Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples should be aware that the following pages may contain images or names of people who have since passed away.

Milŋiyawuy – River of Stars

Naminapu Maymuru-White

Earth pigments on Stringybark hollow pole

162cm

2019

It was in the wangarr, ancestral times, when the Guwak men, Munuminya and Yikawanga, sitting under the shade of the sacred Marawili tree, instructed the ancestral koel cuckoo Guwak to lead the Maŋgalili people to this new place they had established for them at Djarrakpi.

Having seen the people settled in their new homeland they announced to the Maŋgalili their farewell, that they, the Guwak men were to travel out to sea, to a place in the sky and that they would become stars which would shine out of the night sky.

So a canoe and paddles were made and their journey began by paddling down the Milngiya River which flows into the Blue Mud Bay near Djarrakpi. In the bay, at a place of significance, strong winds developed and capsized the canoe – the men drowned.

At this place is the site of Yingalpiya, the freshwater crocodile’s nesting place. This same place is the spirit source for Maŋgalili people. The Guwak Men, it was said, had attempts made on them to be rescued.

A special log Milkamirri or Bandumul, containing mangrove worms offered itself as assistance. Ŋoykal the ancestral king fish is also manifest in this form. Even the rock cod they had caught for their journey offered assistance, as did Dhäla the sea creature.

It was to no avail however as the men had destined themselves as offerings, to the night sky where they and subsequent Maŋgalili souls are seen today in the Milky Way. These Maŋgalili souls attain their celestial position by means of possum fur string Burrkun that connects Djarrakpi at the site of the Marawili tree to night sky. Milngiyawuy or Milngiya as the Milky Way is also looked upon as the nesting place for the ancestral crocodiles Yingalpiya. The river was sung into the sky by these Maŋgalili heroes – the Milky Way.

The Larrakitj had its traditional use for the Yolŋu of North east Arnhem Land as an ossuary or bone container erected as a memorial to a dead kinsman up to a decade after death. After death the body of the deceased was often ceremonially placed on a raised platform and left to the elements for an appropriate time. The area would then be abandoned until the next stage of the ritual.

This took place once it was determined that the essential eternal spirit of the deceased had completed its cyclical journey to the spring from which it had originated and would in time return again. This might be several years. Whilst the body was ‘lying in state’ others got wind of the death, perhaps by subliminal message and made preparations to journey to the site of mortuary. Usually enough time had elapsed for the bones of the deceased to be naturally cleansed on the platform. The essence of the soul within the bone was made ready for final rites when other outside participants necessary for its safe journey arrived. Ritual saw the bones of the deceased placed within the termite hollowed memorial pole for final resting. Mortuary ritual would end with the placement of the Larrakitj containing the bones standing in the bush. Over time the larrakitj and its contents would return to mother earth.

The Larrakitj has often been referred to as the mother’s womb. Once sedentary mission communities were established in Arnhem Land it became impractical to abandon permanent communities and outlawed to expose corpses on platforms. However the cosmology of the Yolŋu and the essence of ritual mortuary ceremony remains just as important. Larrakitj continue to be produced as the equivalent of headstones or to contain the personal effects of a deceased (which might be dangerous unless removed from the living because of the emanations imbued by contact with the deceased).

A further role for this cultural form is as a fine art object and an instructional tool for younger generations. Artworks of this nature have multiple layers of metaphor and meaning which give lessons about the connections between an individual and specific pieces of country (both land and sea), as well as the connections between various clans but also explaining the forces that act upon and within the environment and the mechanics of a spirit’s path through existence. The knowledge referred to by this imagery deepens in complexity and secrecy as a person progresses through a life long learning process.

Ref: BUKU4441-19

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Buku-Larrnggay Mulka

Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre is the Indigenous community controlled art centre of Northeast Arnhem Land. Located in Yirrkala, a small Aboriginal community on the northeastern tip of the Top End of the Northern Territory, approximately 700km east of Darwin. Our primarily Yolŋu (Aboriginal) staff of around twenty services Yirrkala and the approximately twenty-five homeland centres in the radius of 200km.

Artists from Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka have won First Prize in the last two National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award and featured in many cutting edge contemporary fine art exhibitions and Biennale both in Australia and overseas. Recent solo retrospectives and high profile multi media installations confirm the Centre’s reputation as an innovative and important artist collective. But the history of the art from this region goes back a long way.

In the 1960’s, Narritjin Maymuru set up his own beachfront gallery from which he sold art that now graces many major museums and private collections. He is counted among the art centre’s main inspirations and founders, and his picture hangs in the museum. His vision of Yolŋu-owned business to sell Yolŋu art that started with a shelter on a beach has now grown into a thriving business that exhibits and sells globally.

Buku-Larrŋgay –  “the feeling on your face as it is struck by the first rays of the sun (i.e. facing East)

Mulka – “a sacred but public ceremony.”

In 1976, the Yolŋu artists established ‘Buku-Larrŋgay Arts’ in the old Mission health centre as an act of self-determination coinciding with the withdrawal of the Methodist Overseas Mission and the Land Rights and Homeland movements.

In 1988, a new museum was built with a Bicentennary grant and this houses a collection of works put together in the 1970s illustrating clan law and also the Message Sticks from 1935 and the Yirrkala Church Panels from 1963.

In 1996, a screen print workshop and extra gallery spaces was added to the space to provide a range of different mediums to explore. In 2007, The Mulka Project was added which houses and displays a collection of tens of thousands of historical images and films as well as creating new digital product.

Still on the same site but in a greatly expanded premises Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka Centre now consists of two divisions; the Yirrkala Art Centre which represents Yolŋu artists exhibiting and selling contemporary art and The Mulka Project which acts as a digital production studio and archiving centre incorporating the museum.

The Centre recently opened an 8 unit accommodation and convention complex.

If you would like to visit our website it is at www.yirrkala.com

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All purchases include shipping within Australia. We will freight all artworks promptly after purchase from Buku Larrnggay Mulka in Yirrkala to your address. For international shipping, please contact us directly at or Dave Wickens at 0427 447 920 to confirm a quote and delivery details.  

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Refunds will be considered on a case-by-case basis. To enquire about a refund, contact Buku Larrnggay Mulka directly at or Dave Wickens at 0427 447 920

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