Barayuwa Munuŋgurr

1980 - Garapana 2022
  • mixed media on incised metal
120 cm x 120 cm

This artist first exhibited engraved reclaimed road signs in the ground breaking exhibition 'Murrŋiny- stories of metal from the east'. This exhibition was held in conjunction with Salon Art Projects at the Northern Centre for Contemporary Art in Darwin in August 2021. It sold out and received national media exposure. Yolŋu have repurposed found metal since first contact with Makassans. Balanda outsiders first knew them as the Murrŋiny a name given to them by neighbouring groups which references their steel spearheads. The Found movement was originated by Gunybi Ganambarr around 2011 when the elders endorsed recycled materials as acceptable to render sacred designs. This is a repurposed sign. It was selected as a finalist in the 2022 NaƟonal Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award. It was exhibited at the Museum and Art Gallery Northern Territory from August of that year. This is the label text; "Ancestors of Barayuwa’s mother clan killed their brother whale Mirinyuŋu and butchered it. They threw their stone knives into the sea which became the reef Garapana. The Octopus Ŋarrpiya guards the reef. Within this design are the knives, limbs and bones of the whale on the beach made sacred with the essence of Mirinyuŋu." In ancestral times, a whale called Mirinyuŋu was living in the ocean at Yarrinya. The whale, being Munyuku, was in its own country. Spirit men called Wurramala or Matjitji lived and hunted in this country. They are classified as Munyuku men but there as been a suggestion that they may be a reference to marooned Indigenous Indonesian whale hunters from Lembata. According to Yolŋu kinship classifications, the whale is the ‘brother’ of these men. They killed their brother Mirinyuŋu, who eventually washed up onto the beach, contaminating it with blood and fat turning putrid. This is how the Wurramala found the whale on the beach. They used stone knives, Garapana. The tail severed from its body, the men then cut the body of the whale into long strips. In (self-)disgust they then threw the knives out to sea. After the Wurramala men had dissected the whale, the stone knives also thought of as being contaminated, were thrown out into the depths of the ocean. The knives are said to have both hit, and then become, a rock which shares the name Garapana. The rock itself is said to be as sharp as a stone knife. This rock, is completely submerged and surrounded by smaller stones under the ocean. The only evidence of the rock is the the swirling waters, called Garrŋgirr or Manbuyŋa, which crash around it, and break in white foam at the waters’ surface. This formed a dangerous and potent hidden reef of the same name. This Garapana place in the ocean is described as being a highly sacred, Maḏayin, place but also a Maḏakarritj, or extremely dangerous place. It is not, however, said to be contaminated in any way by the remains of the whale. Today Yolŋu would never enter these waters to fish or hunt turtle for fear of the dangers this place exudes. It was said: ‘If you go there and throw a fishing line into the water near that stone, the rock will cut the line. It is a highly restricted area. You are not allowed to go there fishing or swimming. You will drown if you go there by boat!’ The rock itself is talked about with an air of mystery. The rock is also the home of the turtle called Wurrwakunha. It is said that the rock must have had an opening at the base of it because the turtle is said to live right inside the rock. Octopus, Maṉḏa or Ŋarrpiya, inhabit these deep waters. The octopus is a totem for both Munyuku and Warramirri clans. Munyuku and Warramirri clans share many totems and perform together in ceremony the only difference between these two clans is that they speak different languages (Dhuwala and Djaŋu respecƟvely) and have different homelands (the Warramirri homeland being Dholtji). More character was given to the rock when it was likened to an anchor, grounded firmly at the boƩom of the ocean to remain there for all Ɵme. The metaphoric anchor was named  ‘Garapana Lawarrwarr’ or ‘knife/rock anchor’. Within the design are the knives, limbs and bones of the whale on the beach made sacred with the essence of Mirinyuŋu. The directions of the bands of miny’tji (sacred clan design) relate to the sacred saltwater of Yarrinya, the chop on the surface of the water and the ancestral powers emanating from it, fratricide, the stench of death, slicks of fat and blood and swarms of flies, regret and grief. With the eventual cleansing act of the knives being flung into the sea. The whale’s tail is seen as Raŋga, sacred ceremonial object, and employed in ceremony. The bones of the whale are also said to have become a part of the rocks in the ocean. Bones are thought of as the essence of a person. From this description it is evident that the rock and the whale are combined in a spiritual manner which is extremely significant to Munyuku people. There may be some echo of a reference to a related Munyuku icon, the anchor - a symbol of rock-like foundation for the family. There is perhaps a hidden reference to the dangers of overconsumption. The resources of highly prized fat in a beached whale are equivalent to gold in a hunting society. But in the temperatures and conditions of the Top End the dangers of contaminations are real. But also a decomposing whale can become a literal bomb and the internet shows videos of massive explosions when the stomach cavity is pierced releasing the pent up gases.

© This work and documentation is the copyright of the artist and Buku Larrnggay Mulka Centre, YIrrkala and may not be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the artist and clan concerned.

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The Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Custodians of Country and recognises their continuing connection to land, sea, culture and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

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