Ochre pigments connect artwork to sacred places

Ochre is a fine earth pigment, which includes yellow ochre, red ochre, purple ochre, sienna, and umber. Ochres are ground and mixed with a binding agent, they are painted on bark or the body for ceremony decoration. The major ingredient of all the ochres is iron known as limonite. The Yolngu palette also includes white (clay) and black (charcoal), the source of these pigments can be important in a work associated with a particular site. This connects the artwork to the site and it’s creation by ancestral beings.


Gamanungku is a bright white pigment that is found along the coast in rocky places or washed up in the sand. Used by both Yirritja and Dhuwa people (the 2 sides of the moiety in Yolngu law) it is painted onto the body during ceremonies including funerals and mens initiation. Gamanungku has healing qualities and is painted on the body of people when they are sick to help them recover. Gamanungku is also used by Yolngu when painting on bark. 


Buthalak is the name for both light and dark yellow pigment found in rocky areas near the coast. Only Yirritja people use Buthalak during ceremony. When a Yirritja persons Wawa (brother) or Yupa (sister) passes away a stripe of Buthalak is painted around their lower leg during the funeral ceremony. Buthalak can also be used to paint designs on bark by both Yirritja and Dhuwa people.


Miku is only used for ceremonies including funerals. It is a red pigment found at Langarra (Howard Island) along the beach and in rocky areas. The country at Langarra belongs to the Wobukarra people so before Yolgnu use Miku they must first ask for permission from the Wobukarra Traditional Owners.


Radjpa is a silvery dark mauve pigment that is very smooth and clay-like in texture. Painted on the body of  both Yirritja and Dhuwa people during Gonabibi and funeral ceremonies. During funeral ceremonies Radjpa is painted onto bodies of family members and kept on for three days. Radjpa is only used by Dhuwa people during specific ceremonies including mens initiation and to paint a thick strip around the lower leg when a Wawa (brother) or Yupa (sister) passes away. During initiation ceremony mature boys are painted with Radjpa at a Yindi Boongal (large traditional song and dance), the Radja is then washed off and the body of the young man is painted with his clan design signifying his entry into manhood. 

Mul Ngurrngitj

Mul Ngurrngitj is a black pigment also known as Lirrgi. Made from charcoal Mul Ngurrngitj is more commonly used by Yirritja people and is sometimes used by Dhuwa people. Yirritja men paint Mul Ngurrngitj onto the chest of mature boys during mens ceremony.

Information provided by Helen Milminydjarrk and Milingimbi Art and Culture