had elapsed for the bones of the deceased to be naturally cleansed on the platform. The essence of the soul within the bone was made ready for final rites when other outside participants necessary for its safe journey arrived. Ritual saw the bones of the deceased placed within the termite hollowed memorial pole for final resting. Mortuary ritual would end with the placement of the Larrakitj containing the bones standing in the bush. Over time the larrakitj and its contents would return to mother earth.
The Larrakitj has often been referred to as the mother’s womb. Once sedentary mission communities were established in Arnhem Land it became impractical to abandon permanent communities and outlawed to expose corpses on platforms. However the cosmology of the Yolŋu and the essence of ritual mortuary ceremony remains just as important. Larrakitj continue to be produced as the equivalent of headstones or to contain the personal effects of a deceased (which might be dangerous unless removed from the living because of the emanations imbued by contact with the deceased).
A further role for this cultural form is as a fine art object and an instructional tool for younger generations. Artworks of this nature have multiple layers of metaphor and meaning which give lessons about the connections between an individual and specific pieces of country (both land and sea), as well as the connections between various clans but also explaining the forces that act upon and within the environment and the mechanics of a spirit’s path through existence. The knowledge referred to by this imagery deepens in complexity and secrecy as a person progresses through a life long learning process.