Bark Painting - Yathikpa by Djambawa Marawili AM

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Title: Yathikpa
Artist: Djambawa Marawili AM
Homeland: Bäniyala / Yilpara
Moiety: Dhuwa
Clan: Yithuwa Maḏarrpa
Size: 84 x 46 cm
Medium: Earth pigments on Stringybark

Artist Djambawa explains the elements of his painting, which incorporates themes of fire and water and describes the ancestral events in which Bäru, the crocodile, plays a central role.

The miny’tji, design, painted in the background of the painting, is a Madarrpa clan design representing both saltwater and fire. Ashes from the fire are depicted in black.

‘Bäru was [camped] at a fire and his wife, Dhamiliŋu, went hunting and got Mänyduŋ, snails. Bäru was sleeping and his wife was eating the snails and throwing the shells on his head. Bäru got wild and threw his wife into the fire.

It was by being burned by the fire following this argument, that Bäru is said to have been scarred badly resulting in the characteristic skin of the crocodile. Bäru , as an important ancestor of the Yirritja moiety, played a role in naming areas of land belonging to various Yirritja clans. ‘Bäru said, “My tribe will be ....”, and gave names to all the places and people. He also went to Maningrida - they have a story for him there but they have different language and different designs. They call themselves Madarrpa people. At Roper there are also people who call themselves Madarrpa. But here, in Bäniyala, I am of the salt water Madarrpa tribe - we have our own language and songs.’

Amongst this design is the following adjunct to the story;

Two Ancestral beings Burrak and Garramatji of the ancient Yirritja took to sea in their dugout canoe from the Blue Mud Bay coastline from Yathikpa to hunt. They prepared their objects of harpooning paraphernalia, manifestations of which are used today in secret ceremony. On seeing Dugong they pursued it. In this area was a submerged rock surrounded by turbulent and dangerous water and it was here that the Dugong took shelter to escape the hunters. The action of the flung harpoon towards the Dugong, hence the rock, enraged the powers that be, causing these dangerous waters to boil from sacred fires from underneath. The canoe capsized, drowning the Ancestral Hunters that were washed to shore with their canoe and hunting paraphernalia. The harpoon changing to the hollow log used for, in this case the first mortuary ceremony for the Madarrpa.
© Copyright.

This artwork has been sourced from Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre- an Indigenous community-controlled art centre in Northeast Arnhem Land located in Yirrkala, a small Aboriginal community, approximately 700km east of Darwin.

About Indigenous Bark Paintings - Ṉuwayak

After the wet season deluge, gaḏayka, the Stringybark tree, is stripped of its bark which is then cured by fire, weighted and left to dry. Ochres and earth pigments in red, yellow, black and white are obtained from well known deposits. A brush made of human hair is made. Then the age-old miny’tji, or sacred designs, belonging to each particular artist and their clan are produced using a meticulous layering of individual strokes to produce a cross hatched pattern readable by those with knowledge as belonging to a particular estate, clan, state of water, moiety and place. The elders have resisted a shift to painting the sacred title deeds of their country on canvas or board using acrylic, opting instead to continue the use of ṉuwayak (bark paintings), or sheets of bark.

Yolŋu Culture and Environment
Yolŋu worldview sees every species of plant, animal, fish, bird or any place or person as belonging to one of the two balancing halves of the world (moieties); Yirritja or Dhuwa. The sacred art of this region details the spiritual forces behind the ongoing Creation and continuing identity of the fresh and saltwater country of the Miwatj region – a very special part of Northern Australia.