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by Janjiya Nakamarra (Herbert)


The spirit set fire to my boards

by Janjiya Liddy Herbert Nakamarra, Lajamanu, 1984


translated from Warlpiri with Barbara Gibson Nakamarra (1984, 1995) and edited for the CD-ROM Dream trackers (UNESCO, 2000) by Barbara Glowczewski


In the 1960s Janjiya dreamt a new purlapa for the men and a new yawulyu for the women. The message was from three deceased Jampijinpa men who gave her new songs and designs connected with the Jurntu site and the recent Lajamanu reserve.



All started with the bough shade where I kept my business things in a case. Especially the yukurrukurru painted with the Yam Dreaming I dreamt earlier on. My bough shade was very close to the one of the Nampijinpa and Nangala. 


One day, as I was coming back from work at the mission kitchen, a Napanangka called out

'All your things are burnt!'


When I was away some flames came out from my bough shade. She tried to stop the fire with two other women, but the fire stopped only after burning my case. I started to wonder

'Is it a Fire spirit that lit a fire in my case? But why?'


I was very sad and went to sleep. That night, I dreamt about two Nangala each coming to me with a yukurrukurru board. They were dancing and shaking them and put them in front of me when they sat. Then a crowd of Dreamtime women came to dance. I did not recognize their faces. But the Nangala had the face of Yakiriya and Miyangula. I was in the dream too, and I was feeling sick every time I saw the boards in their hands. They were painted with new designs, and to see them made me weak.



2. Sick for one month


When I woke up in the morning, I was so weak that I had to go to the clinic. The sister said she might have to send me to the Darwin hospital. I knew I was not really sick, it was only the dream that had hit me too strong. My mother's spirit and all these Dreaming women had caught my spirit, making me warungka. I slept at the clinic and had the same dream again.


The next day some women came to visit me. I recognised Yakiriya et Miyangula and shouted

'I always see you two dancing!'


I was delirious but the two Nangala in my dream had their faces. The nurse kept me at the clinic for a month. Night after night, I was dreaming the same dream or new things connected with it.



3. The song came from three deceased men


Finally I was better and I asked all the women and men to gather. They came to the camp where my things had burnt near Kuwinyi. I told them,

'I'll give a new yawulyu to the Nampijinpa and Nangala women for the Fire Dreaming . And to the Jampijinpa and Jangala men, I'll give a new purlapa dance for Jurntu.'


Women and men listened to me. They had recognised in my long sickness the message of mungamunga, the Voice of the Night who had brought me a new yawulyu to dance, to sing and to paint. The Fire spirit had burnt my things to give me these dreams.


I know now that I dreamt of Yakiriya and Miyangula because it was the spirit of their deceased fathers who was using them to teach me the new way to celebrate their Dreaming. I saw the two men, Yunkugarna, Miyangula's father, and Munkurturru, Yakiriya's father. It was his spirit who lit the fire, my mother's spirit told me so.


The two men were custodians of the Rain Dreaming at Lungkardajarra. I saw them with a third Jampijinpa, Werrilwerrilpa, custodian of the Fire Dreaming at Jurntu, who was killed by his uncles when I was little.


These three spirits brought me the purlapa for the men. The dance and the songs tell about the chasing and the killing of Werrilwerrilpa. The purlapa celebrates Jurntu with the Fire and pirntina Python Dreaming.



4. They landed in Lajamanu


I saw the spirits of the three men making a big fire as they were travelling. It happened in Kartarlda, a Ngatijirri budgerigar place. The three men continued to travel, flying to the North until they got to Lajamanu.


I could hear the music from the boomerangs. I came close to the big hollow log at Kuwinyi and said

'They sing a purlapa!'


So, in my dream, all the Warlpiri men from Lajamanu came to sit near a ceremonial ground that was not cleared there yet. The three spirits came out of the hollow log. They were carrying kutari headdresses, very high with feathers on the top. Their whole body was covered with white fluff. And the Fire and Python Dreaming was drawn in red on their chests, thighs and faces.


Same time, I saw big white clouds carrying rain. A fourth spirit was travelling with them, but he did not stop at Lajamanu. He continued his flight further north to the sea. I saw him jumping in the ocean, and coming out with lots of splashes. He looked at the open space, the sky and said

'I went too far!'


So he landed back in Lajamanu on the plane ground! He carried a spear and danced with it towards the other three Jampijinpa. Munkurturru, who had brunt my things, shouted then

'Look! Mangurlpa!'


It was the spirit's name and also the name of that spear. The four spirits went then to Palwa, a Wampana Wallaby place. Women can't go to this place, but in my dream, this is where I saw the spirits show the new purlapa to the Lajamanu men.



5. I taught men and women how to sing 


'You have to train for the purlapa just as I heard it and saw it in my dream,' I said to the men and asked my niece's husband to cut leaves to make a bough shade just like in my dream.

'Where should I put the shade?'

'Just there. It must be opened to the South because the spirits came from there to sit.'


The message was passed from camp to camp, and when the shade was built, all the women came to sit there and sang the new purlapa songs with me. Then the men repeated verse after verse what mungamunga had taught me. All night we sang.


The next day, the women learnt the new yawulyu. They were happy to receive a new way to celebrate Jurntu. They painted their bodies with the new designs and sang with me the new songs that I had dreamt.


I painted them with the jingi jingi 'across' design that shows the plucking of the fire. I also painted the yinti 'sparks' design. These were the designs I had seen on the yukurrukurru boards, red for the fire and white for the smoke. The women copied the designs and I also showed them the new dancing steps and how to mime the sparks with their hands and the fire being plucked. It is how Mungamunga showed me the wind taking the sparks. The women danced. And we've been dancing this yawulyu everywhere ever since.



6. The Dreaming went overseas!


Meantime in another place men were decorating themselves. When they finished they came to us. Other men sat down to sing the new purlapa with the boomerang percussion.


Women join them legs straight in front of them, beating the rhythm, two hands on top of each other, palms hitting the thighs. The men started to dance, the same dance they took to your country (Paris). Mungamunga took us even further than the salt water where the spirit dove in!


Our men are proud of the purlapa I gave them. Every time they dance it, they have to pay me kunari, a ritual gift. But when I gave them the purlapa for the first time, I had to pay the kunari. The Nangala and Nampijinpa women helped me to pay. We made two big dampers. One for the kirda, Jangala and Jampijinpa, the other for the kurdungurlu of the Fire Dreaming, Japaljarri and Japanangka. Each group also received a pile of cloth.


After this ritual, the kirda men made new yukurrukurru boards for me. I painted on them the Fire designs I had seen in my dream. At every yawulyu, these designs are swept away and painted again. The boards are used only for the Fire Dreaming and the Rain Dreaming.






A matrix of possibilities


The Warlpiri, like their neighbours, use the word Jukurrpa to denote the Ancestral totemic Beings, the myths that tell of their journeys and associated itineraries. The Dreaming is not a simple mythical Golden Age annihilating time, in which Aborigines would be fixed in a repetitive cycle. Rather, it is a space-time, a kind of permanence in movement, that integrates innovations by means of a pre-existing logical processes.


Innovations, which take the form of new rituals, new geographical landmarks and new systems of alliance, are part and parcel of the reproduction of society. Consequently, Dreaming brings about a dynamic process in the group, making it possible to maintain both an irreducible specification and a continuously renewed link between mythical and ritual elements and society. This is why Aborigines themselves consider the Dreaming to be their Law. It is a matter, not of a set of rules, but of an active process of forging social identity.


The Dreaming is a programme — not a stock of remembered models for organising society, but a matrix of combinatory possibilities.


Excerpt from Barbara Glowczewski, 1989.



The memory of the earth


All the sacred sites that Aboriginal people protect today are for them the traces, tracks or metamorphosis of the bodies of Ancestral Beings. These travellers with hybrid forms wandered on the earth before the humans, and they live for ever in what Australians now call the Dreamtime or the Dreaming. These expressions are often not well understood and are mistaken for a mythical time which would refer to an original past of the world. But with Aboriginal myths, one can see that they are not so much stories about the origin of things, as statements about a movement of transformations. These transformations, far from being restricted to an ancient mythical past, constitute in fact an eternal dynamic which, for the Aborigines, continues to act in the present the Ancestral Beings are not just simple mythical ancestors; they are active principles who participate in the becoming of things.


Aborigines do not live out of time or ignore the difference between past, present and future. Their perspective is different; it is closer to current astrophysical concepts in which time is a variation of space. Indeed, Dreamtime or Dreaming is a parallel time-space linked to life on earth in a relation of feedback.


Dreaming is not only a parallel dimension. It is also the source of Law for humans since it contains all the words and images from the eternal Beings. Aboriginal people talk about the Dreamings in the plural to designate these Beings, the names or totems they inherit from them, and the mythical stories which tell of their journeys and are re-enacted in their rituals.


In the case of the central and western desert tribes, these Dreamings are also geographical itineraries or trails which mark the events of the totemic Beings from site to site in this sense the Dreaming is the Law decreed by the earth. The English word 'dreaming' translates different indigenous concepts from different languages, such as the concept Jukurrpa, used by several desert groups, and which means ‘dream’ in Warlpiri.


The confusion between the concept of Dreaming and the dream experience has given rise to many misunderstandings, for example, the false notion that Aborigines do not differentiate between dreams and life. It is true that they do not draw the same line between so-called reality and dream, because dreams do not refer to the realm of the imaginary. In fact, people's dreams are read as a search for signs in the real world. People interpret dreams to guide themselves in everyday life, to read messages from the Ancestral Beings, to see and hear ritual innovations which take the form of new designs or songs, which are said to have been ‘forgotten’ and ‘found back’.


The Dreaming is thus a living memory that is collective and cosmological as well as personal. The dream has its own dimension and seems to maintain an active relation with the tangible world. Human acts are part of a ‘philosophy’ which states not a predestination, or an eternal repetition, but the rules of a game in which men and women are caught their freedom consists in playing different games which shape and transform their individual and collective life. In this sense, the Law of the Dreaming is a game whose rules are not immutable but can be modified within some limits.


Excerpt from Barbara Glowczewski, 1988.



A permanence in motion


Unlike the creation myths of other cultures, including Genesis, Australian myths are not about creation or the origin of things, but about making or transforming potential life and forms into real ones.


In many cases the totemic species are described not in the process of acquiring their actual features, but only as having been named by the heroes. Instead of being concerned by questions of the origins and ends of things, Australian Aborigines are concerned with metamorphoses and reproducibility.


From the Aboriginal point of view, named things and sites reveal the active presence of the Ancestral Beings, while man's association with these names and places reproduces the social order independently of the passing generations. In the final analysis, the power to name and localise does not belong either to mythic beings or to humans, but to something which existed before them and coexists with them, even though only the Beings can designate it. It is a permanence in motion, Jukurrpa, the Dreaming, represented by eternal heroes capable of turning their bodies into earthly matter, making themselves into unattainable images of a process of transformation.


Excerpt from Barbara Glowczewski, 1988, 1991.





When people dream, their pirlirrpa leaves the body to travel in the time-space of different Dreamings and meet the Eternal Ancestors who are embodied in the sacred sites. The dreamers can receive from them revelations about the Dreaming-name and conception-place of a child to be born. Warlpiri people say that everybody embodies a Kurruwalpa, that is, a spirit-child who waits in a specific place to be born since the time he or she was dropped there by the Dreaming Ancestors. When a person passes by the tree, the rock or the waterhole where a Kurruwalpa lives, the spirit can choose that person as his or her future mother or father. Warlpiri people say that Kurruwalpa are ngampurrpa, ‘desirous’ of life. It is believed that at death Kurruwalpa return to their place and wait to be reborn again. Women and men Elders talk about the activities of their own preborn Kurruwalpa as of themselves. Most parents can recount dreams revealing the future Kurruwalpa identity of a son, a daughter or another relative (Barbara Nakamarra, May Napaljarri, Betty Nungarrayi).


Men and women can also dream of old and new songs, designs and dances coming from different totemic Beings Fire, Yam, Stone Curlew, Possum, Emu and Rain.



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Archives de chercheurs: Barbara Glowczewski [Collection(s) 28]
Audio of stories and songs, Lajamanu, Central Australia, 1984 [Set(s) 709]
Meta data
Object(s) ID 70077
Permanent URI
Title/DescriptionJukurrpa: Janjiya Nakamarra recounts new Dreaming associated with Jurntu to Barbara Nakamarra Gibson
Author(s)Janjiya Liddy (Lady) Herbert Nakamarra
LocationLajamanu, Tanami Desert, Central Australia
Coordinateslat -35.27 / long 149.08
Copyright Barbara Glowczewski
Rank 3 / 83
Filesize ? Kb
Transcription[ See/hide ]
Tape1 side 1a
Quote this document Glowczewski, Barbara 1984/03/29 [accessed: 2024/5/20]. "Jukurrpa: Janjiya Nakamarra recounts new Dreaming associated with Jurntu to Barbara Nakamarra Gibson " (Object Id: 70077). In Audio of stories and songs, Lajamanu, Central Australia, 1984 . Tape: 1 side 1a. ODSAS:
Annotation layer(s)Steve Jampijinpa Patrick   (wanta: general notes)