Territory Stories

Yalangbara: art of the Djang'kawu



Yalangbara: art of the Djang'kawu


Marika, Laklak; Marika, Banduk 1954-; Malgorzewicz, Anna; Marika, Mawalan 1; Isaacs, Jennifer; Bagshaw, Geoffrey; Morphy, Howard; Stanton, John E; Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory


Marika, Banduk; West, Margie


E-Publications; E-Books; PublicationNT




Yalangbara' is the first Indigenous art publication to focus upon one significant ancestral site. It has been produced on behalf of members of the Rirratjingu clan to celebrate Yalangbara (Port Bradshaw), the landing site of the Djang'kawu ancestors; the law-givers and progenitors of the people throughout north-east Arnhem Land. Their creative activities are depicted by three generations of talented Marika artists, including Mawalan 1, Mathaman, Milirrpum, Roy, Wandjuk, Banduk, Dhuwarrwarr, Mawalan 2, Jimmy Barrmula and Wanyubi Marika. The accompanying text examines aspects of Yolngu (Aboriginal) aesthetics and material culture, history, myth, land ownership and copyright to show the complex interrelationship of these themes in Yolngu life. Margie West AM holds the honorary position of Emeritus Curator of Aboriginal Art at the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. She is an anthropologist with over thirty years of curatorial experience in Indigenous art. Since 1972 she has curated over forty semi-permanent and touring Aboriginal art exhibitions and has published extensively on Aboriginal art. Some of the recent publications she has edited include 'Transitions' (2000), 'Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award: Celebrating 20 years' (2004), 'ReCoil, Change and Exchange in Coiled Fibre Art' (2007), she was also co-editor with Hetti Perkins on the 'One Sun One Moon' publication (2006).


produced in partnership with Banduk Marika and other members of the Rirratjingu clan, north-east Arnhem Land; Indigenous people are respectfully advised that names and images of deceased people appear in the following pages. These have been reproduced with the consent of appropriate family members.

Table of contents

ntroduction/? Anna Malgorzewicz -- Journey of the Djang'kawu/? Mawalan 1 Marika -- The Marika family: guardians of Yalangbara, descendants of the Djang'kawu/? Jennifer Isaacs -- The physical and cultural dimensions of the Yalangbara area/? Geoffrey Bagshaw -- Yalangbara: the paintings/? Howard Morphy --Singing the land: the crayon drawings on brown paper collected by Ronald M and Catherine H Berndt/? John E. Stanton -- The sanctity of ordinary objects: material items of the Djang'kawu/? Margie West -- The counterfeit case/? Margie West -- Artist biographies




1905 - Visual Arts and Crafts; 1601 - Anthropology; Indigenous; Art; Northern Australia; Art, Aboriginal Australian; Rirratjingu (Aboriginal people)--Northern Territory--Yirrkala

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Charles Darwin University Press (CDU Press)

Place of publication



206 pages : colour illustrations, portraits, map ; 28 cm.

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9780980384673; 980384672



Copyright owner

Copyright for each chapter is held by the author or authors of that chapter



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https://hdl.handle.net/10070/816698 [Front cover : Yalangbara: art of the Djang'kawu]

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41 Gulurunga) they created additional subsurface freshwater sources. On nearby Wapilina, a small granite island in the centre of Port Bradshaw bay (Lalawuy), the Djangkawu subsequently encountered the lighter-skinned Yirritja moiety beings known as Bayini, whom they drove off by claiming the entire area as Rirratjingu territory. In this district, too, they left behind further newborn children. (As a result of certain activities believed to have been undertaken by the Djangkawu at Wapilina, access to the entire island is today strictly limited to initiated men.) Many additional sites located on and around the central western and north-western shores of Port Bradshaw bay (Lalawuy), as well as in the nearby hinterland, were subsequently visited by the Djangkawu before they eventually journeyed beyond Rirratjingu territory. Linear designs representing the shining, shifting sands of the high sandhills are an important thematic element in much of the art associated with the Yalangbara area, as indeed are stylised depictions of the closely associated sand goanna and its distinctive tracks (luku) through the dunes. Importantly, both the miwiyal (eastern/windward) and gulnga (western/leeward) slopes of the Yalangbara dunes are accorded their own, area-specific, sand-patterns an exquisitely nuanced symbolic distinction which is also extended to ceremonial items such as feathered armbands (barka/wanayawarra) and headbands (burrkuwurrku). Another key motif the sacred mawalan of the Djangkawu (implements that also symbolise the beings themselves) is itself often shown in direct association with the sacred sandhills.23 The Yalangbara area, then, is a locality of the utmost religious significance for all Yolngu people, including those of the Yirritja moiety, whose mothers are, or were, all Dhuwa. As the persons most closely identified with it, Rirratjingu traditional owners who refer to their broader estate as their foundation country (luku ngayi; that is, the source and sustaining ground of their spiritual, physical and sociocultural identity) have a particular responsibility to protect and maintain, as well as to speak for, this area on behalf of all members of Yolngu society (including future generations). It is a duty they continue to respect and fulfil, not least by consistently affirming and underscoring the areas unique cultural attributes within the context of their superlative visual art. 1 Aspects of the cultural significance of the Yalangbara area have previously been documented in varying detail by several non-Aboriginal observers, among them being anthropologists, linguists, missionaries and art commentators; see, for example, Berndt (1952), Mountford (1956), Chaseling (1957), Poignant (1967), Wells (1971), Allen (1975), Isaacs (1980, 1984), Lee (1984), Hutcherson (1995) and Schebeck (2001). The late Wandjuk Marika, a Rirratjingu ceremonial leader, has also discussed the Yalangbara area in his autobiographical Life Story (Jennifer Isaacs with Marika 1995). Although broadly informed by understandings gleaned from each of these sources and, indeed, from a variety of more general ethnographic works on the north-east Arnhem Land region (most notably Warner [1937], Williams [1986], Morphy [1991] and Keen [1994]), the present essay is primarily based upon my own fieldwork in 19992000. Consequent upon that work, the Yalangbara area was formally listed on the Register of the National Estate in 2003. The entire area is also independently registered as a sacred site with the Northern Territory Aboriginal Areas Protection Authority. I am especially grateful to the following individuals for the provision of relevant cultural information: Banduk Marika, Mawalan 2 Marika, Laklak Yunupingu-Marika, Dhuwarrwarr Marika, Rarriwuy Marika, Wanyubi Marika, and Yalmay Yunupingu-Marika. Most of the accompanying photographs of the Yalangbara area were taken by Grant Gambley Dhatumula. 2 Not included here are (a) a small area of the lower central south-western portion of the Yalangbara peninsula, (b) the immediate north-western approaches to the peninsula and (c) the southern waters of Lalawuy (Port Bradshaw). In each case, these localities are associated with the (mythologically distinct) Yirritja moiety Gumatj bapurru. Further excluded are the extreme south-western coast and southern tip of the peninsula which, together with a limited area located near the peninsulas north-central approaches, are identified with the Dhuwa moiety Galpu bapurru. Each of these latter zones is either certainly or, as in the case of the south-western coast, probably associated with another (i.e. other than the Djangkawu) Dhuwa moiety mythological tradition. 3 The Rirratjingu estate also incorporates additional areas in and around Yirrkala, Nhulunbuy and Bremer Island. 4 R David Zorc, Yolngu-matha Dictionary, School of Australian Linguistics, Darwin Institute of Technology, Batchelor, 1986; Bernhard Schebeck, Dialect and Social Groupings in Northeast Arnhem Land, Lincom Studies in Australian Languages 07, Lincom Europa, Munich, 2001, p. 16.

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