The ancestral Djaŋ’kawu Sisters are travelling from the RYirratjingu country at Yalaŋbarra on the East Arnhem Land mainland, to the Djapu clan lands further south, where they sing with biḻma (clapsticks) and yiḏaki (didgeridoo). They then travel west, first to the Ḏäṯiwuy clan lands and then on to Gärriyak, south of Galiwin’ku (Elcho Island). We [the Garrawurra people] sing two songs about them with biḻma. They aren’t really songs, they are stories.
Wherever they stopped, the Djaŋ’kawu Sisters changed their language, names, clan, ceremony and customs. They gave these things to the people at each place. They also made Gapu Milminydjarrk or Milngurr (water holes) by poking their dhoṉa (digging sticks) into the ground. Some of these waters are sacred but some are alright to drink from.
The Sisters gave miku (red), watharr (white) and buthalak (yellow) ochre colours for us to paint with. We use them for the Ŋärra law ceremony, which is a cleansing ceremony. These designs also refer to our clan totem animals, Nyoka (crab), Weḏu (freshwater catfish), Buwaṯa (Bush Turkey), Ŋaṯili (Red-tailed Black Cockatoo), Worrutj (Red-collared lorikeet) and Djirriḏiḏi (Forest Kingfisher.
The roundels in this piece represent Milminydjarrk the sacred waterholes at the artist’s homeland, Gärriyak. Rarru explains that ‘the women know about these waterholes which are in the ḻarrtha (mangroves), but they are not allowed to go there (only men can go there).’ The semi-circular shapes are yunuŋali (oysters).
Traditionally these designs were only painted by men, however, before his death, the responsibility to paint and maintain the Garrawurra cultural endowment was passed on to Nalmakarra and her sisters by their father Harry Bäriya, and by their brother Micky Dorrng.