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Nawurapu Wunuŋmurra: Mapiny Mokuy III


  • No.:RKS1441
  • Medium:Ironwood
  • Size: 169 cm
  • Year:
  • Region:Arnhem Land (East)
  • Art Centre:Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka
  • Status:

This is a spirit who is sung and danced in Yolŋu law as Mokuy or Nanuk. Once the deceased has been exposed or buried and the flesh has disappeared the bones are placed in a larrakitj or hollow memorial pole. The characteristics of the spiritual component of this being is that they are this without bones and loose and floppy. They dance funny. This sculpture is one of these spirits. But what is unique about this series of Mapiny Mokuy is that they are the first made from Ironwood to be made

and sold publicly. Nawurapu has made such figures in Kapok painted with earth pigments and in bronze but never before (at least publicly) in the timber which is normally reserved for clapsticks and sacred objects. The artist says about this work:

“These are happy spirits. They are going home. The mokuy or nanuk (spirits) come in together, Dhuwa and Yirritja to the sacred ground called Balambala, past Gangan, the other side, for all the mokuy to get together. The spirits go there and that’s where they make the yidaki sound. It’s like showing Yukuwa (sacred yam emblem) and Morning Star feathers – they are different. Like same goes with yidaki, different sounds for Yirritja and Dhuwa. The Yirritja and Dhuwa play yidaki to call in the Mokuy to the same ground Balambala. The Yirritja mokuy come in on the birds, djilawurr (scub fowl) and bugutj-bugutj (banded fruit dove). The Dhuwa mokuy they come in from rangi side (saltwater).”

He responds to the question whether this work is traditional in the affirmative. This indicates that there are sacred objects of the same appearance within the closed world of Yolŋu cabinet (Ŋärra’). There are ‘renewal’ ceremonies in Yolŋu law irregularly when the time is right that are independent of the funeral, circumcision and age grading ceremonies that occur all the time. For the Yirritja they are announced by the delivery of a sculptured wooden yam with feathered vines by way of invitation. 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 are as follows; 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 Dhanbarr- bark coffin) and special yidaki occurred. Gulkula is another time honoured meeting place for such ceremonies. The stories of such sites also involve Waṯu (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 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.

Mokuy | Mimih | YawkYawk are sculptures made out of wood 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.