Sunday, September 13, 2009

The Tiwi People

Last night this anchorage was really rocking and rolling with about 20-foot tide around midnight that was exacerbated by a fairly strong NW wind. This is the second time this week that we have experienced a NW wind. That is about a month ahead of schedule for the normal monsoons. The transition season is supposed to last until late October, which we are banking on since we soon will be sailing NW to Bali and don't want the wind directly on our nose. Hope the monsoon switch holds off to the normal time and does not switch early this year. It is very hot and very humid and this is nearing the end of the dry season.

The photo on the left depicts some of the rock art found in caves in Arnhem Land, some of which is confirmed more than 20,000 years old. We won't be touring any of the rock art sites because it is simply too expensive.

There are day trips from Cullen Bay Marina ferry dock out to Brathurst and Melville Islands to visit the Tiwi people. I would love to go but am not willing to pay the $630 for such a short trip for such a short time. Yachts are not allowed to visit these islands; the only way to go is on a commercial tour. But $315 each for a just a 60 mile boat trip to the island and back is a bit too steep to my mind. But, oh, I am forgetting. They also serve you morning tea on that boat trip so maybe it is worth that high cost.

Even though we are not going to visit the Tiwi people, I decided to do a bit of research on them. Here is a compilation of various bits of info that I found. If you have no interest, stop reading now.

The Aborigines learned about the origins of the tribes through their Dreamtime creation myths that told of the significant actions of the creators. The myths are the basis of Aboriginal society and are responsible for providing certainty about existence. The Australian aborigines believe that the land they occupied was once vacuous – empty -- and this belief was a source of great mystery to them. It was also a great truth that was known with absolute certainty, because the ancestors had said this was the way things once were. Then, during what has become known as the Dreamtime, the land, the sky above and all they contained were formed by the actions of supernatural and mysterious beings.

Although the Aborigines believe that the Dreamtime was a beginning that never ended, some of their stories tell them that the mythical creators disappeared. They believe that the creators disappeared from the sight of mere mortals, but continue to live in secret places. Some live in the tribe's territory in rock crevices, trees and water holes. Others went up into the sky above as heavenly bodies. Others changed into or became natural forces such as wind, rain, thunder and lightning.

The concept of the Dreamtime was first researched by Spencer and Gillen in their study of the Arunta tribe of Central Australia. They came to understand words identifying a 'creative period'. Other tribes had words in their language for the same concept. As communication between the Arunta people and the scientists improved, it became apparent that the aborigines understood the Dreamtime as a beginning; but it also includes past, present and future. Aboriginal people understood the Dreamtime as a beginning that never ended.

Since Australia is such a vast continent, there are many different Aboriginal tribes spread across the regions. The Tiwi people are one of these. Nearly 2,500 Tiwi live in the Bathurst and Melville Islands (just north of Darwin), which make up the Tiwi Islands. Tiwi art and language are markedly distinct from those of nearby Arnhem Land. Compared with Arnhem Land art, Tiwi art often appears to be abstract and geometric. With its strong patterns and use of color, Tiwi art is considered very attractive and highly collectible.

English is taught at schools as a second language, and the Tiwi communicate principally in their own language. When in mourning, it is part of their beliefs to paint their body and not feed themselves. Another person therefore must feed them. Body painting has been practiced for thousands of years as a part of ceremonies. Tiwi use natural ochre pigments. Notably, some of the Tiwi have large, continuous brow ridges, providing a physical characteristic that is not common among other aboriginal tribes. Hunting for food is still an important part of Tiwi life. On land, they hunt for wallaby, lizards, possums, carpet snakes, pig, buffalo, flying foxes, bandicoot, turtle and seagull eggs and magpie geese. From the sea they hunt for turtle, crocodiles, dugong and fish. Dancing, or yoi as they call it, is a part of everyday life . Tiwi inherit their totemic dance from their mother. Narrative dances are performed to depict everyday life or historical events. The land on both islands is heavily forested. Like all the other Aboriginal lands, visitors are forbidden without first obtaining a landing permit.

The stolen generation saw many indigenous people brought to the Tiwi Islands but not of direct Tiwi descent. The 2008 movie “Australia” starring Nichole Kidman touched on the story of the stolen generation, a government-run program to remove all mixed race children from their aboriginal parents which unbelievably remained in effect until the early 1970s.

The decorative patterning of the Tiwi was also used on tutini (graveposts or Pukumani poles) and tungas (bark baskets). Pukumani poles are shown in the photo on the right. The traditional form of mark making was derived from the creation story Palaneri and associated stories.

Palaneri - The Creation Period
The Tiwi Islands of Bathurst and Melville were created at the beginning of time during the dreaming or Palaneri. Before this time there was only darkness and the earth was flat.
Mudungkala, an old blind woman arose from the ground at Murupianga in the south east of Melville Island. Clasping her three infants to her breast and crawling on her knees she travelled slowly north. The fresh water that bubbled up in the track she made became the tideways of the Clarence and Dundas Straits, dividing the two islands from the mainland.

She made her way slowly around the land mass and then, deciding it was too large, created the Aspley Strait, which divides the Bathurst and Melville slands. Mudungkala then decreed that the bare islands be covered with vegetation and inhabited with animals so that her three children left behind would have food. After the islands were made habitable she vanished. Nobody knows from where she came or, having completed her work, where she disappeared to.

Purrukapali and Bima
Purrukapali was Mudungkala's only son. Every day his wife Bima went out gathering food for him, accompanied by their young son Jinani. In the same camp lived an unmarried man, Japara, who used to persuade Bima to leave her child under the shade of a tree and go into the forest with him. (Uh-oh--- adultery and child neglect even in these old aboriginal stories)

On one very hot day Bima neglected her son too long and he died in the hot sun. On hearing of the child's death, Purrukapali became so enraged that he struck his wife on the head with a throwing stick and hounded her into the forest. In an effort to help the anguished father, Japara promised to restore the dead child to life within three days; but Purrukapali was inconsolable and the two men soon became locked in a deadly struggle.

Purrukapali picked up the dead body of his son and, walking backwards into the sea, he decreed that death should come to the whole world. As his son had died, the whole of creation would die and, once dead, never again would come to life. There was not death before this time.
The place where Purrukapali died, on the east coast of Melville Island, became a whirlpool so strong that anybody who approached it in a canoe would be drowned. (Note that there are very strong eddies in this area due to the strong tidal currents.) When Japara saw what happened he changed himself into the moon. But he did not escape the decree of Purrukapali, for even though his is eternally reincarnated, he has to die for three days every month. One can see on the face of the moon man the wounds that he received in his fight with Purrukapali. Bima, still bearing scars on her head, became Wayai, the curlew bird, that still roams the forest at night, wailing in remorse for her misdeeds and for the child that she lost.

The death of Jinani brought the creation period to a close. This event was marked by the first Pukumani burial ceremony. Tokampini, the father of Bima called all the original creators, men and women, to the ceremony. These mythical beings were taught the rules of behavior and the laws of marriage and tribal relationships that had always to be obeyed. Then the periods of light and darkness were established, determining the cycle of daily events. The creators transformed themselves into various creatures, plants, animals, natural forces or heavenly bodies - and spread across the islands. They are the Tiwi totems.

Ceremonies play an important role in Tiwi culture. Traditionally each ceremony had its own form, which could vary depending upon the circumstances, and these were transmitted orally. Current ceremonies reflect these traditions, while taking account of modern day circumstances. There are two main ceremonial events performed:
• the Kulama (yam) ceremony, and
• the mortuary or Pukumani ceremony (sometimes spelt Pukamani).

The Kulama ceremony occurs towards the end of the wet season. (We are here during the ending of the dry season.) It is a celebration of life and involves three days and nights of ritual body paintings, singing and dancing complete with the eating of yams according to a ritual custom. Concentric circles often appear as the main element of contemporary Tiwi patterns, representing the Kulama circle or ceremonial dancing ground.

The Pukumani ceremony is the Tiwi people's burial ceremony and includes singing, dancing and the making of special carved poles called tutini as well as tungas and arm bands. These large poles are made from the trunk of the ironwood tree and are carved and decorated to celebrate the dead person's life and spiritual journey.

1 comment:

  1. Your blogs are amazing! Feel like we're right there with you. Be safe!!! :)


Your comment will be posted after we confirm that you are not a cyber stalker.