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Djirrirra (Yukuwa) Wunuŋmurra: Yukuwa


Details

  • No.:RKS1353
  • Medium:Natural Ochres on Larrakitj
  • Size:212 × 13 cm
  • Year:2017
  • Region:Arnhem Land (East)
  • Art Centre:Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka
  • Status:

Yukuwa is one of the personal names of the artist and Yukuwa is the topic of this work. Almost a self-portrait this motif first arose when she had been challenged about her right to paint Buyku the fishtrap imagery of her own clan and homeland by a family member. Rather than argue she retorted by painting imagery which in one sense is her own personal identity. The complaints inrelation to Buyku evaporated but Djirrirra persists with the Yukuwa imagery with the encouragement of her art centre.

This piece is a reference to Yirritja renewal ceremony which is by definition a shared communion of Yirritja moiety clans which does not relate to circumcision or mortuary rites. Spirits of deceased people are on a cyclical journey from their point of death to the reservoir of souls particular to their clan identity. But at these irregular ceremonies they all congregate for one last dance together before heading their separate ways. There are relationships between Yirritja moiety clans that arerenewed through Yukuwa ceremony at particular sites which relate to the ritual exchange of sacred objects, song and dance.

Yukuwa is a yam whose annual reappearance is a metaphor for the increase and renewal of the people and their land. Traditionally the invitation to such a ceremony is presented as an object in the form of a yam with strings emanating from it with feathered flowers at the end. This is a suggestion of the kinship lines which tie groups together. The site referred to in this piece is in the area between Gangan and the sea known as Balambala described as the next river from Gangan. This is a cleared area which is an ancient ceremonial site at which special men’s ceremony involving both larrakitj (or Dhan’parr- bark coffin) and special yidaki occurred. An ancient hero known as Burruluburrulu danced here.

It is described as a meeting place for Dhalwaŋu, top Madarrpa (Dholpuyŋu) and Munyuku. These ‘renewal’ ceremonies in Yolŋu law occur irregularly when the time is right. They are independent of the funeral, circumcision and age grading ceremonies that occur all the time. They are held at specific natural clearings within the general Stringybark forest that covers most of Arnhem land.

The documentation of a different work detailing the Garma site at Gulkula (which is another of these sites) says as follows; “This piece and the Festival and site itself flag reference to a class of Yirritja renewal ceremony which is by definition a shared communion of Yirritja moiety clans which does not relate to circumcision or mortuary rites. There are relationships between Yirritja moiety clans that are renewed through Yukuwa ceremony at particular sites which relate to the ritual exchange of sacred objects, song and dance.

Yukuwa is a yam whose annual reappearance is a metaphor for the increase and renewal of the people and their land. Traditionally the invitation to such a ceremony is presented as an object in the form of a yam with strings emanating from it with feathered flowers at the end. This is a suggestion of the kinship lines which tie groups together. The other sites which can host such a ceremony besides Gulkula include an area between Gangan and the sea known as Balambala described as the next river from Gangan. This is in the Dhalwaŋu coastal zone known as Garraparra.

Some of the dancers at 2003 Garma (who used a whistle in their ritual call and response) were Dhalwaŋu singing this site. It is described as a meeting place for Dhalwaŋu, top Madarrpa (Dholpuyŋu) and Munyuku. An ancient hero known as Burruluburrulu danced here. There is another naturally cleared site at Rurraŋala which is an analagous ‘ceremony ground of the gods’. These naturally cleared areas are ancient ceremonial sites at which special men’s ceremony involving both larrakitj (or Dhanbarrbark coffin) and special yidaki occurred. Gulkula is another time honoured meeting place for such ceremonies. The stories of such sites also involve Watu (dogs), Garrtjambal (red kangaroos) and Ŋerrk (cockatoos). Ŋerrk are the Yirritja moiety harbingers of death and therefore related to the mortuary aspect of the Larrakitj ceremony. The Gumatj ancestral hero/giant Ganbulabula called and presided over such a ceremony in ancestral time at Gulkula. During the ceremony a member of Dhamala (sea eagle) clan was misbehaving with various giggly young women of Matjurr (flying fox). This distracted people from their sacred observance and caused disharmony amongst the camp.

To express his displeasure and end the behaviour Ganbulabula threw the finely worked memorial pole he had been painting from the edge of the escarpment to the ocean below where it still exists imbuing these waters with special properties. And thus when the stringybark blossom attracting flying fox to the escarpment White breasted Sea Eagles still cruise the edge picking off less careful bats. The Gumatj leaders hold ceremony aimed at unifying people and paint and display Larrakitj. The multidimensionality of sacred time means that the songs of this place relate to the past the present and the future simultaneously.

In any event the conception is that when these ceremonies are held by mortals during the day the spirits conduct their own rituals at night. Indeed their nocturnal activities are often audible in the main camp during such ceremonies. It seems as if it is a necessary part of their farewell to this dimension to have this last ceremony.”

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.

Larrakitj | Lorrkon | Tutini are sculptures made from tree trunks which adapt to room temperature and humidity. Tiny hair cracks are inherent in the nature of the material.
Special provisions apply to this artwork. Reproductions of the artwork and its story in part or in whole in any form require the permission of the artist. We are only too happy to be of assistance in this matter.