The Dja’nkawu sisters are traveling from the Yirratjingu people at Yalangbarra (on the mainland, next to Groote Island), the Djapu clan further south where they sing with bilma (clap sticks) and yidarki (didgeridoo), then the Datiwuy clan, west of Yirrkala. We (the Garrawurra people) sing two songs about them with birrma (clap sticks), they aren’t really songs, they are stories. These ancestors traveled north, south, east and west.
Where ever they stopped, the Dja’nkawu sisters changed their language, names, clan, ceremony and customs. They gave these things to the people. They also made Gapu Milminydjarrk or Milngurr (water holes) by poking their Dhorna or Ganinyidi (digging sticks) in the ground. Some of these waters are sacred, but some are alright to drink from. These are represented in works by roundels (milminydjarrk) and triangular fields (water draining into milminydjarrk)
The sisters gave us Miku (red), Watharr (white) and Buthjalak (yellow) ochre colors for us to paint with. We use them for the Ngarra ceremony, which is a cleansing ceremony. Or the Bapuru ceremony performed when people die. We also have Nyuka (crab), Gudumurrku (fresh water cat fish), Bwarta (turkey), Ngatili (black cockatoo) and the Worrudj (colorful parrot).
The common striped design represents the generic mitji (body paint design) used in the Ngarra or Bapuru ceremonies. There are many variations such as painted miku or radjpa (red) fields in the central sections of the works that represent the body paint ‘undercoat’. Red sections on the top and/or bottom of the works represent the body painted entirely with miku or radjpa (red) at the beginning of the ceremony.
White clay fields on the top and bottom of the work represent the painted face at the final stages of the Ngarra or Bapuru ceremony and is associated with the Bowarta (bush turkey) totem. A particular variation of this is painted on the bodies of senior people which looks like a ‘key hole’ design and is constructed using a single yellow line on a white field.
A diagonal stripe is also used to signify the seniority of male participants in the Ngarra ceremony and is crossed at the last stages of the ceremony to signify a return to the Garrawurra homeland of Garriyak.