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Picturing jarnpa

Warlpiri Drawings: Remembering the Future

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Picturing jarnpa

Jarnpa – malevolent beings, who on occasion seem to be wholly immaterial and to possess miraculous powers, yet have many human qualities and frailties.

Mervyn Meggitt, 1955

A photo of Abe Jangala dancing.
Abe Jangala (centre) dancing, Hooker Creek, 1953-54. Photo: Mervyn Meggitt. Meggitt Collection, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, N0390.125.

Jarnpa or spirit beings

Warlpiri recognise many kinds of spirit beings who occupy and move through their country. Some are greeted as kin, ancestors and guardians of places and people, but others pose grave danger. Warlpiri men told Meggitt that jarnpa, the malevolent beings in these pictures, live in the sandhill country and are capable of moving across vast distances at extraordinary speed.

They are invisible to Warlpiri, but ngankari (medicine men), dogs and kardiya (Europeans) can see them. Jarnpa have the power to abduct, kill or transform their victims into jarnpa. Meggitt was entranced by Jangala’s and Jungarrayi’s drawings that depict creatures they had not seen in embodied form.

'Jarnpa (demon)', 1953-54, by Larry Jungarrayi, Hooker Creek.
'Jarnpa (demon)', 1953-54, by Larry Jungarrayi, Hooker Creek. Meggitt Collection, Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
Meggitt's documentation of Larry Jungarrayi's drawing.
Mervyn Meggitt's documentation of Larry Jungarrayi's drawing (left) published in 'Djanpa among the Walbiri', Anthropos, vol. 50, 1955.

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