'When we paint, it's got meaning'

'When we paint, it's got meaning'
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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Wanyubi Marika (Dhuwa moiety) explains that the poles he is painting represent his father, Jacky Milirrpum, and his father's younger brother Roy Dadaynga Marika. In his lifetime, Wanyubi's father was the third elder or clan leader of the Rirratjingu mala.

When the poles are completed, there are five days of ritual held at the ceremonial ground in the community before the poles are finally carried out and erected on the ground. Here they act as a reminder of the law and of two men, Jacky Milirrpum and Roy Dadaynga Marika.

Boys, men and women paint their bodies with traditional designs. At the men's camp, the boys are initiated into the Law. The final part of the ceremony is led by the women as they weep in memory of the two men.

The substance of Yolngu ceremonies is the enactment of the events and actions of the ancestral beings who created the land and a restatement of the laws that they made. This is manifested through the songs, dances, paintings, objects and sequences of action that make up ceremonial performances.

To the Yolngu these are not only means of expression, but also part of the essence of ancestral beings themselves. They provide a connection with the world of the ancestral past.

Each clan possesses a set of songs, paintings and sacred objects that can be referred to collectively as the clan 'madayin' or sacred Law. The clan's sacred Law relates to the action and evidences of the major ancestral beings who created the clan's land.

The Law of each clan is linked to, and overlaps with, the comparable Law of several other clans of the same moiety. This is because the Law refers to the ancestral beings whose journeys always covered the territories of more than one clan.

This excerpt comes from the documentary Djungguwan – Speaking to the Future (Trevor Graham, 2002).

This is an excerpt from the 2006 Film Australia National Interest Program DVD, Ceremony: The Djungguwan of Northeast Arnhem Land, produced in association with Denise Haslem Productions. It was made in collaboration with Yirrkala Dhanbul Community Association and the Rirratjingu Association.