Witi Jukurrpa (Ceremonial Poles) – Yanjirlpiri

This painting depicts ‘witi Jukurrpa’ (ceremonial pole Dreaming). The ‘kirda’ (owners) for this Dreaming are Jungarrayi/Japaljarri men and Nungarrayi/Napaljarri women. ‘Witi’ are 10-12 foot long ceremonial poles with ‘ngapiri’ (red river gum [Eucalyptus camaldulensis]) and ‘wurrkali’ (desert bloodwood [Corymbia opaca]) leaves tied to them from top to bottom. The young men dance with the ‘witi’ tied to their shins using ‘ngalyipi’ (snakevine [Tinospora smilacina]). They dance up and down with slightly bent knees, causing the poles to shake and sway and make noises that scare away spirits.

The site depicted in this canvas is Yanjirlpiri (meaning ‘star’ in Warlpiri), where there is a small hill and a number of ‘mulju’ (water soakages) and ‘warnirri’ (rockholes). The ceremonial importance of this place cannot be overemphasized, as young boys are taken there to be initiated from as far away as Pitjantjatjara country to the south and from Lajamanu far to the north. This Dreaming site is part of a set of major Dreaming tracks that begin at Kurlungalinpa in the north, by Lajamanu, and travel southward through Purrpalala, Ngarlpiyi (a soakage), Pangka (a soakage), Rlipinpa (a soakage), Purlkurru (a soakage), Warnirripatu (rockholes), Yirrinpi (a soakage), Manjankurrku (a soakage), and Kunajarrayi to Yanjirlpiri (meaning ‘star’ in Warlpiri). These Dreamings include ‘karnta Jukurrpa’ (womens’ Dreaming), ‘ngalyipi Jukurrpa’ (snakevine Dreaming), and ‘wati-jarra Jukurrpa’ (two men Dreaming). After travelling to Yanjirlpiri, the Dreamings then move further west to Lappi Lappi and Yininti-walku-walku, near Lake Mackay by the West Australian border. Yanjirlpiri is also important due to its location close to an important ‘janganypa Jukurrpa’ (bush-tailed possum [Trichosurus vulpecula] Dreaming) site.

In this ‘witi Jukurrpa’ (ceremonial pole Dreaming), Japaljarri and Jungarrayi men travelled south from Kurlungalinpa to Yanjirlpiri to perform ‘kurdiji’ (mens’ initiation ceremonies). Mens’ initiation ceremonies are performed in the hot summer months. Women also play a major role in men’s initiation ceremonies; Napaljarri and Nungarrayi women danced behind the men and collected ‘ngalyipi’ (snakevine) and other bush foods as they went. The women also danced for the ‘kurdiji’ (initiation ceremonies) themselves, which were performed at a number of locations. During the ceremony, the men wore ‘jinjirla’ (white feather headdresses) on either side of their heads. They also wore wooden carvings of ‘yanjirlpiri’ (stars), which were laid out on the ground as part of the sand paintings produced for the ‘kurlkurlpa’ (business). Their bodies were painted with white and black circles representing ‘yanjirlpiri’ (stars).

In contemporary Warlpiri paintings, traditional iconography is used to represent the Jukurrpa, associated sites, and other elements. In paintings of this Dreaming, long straight lines are often used to represent the ‘witi’ (ceremonial poles), while sinuous lines are often used to represent the ‘ngalyipi’ (snakevine). Circles depict locations such as Yanjirlpiri. ‘U’ shapes often are used to represent the senior initiated Jungarrayi and Japaljarri men, watching over the correct performance of the ceremony.