Tiwi people

Australia 1927 – 1987

Tutini [Pukumani pole] 1984 Place made: Bathurst Island, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: sculptures, natural earth pigments on ironwood

Dimensions: 286.0 h 21.0 diameter cm
Acknowledgement: Purchased 1984
Accession No: NGA 84.1265
  • Among the Tiwi of Bathurst and Melville Islands, one of the major ceremonial cycles is that of Pukumani or burial. Moreover, Pukumani is a state of mourning that affects all those associated with the deceased. During this period a number of prohibitions come into effect, such as a ban on uttering the deceased’s name, eating certain foods and so on. Depending on the ritual and social status of the deceased, a number of Pukumani poles, called tutini, surround the grave.

    Tutini are carved from dense ironwood and painted with clan and ancestral designs associated with the deceased. The tutini are carved in a tier of changing shapes with an emphasis on negative forms, as in this tutini by Adams, although the shapes and painted designs on this pole are innovative.[1] The overall shape of tutini is intended to suggest the human form. The process of making a tutini involves charring the pole once the initial carving is complete. Then the artist works in a fixative or binder to produce a black ground on which the designs are painted. The ground colour of the pole is analogous to human skin.

    A formal group of tutini was installed in the Sculpture Garden for the opening of the National Gallery in 1982. The installation in the open air had the approval of the makers, and the subsequent weathering of these poles reflects the practice in burial ceremonies—once the funeral is over, tutini are traditionally left to the elements around the grave.

    Wally Caruana

    [1] K Barnes, Kiripapurajuwi – skills of our hands: good craftsman and Tiwi art, Kathy Barnes, Darwin, 1999, p 101.

    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