Collection Online

Wubarr ceremony

earth pigments on Stringybark (Eucalyptus sp.)
171.3 × 73.7 cm
Place/s of Execution
Kunbarllanjnja (Oenpelli), Northern Territory
Accession Number
Indigenous Art
Credit Line
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne
Purchased through The Art Foundation of Victoria with the assistance of Pacific Dunlop Limited, Fellow, 1990
Gallery location
Not on display
Physical description
Central to the Wubarr ceremony is the Ancestral Being Yirawadbad. He took a young girl from a neighbouring camp to be his wife, but the girl hated him and kept running back to her mother. This so enraged Yirawadbad that he decided to kill both the women. One day he stalked them at a distance while they were hunting for goannas. He transformed himself into a snake and slid ahead of them into a hollow log. There he made scratching noises on the wood and the women ran towards the sound, thinking that a goanna was hiding inside. The women knelt at each end of the log and inserted a hand inside, whereupon Yirawadbad bit each one in turn causing instant death. These actions connote sexual reproduction and reinforce the ceremony's general theme of fertility. On his return to camp, Yirawadbad realized that he would have to institute a major ceremony for the women in order to atone for his deed. He met a large white kangaroo who had once been a man and handed him a long stick, conferring on him powers as the keeper of the ceremony. Then he showed him how the ceremony should be performed. The stick was for beating the hollow log, or Wubarr drum, and the ceremony was to be called the Wubarr. The kangaroo, Nadulmi, is shown in the centre, the focus of the ceremony and the composition. Two figures representing the girl and her mother sit astride the log in the upper section, while another depicting Yirawadbad sits above it and holds the long stick behind his shoulders. Participants are shown performing dances around Nadulmi while a frillnecked lizard and a bandicoot, impersonated in the ceremony, look on. A didgeridoo player and man beating clapsticks are shown in the lower section.