Ramingining, central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia born 1933 /1937
Wagilag Sisters, with child
Ramingining, central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, natural earth pigments on canvas
This painting represents a component of the Wagilag Sisters epic creation story. The upper-left corner of the work shows Wititj the sacred python emerging from its home, Mirarrmina waterhole. Wititj has already swallowed and regurgitated the sisters and their child, and the child is drinking the Mirarrmina water from a mungulk (a paperbark water vessel).
The rarrk roundels in the work are djamundurr or gunda, which are stones. The stones are found surrounding Mirarrmina waterhole and the sisters use the stones for killing goannas to eat.
‘How much goanna? one, two, three, four…buduk (wait)…ﬁve. Five goanna.’ The goannas are djarrka(the Mertens’ water goanna) who live in hollow logs around the waterhole. This goanna is painted as a body design on initiates in high-order ceremonies such as Ngulmarrk and Djungguwan. Not all men make it to this level of ceremonial initiation as it is reserved for the (potentially) more powerful leaders and lawmen.
The triangular shapes are ngambi (stone spearheads) collected from Ngilipitji, a quarry in the region. The women have used their ﬁngernails to prise the rocks from the quarry.
There is a spear under the arm of the sister on the left. The Wagilag Sisters used spears in their time until other people were made and born, when men took over the use of spears for hunting. In the lower right quadrant of the painting there is rinytjangu (yam or bush tucker) next to a stone spearhead, between the legs of the sister on the right.
Both of the Wagilag Sisters are of the Dhuwa moiety. Reputedly the younger sister had fornicated with her brother, giving rise to the child. The child is the ﬁrst Yirritja moiety person. Hence the creation of the Yirritja moiety.
The Wagilag Sisters are central to the four important ceremonies of the Dhuwa moiety: Djungguwan, Gunabibi, Ngulmarrk, Mandaialla. The story is primarily an account of how, in the distant past, the two Wagilag Sisters came out of the southern interior and came across the countryside to the Liyagalawumirr waterhole at Mirramina. There, the younger sister profaned the pool of the great python by accidentally allowing her blood to fall into the waterhole. Because of this the women and the child were swallowed by the python amid thunderstorms and rain – the ﬁrst wet season. The great ﬂood covered the land and all the other sacred pythons stood up with their heads in the clouds and talked to each other with voices like thunder. The python from Guruwana was one of those. He lives in a rocky mud bank where there are many oyster beds. The pythons discovered that they had different languages and skins. The Mirramina python confessed to eating the two women – his own moiety – and fell to earth, making a big depression in the ground. The big wind blew across the land and caused the ﬁrst dry season. The python vomited the women up, but swallowed them again before going back into the waterhole.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra