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Yirawala Artworks

Yirawala Artworks are not random. They draw on an in-depth knowledge of folk law and traditional spiritual beliefs.  While fascinating in their own right a deeper understanding of the images portrayed adds a sense of depth to his art.

I am an avid collector of Yirawala artworks and if you have an example and you are considering parting with it please contact me.

Other Painters of Luma Luma include Bobby Ngainjmirra Dick Murrumurru and Peter Marralwanga

Yirawala Artwork Luma Luma

Yirawala painted many images of Lumaluma and the Mardayin ceremony was an important topic in many of his works.
Luma Luma instilled fear in the first peoples, as his absolute authority was coupled with a degree of greed which was to be his downfall. Whatever foods his wives collected and cooked, he would declare to be taboo, thus they were not allowed to eat them. He would do the same with the game caught by the men. While the men were away on their hunting expeditions, he would sleep with their wives. While Lumaluma prospered, the others starved. Some of the husbands sought retribution but were no match for Luma Luma.
The ancestors of the Kunwinjku and Kuninjku decided to take their revenge on the giant. They laid a trap and the giant killed by fire. As he burned, the clansmen peppered his body with spears. While dying he begged to show the men how to draw the sacred rarrk or ancestral clan cross-hatched designs by cutting them into his flesh. Once his task was complete, Luma Luma retreated to the sea from whence he came and transformed himself back into the form of a sea creature.

Mardayin ceremony

Lumaluma is the main creator figure of the Mardayin ceremony. Lumaluma created all the other Ancestors of contemporary humans. He placed aboriginal people into their respective clan territories. As one feature of this creation, he made all the ceremonial paintings used by dancers in the Mardayin ceremony.
The sacred designs painted on the belly are Mardayin design. Lumaluma’s body with these designs made him glistened with Ancestral power. When aboriginal initiates get painted with these designs, their bodies receive a measure of this original power.
Lumaluma also made all the sacred objects used in the Mardayin ceremony. According to law his very body was cut into pieces that transformed into the sacred objects.

Artwork by Yirawala of the Rainbow Serpent

Aboriginal people believe that Ngalyod, the Rainbow Serpent, created many sacred sites in Arnhem Land. The Rainbow serpent is part of the rain, monsoon seasons and the rainbows which arc across the sky like a giant serpent.
He is most active in the wet season, preferring to spend the dry season in billabongs and freshwater springs. The serpent is responsible for the production of water plants such as waterlilies, and the cabbage tree palms near water holes.
The rainbow serpent isn’t always friendly. He kills those people who offend him. Ngalyod swallows people during floods that he has created. When he regurgitates them and they are transformed into new beings by his blood.
Aboriginal people respect and caretake sacred sites where the Rainbow Serpent resides. Certain activities such as cooking in these areas are stictly forbidden.
Although Ngalyod is generally feared throughout the Stone Country, he is a friend and protector of the tiny Mimi Spirits.
The story of the two sisters who meet with the Rainbow serpent is a significant creation story. It accounts for water hole locations and names of plants. It is one of the most essential dreamings of Arnhemland.

Other Painters of the Rainbow Serpent include Lofty Nadjamerrek and John Namerredje Guymala


The Sacred crocodile Namanjwarre

To the European eye this is just a painting of a funky crocodile.
The estuarine crocodile or Namanjwarre is the protector of the sacred objects of the Mardayin ceremony. The crocodile Namanjwarre would devour anyone who transgressed from the correct ceremonial protocol.
The treatment of the infill of his crocodile is the same used on Mardayin ceremonial objects. Mardayin objects decorated with the same bright patterns of crosshatching and dotted lines. Mardayin objects are secret sacred. The use of the same design within the crocodile shows the interconnection of the crocodile and the Mardayin ceremony.

Other painters of Namanjwarre

Other artists who painted Namanjewarra include John Mawundjul, Mick Kubarrku and Curly Bardkadubbu


References and additional reading

Yirawala Painter of the dreaming

Mimih and Kangaroo

This painting relates to a traditional story of the meeting of Mimih by a hunter called Djala.

Djala and his heavily pregnant wife lived near the rocky escarpment know to be the home of the Mimih. The Mimih were a tall but very slender form of spirit people who lived hidden in caves and had dangerous magic.

Djala went hunting and was tracking a large kangaroo and near sunset he discovered a Mimih had killed the kangaroo he was tracking. Having seen the Mimih kill the kangaroo with his spear Djala complimented the Mimih on his skill. The Mimih called Kaman invited Djala back to his camp to share in the kangaroo meat. Djala was hesitant because he knew the legend that if a Mimih came in possession of your hair or sperm they could work magic on him.

The Mimih blew upon a rockface and it split in two leaving a passage to the Mimih secret glade. In the grassy glade Kangaroos grazed unfrightened and at the far end of the glade was a cave. In front of the cave other Mimih were singing and dancing.

Realizing if he ate the magical food he would never leave the camp and see his wife again Djala tried to leave. He asked politely if he could take a section of the kangaroo and walk back to his camp. Kaman put him off and insisted he stay the night.

In the early morning by the light of the stars, Djala crept out of the Mimih cave and glade and returned home to his wife.

This story is also depicted by Dick Murrumurru and Spider Namirrki

The Echidna and the Turtle.


The Echidna and long neck turtle are important species that features in the Yabbadurruwa ceremony.

There is an important creation story of the battle between two powerful beings Ngarrbek and Ngalmangiyi. Ngarrbek had a young baby eaten by Ngalmangiyi. This lead to a legendary battle between the two powerful ancestors.

Ngalmangiyi had many spears and threw so many at Ngarrbek they covered his entire body. These spears later transformed into the spines and turned Ngarrbek into an echidna.

Ngarrbek however possed a magic grindstone which he smashed onto the body of Ngalmangiyi. The grindstone transformed into a hard shell and Ngalmangiyi turned into a Northern Snake-necked Turtle.

At the site where this epic battle occurred there is still a thicket of bamboo grass used for making spears.

This legendary battle is still acknowledged through ceremony. Kuninjku performs two major regional ceremonies, the Kunabibbi and Yabbadurruwa. The ceremony celebrates the major creation journey of creator beings. These creator beings travelled first north, and then returned south, through their country. Kunabibbi belongs to the Duwa moiety social grouping. Yabbadurruwa belongs to the Yirridjdja moiety.
The long neck turtle and Echidna are often depicted with interior decoration to emphasise its important ceremonial role.

Namarrkon the spirit

Namarrkon is the lightning spirit, the source of the fierce tropical storms in Western Arnhem Land during the wet season. During the dry season, he lives in a billabong not far from Numbuwah, a sacred rock in Western Arnhem Land. Namarrkon’s dreaming site (djadjan) is a slight projection in the outline of the Arnhem Land escarpment. It consists of three fused pillars, one with a circular hole near the top. This is a few km NE of the Nourlangie Rock tourist site to the east of Koongarra saddle. Namarggon left one eye (the hole) to watch for the monsoon, but also to watch his estranged wife, whose home is a cave in a pillar near Koongarra. Namarrkondjadjan is well-named, as the promontory creates the earliest intense lightning storms.

During the monsoon, Namarrkon ascends into the clouds. Here he creates thunder by striking the hammers attached to his elbows and knees and ejaculates lightning. He sits in the clouds looking down and watching the people below. This is the time he gets angry and creates flashes of lightning, loud thunder and then torrential rain. From late October his thunder signals bush food is ready to harvest. This is the start of the ‘build-up’ season before the proper rains come.


Yirawala Painter of the dreaming

Yirawala was the custodian on numerous dreaming stories. He actively wanted to share that Oenpelli Art culture with others. He did this through his artworks with great skill. Even a simple painting of a what appears to be just barramundi actually has a much deeper story. All of his artworks have meaning. The stories behind the artworks are complex and involve levels of knowledge not available to the uninitiated.

Western Arnhem land Artists and Artworks

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