Australia 1936 – 2005
Niwuda, Yirritja native honey
[Niwuda, Yirritja honey] 1986
Ramingining, Central Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Materials & Technique: paintings, bark paintings, natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark
During the second half of the dry season, Rarrandhar, from August to September, the hives of the wild bee are full of honey or sugarbag. In art, the designs representing honey depend on the moiety to which it belongs. Yolngu distinguish four types of sugarbag, of which the principal are yarrpany, belonging to the Dhuwa moiety, and niwuda, of the Yirritja moiety. Niwuda is represented as a honeycomb of diamonds in which the colours indicate the cells at stages of development, from empty (black) to full, and the dots represent the wild bees, their larvae and the pollen balls of the tree that hosts the hive.
Wululu emphasises the ceremonial aspects of the niwuda design: the pattern is painted onto participants’ torsos in initiation ceremonies, or onto the body of the deceased in a funeral. In this painting, Wululu alludes to a secondary funeral when the bones of the deceased are placed in a painted hollow log, such as that depicted as a column at the centre of the painting. The ceremony marks the soul’s entrance to the ancestral realm while the bones return to the earth. It also marks the end of the mourning period.
Wululu was born during Rarrandhar in 1936 and died during Rarrandhar in 2005. In his later works, he elaborated on the twin themes of freshwater catfish, simultaneously symbolic of birth and death, and the honeycomb of the native bee. Both are creative spirits for his Gupapuyngu people. In a non-sugar cane society sweet foods have spiritual properties and powers. It is pure spiritual delight extruded from the trunks of trees—a happy life force from the land itself.
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