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Mawalan Marika Artworks

Mawalan Marika Artworks are illustrations of important Dreamtime stories. Artworks are often only a part of a much larger traditional set of beliefs. These beliefs expressed through song dance ceremony and music. Charles Mountford for example as early as 1948 was collecting art and recording the associated stories. It is important to recognize that art is a part of a larger set of religious beliefs. Understanding elements of the story lead to a greater appreciation of the art.
Mawalan Marika was the custodian of several very important dreamings. He was an extremely respected ceremonial leader and holder of the secrets.
If you have a Mawalan Marika Bark painting and are considering selling it please feel free to contact me.
Mawalan was brother to Mathaman Marika and father to Wanjuk Marika


Mawalan Marika Artwork – Seagull ceremony

The painting represents the ceremonies associated with Ngurula, the seagull, and the flight of the spirit after death. Ngurula connects clans of the Dhuwa moiety together flying from one clan’s country to another. The painting is set in Rirratjingu country showing the seas between Yirrkala and the island of Dhambaliya. The top section of the painting evokes the seagulls’ determined flight across the sea. Fish swim below in the sparkling waters.

The lower half illustrates a mortuary ritual that commemorates the seagull and links clans together. On a person’s death, their is a large ceremony. The men make a wooden representation of the seagull about six inches high. The seagull sculpture attached to the head of the leader of the dances. Attached to the seagull sculpture are three lengths of bush string, made by the women, which represent the wings, legs, and tail of the seagull. Dancing men hold these strings and a sacred song is sung accompanied by a yidaki (digeridoo) player.

The longest string represents the group from Arnhem Bay and the shortest represents the Rirratjingu of Yirrkala. The seagull is a totem of the Rirratjingu group. The story of when the bird people were men in the ancestral past and then turned into birds. During the ceremony, the spirit of the dead person spirit celebrated and sent to the other side.

The songs of Ngurula are still sung in Yolngu ceremonies. Great lengths of white feather strings held by dancers in a line to join people together and mark Ngurula’s journey.


Creation of the Constellations by Mawalan Marika


To Yirrkala Aboriginal peoples the Milky Way is a river in the night sky, teeming with fish and other creatures. The origins of the creation of the Milky Way vary from group to group. According to the chronicles of the Rirratjingu, two brothers had been fishing in their bark canoe which capsized when a strong wind blew. One brother’s body washed up on the shore; the other’s sank.

The crocodile Baru went looking for food and smelled the body of the brother on the beach. The two brothers and Baru ascended into the night sky and became constellations. A group of Possum ancestors who were conducting a ceremony saw the stars and they too ascended into the heavens. The constellations formed including the ancestral Native Cat, the submerged canoe, and the Scorpion who was once a man. 

Two bags of stars projecting from the Milky Way on the left are Djulpan. The triangular bag is male, the elliptical one female.

Djan’kawu Arrival of the first people

This Mawalan Marika Artwork is made up of episodic panels. Each panel an illistration from a chapter of a story

Depicts a site near Milingimbi The two sisters give birth to the people of Milingimbi. The yellow figures are men and boys, the black figures women and girls. The placenta of one of the women is also depicted.
top left:
At Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island). After death the spirits of the Djan’kawu sisters receive new names. The circle in the centre is a swamp. The lines on either side depict lily leaves. The red background behind the sisters represents their grave. After this they go to the spirit land.
top right:
Depicts Djan’kawu at Yalangbara (Port Bradshaw). The sacred rangga with feathered pendants is shown. Djan’kawu (also identified in the original documentation as Mawalan, the artist) is shown looking at the rangga and singing. The cross-hatching in this section represents earth and grass.
At Arnhem Bay – the life cycle of the Djan’kawu Sisters. The women’s blood represented on the two circles on left. On the right side the large circle represents the flow of water, the two smaller circles, the placenta. The sisters shown with strings tying their legs back. The four separate circular shapes in this section represent the sacred conical mats for the female children.

lower left:
This section shows the sacred objects (rangga). Eight planted to make shade for the children. Four other rangga (djuda trees) shown growing at the extreme left in Ngaymil country.
lower right:
A place at Arnhem Bay where the two Sisters and Djan’kawu watch a sunrise and sunset that can be seen in the two panels on the extreme right. Djan’kawu is urinating.

All images in this article are for educational purposes only.

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