Manggalili people

Yirrkala, North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia born 1947

Yinapunapu at Djarrakpi 1997 Place made: Yirrkala, North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark

Dimensions: 330.0 h x 118.0 w cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1998
Accession No: NGA 98.3
Subject: Aboriginal Australians
Image rights: © the artist courtesy Buku-Larrnggay Mulka
  • The yingapungapu is the elliptical sand sculpture used in the burial ceremonies by the Madarrpa, the Dhalwangu and the Manggalili clans. The setting of the painting is the Manggalili yingapungapu at Djarrakpi on the eastern seaboard of Arnhem Land. In the painting, a series of interconnecting symbols and visual metaphors express the themes of death, contamination and cleansing.

    At the centre, a skeleton lies where the coffin is placed—it has been picked clean by maggots, which are a symbol of purification. In turn, the maggots are eaten by sand crabs. The crabs also eat the remains of the fish upon which the ceremonial participants have fed, before burying their food in the sand, symbolising the internment of the body. The sections of meandering lines are the incoming tides that wash away the footprints of the mourners and the tracks of the crabs. The four circles are fireplaces where the mourners, who have been contaminated by their proximity to the deceased, are purified by smoke. At the end of the ceremony two clouds, depicted as anvil shapes at the top of the painting, rise above the ground to signify the passage of the deceased’s soul to the Milky Way, the Yirritja land of the dead. The clouds bear the cross-shaped breast girdles worn by women. These refer to the ancestral Nyapililngu women who mourned for their brother, Guwak the Koel Cuckoo, who created Djarrakpi. The spears of two ancestral fishermen Yikawanga and Manumiya, associated with Guwak and Djarrakpi, rest against a sacred cashew tree and they also frame the painting.

    Wally Caruana

    Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra 2010
    From: Franchesca Cubillo and Wally Caruana (eds) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art: collection highlights National Gallery of Australia, Canberra, 2010