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The Djang'kawu ancestors

The Djang'kawu ancestors

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This Djang'kawu is a very important narrative, belonging to the Dhuwa group. Djang'kawu related it, Djang'kawu directly imparted it. Our Djang'kawu, our Djang'kawu, this is ours only. The base, foundation, culture, our Djang'kawu, the base of the Dhuwa moiety only, of the Dhuwa moiety and its various songs.


Milirrpum Marika, 1983.

An Australian Indigenous painting on bark. The bark is arranged in landscape format ie the longest sides are horizontal. The painting consists of many traditional line patterns. Near the centre is a figure in a rowing boat. The colours in the painting are mainly earth tones ie reds, browns and ochres. The brown of the bark can be seen around the edge of the painting.
Mawalan 1 Marika. Arrival of the Djang'kawu 1968. Natural pigments on bark
52 x 121 cm. Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.
An Australian Indigenous painting on bark. The bark is arranged in portrait format ie the vertical sides are longer than the horizontal sides. The painting consists of eight main sections which are filled with many short traditional white line patterns. There are several animals represented in the painting; they appear to be goannas. The other colours of the painting are mainly earth tones ie ochres and browns.
Milirrpum Marika. Djanggawul at Mauwulanggal 1967. Natural pigments on bark 163 x 63 cm. Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory.

 

 

The Djang'kawu Brother and his two Sisters Bitjiwurrurru and Madalatj belong to the most geographically extensive and arguably most important narrative tradition in the Miwatj area.

They started out from Burralku in the east, paddling through the darkness with only the Morning Star to guide them. When they reached the shores of Yalangbara the sun rose to herald the birth of the world. Looking back they saw the sun's rays illuminating the sky and felt its warmth on their skin.

 

Yes, the sun has risen for us ... We have finally arrived at our destination, they said to each other. They picked up their clapsticks and sang about the sun and its warming rays, celebrating their journey and the creation of the land.

Originally the sisters were the owners of ceremonial law and travelled with their digging sticks (mawalan or djota), feathered regalia and sacred objects (rangga) secreted in their conical baskets and mats (nganmarra).

Their seemingly ordinary objects transformed into different landforms along the way – feathered string became sand ridges, the mat transformed into an island, clap sticks (bilma) became rocky outcrops while their digging sticks sprouted into a variety of trees after being used to create freshwater wells.


Two colour photographs, side by side, showing rocky outcrops in an ocean. The left side photograph shows two elongated outcrops close to each other. They appear to have relatively flat tops. The ocean around them is blue-green in colour. The right side photograph shows a single outcrop, in the centre of the image. This outcrop is smaller and rounded; its top appears to be more undulating. Blue-green ocean also surrounds this outcrop.
Left: Walinyina, granite islands representing the Sisters' clap sticks.
Right: Nganmarra, a rocky island in Lalayuy Bay, represents the Sisters' mat.
An Australian Indigenous painting on bark. The bark is arranged in portrait format ie the vertical sides are longer than the horizontal sides. The painting is divided into four main areas. Each area is filled with traditional patterns and representations of animals and humans. The colours in the painting are earth tones ie reds, browns, yellows and ochres.
Mawalan 1 Marika. Djang'kawu Creation Story 1959. Natural pigments on bark
188 x 64.8 cm. Art Gallery of New South Wales.

 

 

 

As they went the Djang'kawu named and sang about the various animals they encountered. They saw the sand goanna and its tracks on gleaming white sands at Yalangbara and claimed it as one of their sacred clan designs (miny'tji).

One of the seminal events that occurred at Yalangbara was not only the shaping of the environment but also the birth of the first children by the pregnant Bitjiwurrurru. This occurred high in the central dune complex at a place named Balma that is regarded today as a restricted site.

After giving birth to the Rirratjingu clan and bestowing upon them their language and ownership of Yalangbara, the Djang'kawu performed the first Ngarra ceremony, one of the major regional rituals performed in north-east Arnhem Land.

 

They sat down there and prepared a Ngarra ceremonial ground for themselves [at Balma]. They rested there thinking about what they would do with their sacred objects. What are we going to do? We'll leave the djota here standing in the ground with all the sacred objects on it.

From the eastern or sunrise side of Yalangbara the Djang'kawu travelled westwards towards the sunset side creating freshwater wells, landforms, while singing and naming the plants and animals they encountered.

At Wapilina Island in Lalawuy Bay they came across the Macassar-like Bayini processing trepang in their big cooking pots. The Djang'kawu asked them to leave their Rirratjingu Dhuwa moiety land and move to their own Yirritja moiety country.

An Australian Indigenous painting on bark. The bark is arranged in portrait format ie the vertical sides are longer than the horizontal sides. In the top half of the painting, a human figure is depicted standing between two tall columns, each banded with traditional line patterns. More traditional line patterns are in the remainder of the painting. The colours of the painting are earth tones ie browns and ochres. White pigment has been used in many of the line patterns.
Roy Dadaynga Marika. The Djang'kawu at Port Bradshaw, c1976. Natural pigments on bark, 168 x 83 cm. Australian National University, Canberra.
They are noisy, singing and cooking trepang (dharripa) at Wapilina. These strangers [the Bayini] tried to rename Wapilina with their own Yirritja name. They could be dangerous and it could be a trap ... 'We must go there and tell them to leave and go to the other side [of Yalangbara].' 'Yes, Sister.'

So they went over to meet these people, walking on until they reached Wapilina. The people turned and looked at the Sisters walking towards them covered with their sacred feather decorations and objects ... The two Sisters said to them, 'Who are you to occupy our land? Leave this place and go to the other side and collect trepang there!'

Mawalan 1 Marika 1965

 

Continuing on, the Djang'kawu passed out of Rirratjingu territory and continued westward shaping the land and giving birth to other Dhuwa moiety clans across north-east Arnhem Land. 

These clan groups are all linked today by their common ancestral legacy and come together on important occasions to perform their particular segment of the Djang'kawu narrative.