Visiting the Aboriginal homelands in East Arnhemland for me, is all about gaining a new perspective on life, by connecting with people who provide a deeply rewarding cultural exchange. The scenery framing this cultural exchange is equally as inspiring and brings about a special sense of connectedness. There is such a feeling of serenity when gazing out over the endless white sandy beaches, crystal clear blue water and tuning into the natural movements of the abundant wildlife including birds and turtles and the occasional croc.
I really enjoyed sitting with Djawa (Timmy) Burarrwanga from Bawaka (one of the homelands in East Arnhemland). We were perched high up on a sand dune so he could let the guys below know where the fish were. We were watching the mullet skimming across the water and I was totally fascinated at the skill and accuracy of the guys who were using traditional spears to catch the fish that we would later get to eat!
Timmy was telling me why they use smoke in welcoming ceremonies. He said that the ceremony is done to cleanse visitors by warding off the spirits that they have bought with them from other places. His people talk to their ancestors, and they take away the other spirits to enable the new spirits of ‘his country’ to know you. He explains that when you open your heart and mind to this country, the spirits welcome you. In his words:
“This land is sacred, it can feel you when you walk through it. All living things can feel you. There was a time when the ancestors walked through the land and Aboriginal people still feel the ancestors watching them. The ancestors still exist and walk the land and never die. Every corner that the wind blows tells a story. It’s the breath of the ancestors. We’re breathing in ancestor’s life as they’re in the wind. Billions of ancestors walked the land creating it. There was an ancestor to make hundreds of fish, another to make the rocks and another to make the trees. There are laws for the land and if you break them the ancestors will tell you off big time. Knowledge is given from the ancestors to the Aboriginal people through their DNA and the same DNA still exists with Aboriginal people right across Australia”.
This is the story for Timmy’s country. The creation story for his neighbour, Banula’s, country is quite different. When I was last up this way I watched the women ‘crying for country’ and Timmy explained what was going on, he said:
“When the women ‘cry to country’ they wake up the ancestors and their ancestors talk back, talk about sacred things, tell you something you can do, they teach you – your mind, soul, about life, how to heal… When they sing they are singing the names of the ancestors, where they lived, were hunting and how they made the land. Therefore Aboriginal ‘Songlines’ are like a GPS as they provide a map for the landscape. When people come here to visit they re-learn how to live”…
Timmy told me that women are allowed to watch and listen to the women ‘crying to country’, however men are only allowed to listen to it.
That night as we were looking for turtles, I laid down on the beach listening to the waves crashing and gazed up at the stars. Banula pointed to the stars and told me how his ancestor had come from the East and that the rocks are the ancestor’s children… It was such a beautiful night.
During my stay Timmy also told me the story of Bayini, the spirit woman who came from Macassar in Indonesia a long time ago, and protects Bawaka. She has a million eyes and cries when guests leave her country (Timmy talks about her in the video below).
Check out Lirrwi Tours website at: www.lirrwitourism.com.au
This winds up the second leg of the recce. I will be back with more updates once the film shoot starts, so until then thanks for coming along (virtually) on this journey with me… Kristi