Djirrirra Wunuŋmurra Yukuwa

rrambaŋi- together as equals

rrambaŋi- together as equals

Yolŋu culture does not emphasise judgment or hierarchy. You can’t go up or down in material or status. Your place in the world is determined by your gurruṯu (a matrix of identity which covers everything in reality). And that is fixed and unchanging. Approximately sixteen clans in North East Arnhemland are divided in two halves and their estates spread like a tapestry over the region.

Identity is jealously guarded as is the intellectual wealth of each clan. Clan differences are strictly enforced. Only certain places and topics can be sung or painted or discussed by certain people. Who you marry or where you live is determined by these intricate patterns of interconnected identity. Two halves of the world join in balance in every marital relationship. One Yirritja and one Dhuwa. These parents have children who follow the father’s moiety. If he is Dhuwa so will they be, and vice versa. If the kids are Dhuwa they will marry Yirritja and so on.

As mainstream industrial society is increasingly obsessed with identity politics this seems to be a familiar tune. But in Yolŋu society this diversity is seen as positive and crucial. It is seen as necessary and beautiful. Without everyone expressing a different element of reality we cannot join together to manifest the wonder of the world.

All of the disparate identities of the clans are required by each other for a balance to be achieved. Nowhere is this more important than in ceremony. Whether by chance or intent Djirrirra has chosen to paint two different ceremonies which are each the embodiment of this philosophy. Buyku which joins together all the clans who live by the Gäṉgan River to hold a ceremony which celebrates those clans joining together to create a fishtrap. And Yukuwa which gathers all Yirritja clans together to cleanse and renew the land and farewell spirits onto the next stage of their journey. – Will Stubbs, Co-ordinator at Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre.

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