Image: 39 x 49.5cm Paper: SOMERSET 56 x 76cm
Long ago, two spirit men called Djirrawit and Nyåluŋ made a fish trap (Dhawurr) in the Gurriyalayala River at Waṉḏawuy. The fish trap was made of upright posts forked at the top with a long crosspiece sitting in the forks. The space between was filled in with more upright sticks (Dharpa) interwoven with horizontal sticks.
Then Djirrawit and Nyåluŋ cut pieces of bark from the Dhaŋgi tree, pounded them to release the poison, and threw them into the river. The poison in the bark turned the water black and stunned the catfish (Gaṉŋal).
To collect all the stunned fish they used their fishing spears (Gara) and double-sided triangular fishing nets (Ganybu) made of bush string (Raki’). Djirrawit and Nyåluŋ got the idea for the special shape of these nets from watching pelicans (Galumay) catching fish in their big bills.
Yolŋu people learned from the two spirit men how to catch fish this way, and still do sometimes when there is a big gathering of people needing much food.
The central motif to this work represents the Ganybu or hand held net used to scoop fish out of these waters in the style of a pelicans beak.
Gaḻumay is the pelican that inhabits the flood plains. When the waters begin to dry up and the waterholes become smaller, the cat fish called Ganal are hunted by Gaḻumay. Both the Djapu and Dhudi-Djapu sing in ceremony Gaḻumay and Gaṉŋal as totemic species and for increase.
The songs of Galumay connect between this and a salt water area both visited by Galumay.
The sacred Bungul (dance) and Manikay (song) which embodies Galumay is reserved for very special occaisions in Djapu clan life. Much of the underlying symbolism relies on references to the Pelican’s ability to catch fish with its huge bill. In hunting yabbies in the crocodile infested billabongs the women and children fan out like Pelicans and create a ‘dragnet’ which leaves little behind. Djapu clansmen have always used a triangular, scissor-like net made from the bark of the Kurrajong to catch fish imitating their ancestral relation the Pelican.
If a member of the clan has offended against another and is required to be brought to account under Yolŋu law the Djapu escorting him to the place of justice will dance the Pelican relying on the qualities of gentle shepherding inherent in the fishing style and bill of this great hunter.
And lastly but most importantly once the long and complicated mortuary rituals of the Yolŋu are completed and the spirit of their departed kinsman has been ‘sung’ through the ancestral songlines of his kinship country back to the ‘island of the dead’, Buralku, it is the Pelican or fishtrap which catches the soul of the deceased and guides it to its destination and final resting place.
The identity of Djapu clansperson and country is formed by these constant references in song,ceremony and everyday life to the being and personality of Galumay, not to mention the large numbers of Pelicans who make this area their home. The Djapu and Pelicans continue to share their age-old homeland.
Printed May 2017