Mowanjum Festival, Western Australia

Every July there is one Aboriginal festival in the Kimberley that is not to be missed: the one hosted by the Mowanjum Aboriginal Art & Cultural Centre, about 5 km off Derby on the Gibb River Road. It is aimed to share the traditional culture and dances of the Mowanjum (consisting of three language groups: the Ngarinyin, the Worrorra and the Wunambal). It was a magical night, the Mowanjum mob was very friendly and seemingly proud of their cultural , including their dances, and they had every reason to be.


There were quite a number of dances, all with local relevance. Among the photos in this newsfeed, there were many taken during the Jerrogol dance, which used boards on which the Mowanjum painted their countries and the Wandjina. Women dance this type of Junba with branches in their hands at the sides of the dance ground, supporting the boys carrying totems. Junba are the Mowanjum’s corroborres that tell stories relating to these cultures, about the Wurnan (the Law of sharing or trading between the three Wandjina tribes). There was another dance about two spirits, performed by two men with white masks. There was a Junba with dancers holding huge boards with Wandjinas, out of which Wanalirri is of the highest rank. Two owls (Wodoi and Jungun) were sitting on each of his shoulders. The last dance was a euphoric one where all the tribes brought out their totems and everyone danced together. There were plenty repetitions of ‘run around’, which could be joined by anyone who felt like it from the audience.


Wandjina is the supreme Creator and symbol of fertility and rain for the Mowanjum, whose ancestors have been painting Wandjina (also referred to as Wanjina) and Gwion Gwion figures in scattered rock art sites in the Western Kimberley for around 4 (four) thousand years. This is the oldest continuous sacred painting movement on Earth as the Mowanjum people still continue to identify with Wandjina. As figuration of supernatural power, images of Wandjinas are characterized by halo-like headdresses and mouthless faces with large eyes, like the eye of the storm. The reason why they have no mouth is because that would make them too powerful. These ‘Creator Beings’ and the ‘Wunggurr Creator Snake’ are painted in many forms and can be repainted to ensure annual renewal of the seasonal cycle and the associated periods of natural fertility. The actual Wandjina is believed to reside in the rock where it is painted or to have left its body there.


Date: July 2014

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