Maningrida Arts and Crafts, NT
Joint Private Collection, The Netherlands and America
The Kuninjku people of west-central Arnhem Land tell of a time when their ancestors suffered a terrible drought. People living in the rocky region towards the middle Mann River dug wells to get water until these too dried up.
They obtained water by cutting the trunks of djidjdjerok, melaleuca trees which store brackish water inside. When these trees were exhausted, people were surviving only on wild honey.
Eventually people died of thirst. The bones of these people are said to be those found in the caves of the escarpment country of western Arnhem Land in the Mann River district.
In this ancestral time of creation and the great drought, Buluwana and her family camped at Ngandarrayo on Kurulk clan land. They were weak from thirst and close to death. The malevolent gigantic form of the deaf adder snake confronted the group. Buluwana attempted to run away with the rest of her family but was squeezed to death and turned to stone. Today an arrangement of rocks in the ground remain as Buluwana's present day form. Only her head protrudes as a prismatic standing stone, the rest of her body is under the ground. Other human remains lying on rock ledges are said to be the remains of other early ancestors.
This painting is a reference to the time before the people died. It depicts Buluwana superimposed on the background of crosshatching with her kun-maj, dilly bag and digging stick. She is depicted at a site called Dilebang. Dilebang is regarded as one of the most dangerous and sacred sites in the Kun-Kurulk clan estate. Travel in the area is undertaken with caution as site custodians are aware of the ancestral power of the area. The billabong at Dilebang is near escarpment country rich in rock art and a high concentration of sacred sites. The use of rarrk, crosshatching all over the surface of the bark painting creates a shimmering effect, which imbues the image with a spiritual power.