Australia 1908 – 1967
Coming of the Macassan traders
Yirrkala, North East Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on Eucalyptus bark
Mawalan Marika as an elder in one of leading clans at Yirrkala, in Eastern Arnhem Land, contributed to the Bark Petition, which was presented to Government in 1963. Mawalan Marika was also interested in recording the history of the trading relationship existing between the Macassans and the Aboriginal people, long before European colonisation.
His bark painting compares two moments in the history of the Yolngnu people of central and eastern Arnhem Land. The arrival of the traders can be seen on the left of the image, the creation of the first Yolngu clans on the right.
The earliest records of the Macassan traders can be traced back to the 17th century. They were from Eastern Indonesia and visited Arnhem Land every wet season. For over three hundred years they collected and processed sea slugs for trade with China.
The painting is divided vertically. To the left is the prahu or Macassan ship shown with its crew on the deck. One of the crew, painted black, is a Yolngu person. Sometimes Aboriginal people accompanied the traders back to their homeland of Indonesia. On the boat, depicted in profile, we can see a goat, a cock, bags of rice and two crew members.
The right side of the painting depicts the classical version of the Djan’kawu sisters giving birth to the clans.
Text © National Gallery of Australia, Canberra