Collection Online


earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.)
147.4 × 62.4 cm
Place/s of Execution
Yirrkala, Northern Territory
Accession Number
Indigenous Art
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased from Admission Funds, 1986
© Baluka Maymuru, courtesy of Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Yirrkala
This digital record has been made available on NGV Collection Online through the generous support of The Vizard Foundation
Gallery location
Not on display
Physical description
The Ancestral origins of the Manggalili funeral ceremony are the subject of this painting. The central canoe shape is a Yingapungapu ceremonial ground. Manggalili people, and three other Yirritja clans, make a sand sculpture of this kind around the body of the deceased during funeral ceremonies. The Yingapungapu isolates the body, and people polluted by,close association with it, from the rest of the community: the decay is contained in the Yingapungapu. Many of the themes in the painting relate to death and decay. Flesh decomposes, maggots, sand crabs and birds eat the flesh, and the tide washes away all trace. The parallel meanders represent tide marks, and the parallel lines represent maggots. The anvil shapes at the bottom of the painting, and at the top between the mourning Nyapililngu figures, are cumulus cloud, a symbol of death and female mourning. The two men who died, the men who owned the spearthrowers and spears shown in the upper section, were Ancestral spirit men who brought Manggalili people to their country and established them there with their culture and language. The turtle tracks on the beach are associated with their death. The Ancestral turtle, rushing to the beach to lay her eggs, caused a tidal wave that drowned the men. The Ancestral spirit woman Nyapililngu, who is depicted four times in the painting, taught Manggalili people many useful and sacred things. She established the use of digging-sticks and bark containers, and she made ceremonial possum-fur string, the X breast-band design.