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Kumpupirntily (Kumpupintily, Lake Disappointment)

Kumpupirntily (Kumpupintily, Lake Disappointment) is a stark, flat and unforgiving expanse of blinding salt lake surrounded by sand hills, located in the Little Sandy and Gibson Desert of Western Australia. Kumpupirntily translates to ‘bladder burst’; the lake was formed when the bladder of the Jila Kujarra (Two Snakes) burst here. Jila Kujarra is one of the key Jukurrpa (Dreaming) narratives for the Martu. Though the story belongs to Warnman people, it is shared across the Western Desert with several other language groups. The narrative centres on the travels of two snakes as they are pursued by the Niminjarra, spiritual ancestors of the Warnman people. 

Later in the Jukurrpa period the Ngayurnangalku (cannibal beings) made Kumpupirntily their home, where they continue to remain today. For this reason Kumpupirntily is considered one of the most sacred and dangerous sites of the Western Desert. The Ngayurnangalku are fearsome ancestral cannibal beings said to resemble people in their appearance, except for their fangs and long, curved, knife like fingernails they use to catch and hold their human victims. Coming from Natawalu (Canning Stock Route Well 40) in the north, Mundiwinti (Mundawindi) in the west, and from the Country around Kiwirrkurra in the east, the Ngayurnangalku travelled across the desert, stopping near Puntawarri, at Jilukurru (Killagurra Springs, Canning Stock Route Well 17) and at Kupayura (Savory Creek) before finally reaching Kumpupirntily.

At Kumpupirntily, the Ngayurnangalku had a meeting to debate whether or not they would continue to live as cannibals, and eventually came to the decision to stop eating people. That night, a female baby cannibal was born. Following protocol, the baby also had to be consulted by the group. She determined that the Ngayurnangalku should continue to eat people. Her decision divided the group, and from this point the group from the east continued to live as ‘bad’ cannibals at Kumpupirntily, while the group from the west became ‘good’, thereafter consuming only animals. 

The cannibal Ngayurnangalku still live beneath the crust of Kumpupirntily lake in an underground world lit by their own sun. They surface only to feed on human flesh, coming in and out of the world we see through a small hill that acts as a gateway between worlds; Yapu Maparnpa (magical hill). Stored with the Ngayurnangalku in their underground world is an arsenal of maparnpa (holding power for sorcery) weapons, as well as deposits of pujurrpa (red ochre) that the Ngayurnangalku use to paint themselves with when they dance.

Several phenomena at Kumpupirntily act as a warning of the imminent appearance of the Ngayurnangalku; still skies, wilany (boomerang-shaped clouds), and the emergence of the parla-parla (type of lizard), smacking their mouths. The vigilance of the Martu as they travel in the Country around Kumpupirntily is so great that several other precautions are followed; fires are not lit, planes and helicopters are not flown directly over the area, and digging in the lake is strongly discouraged. All of these activities are believed to disturb the Ngayurnangalku, causing them to rise from their underground world. 

Name: Heather Samson

Community: Jigalong


“I was born out at Jigalong Mission and grew up in mission with my families. I went to school there right up to year 7. Finished then and worked around the community for a while as a single lady. I worked in the school for a little while then I worked in the clinic for 4 years, I did a lot of things like taking temperatures when people got sick and doing first aid on them as well. Then I went on to meet my partner. We got married and went to live on the station Yalleen near Pannawonica. We were working up and down, Belfer downs and Yalleen. We had kids then, I looked after my oldest sisters daughter and took her as my own and grew her up, then I had my own. Philipa first then Anthony and Caleb and Tanya and I adopted Elton, as they grew old enough to go back to the community  I wanted to take them there they didn’t know any of my families coz they grew up in the station. So we went back to Jigalong to be with the families so they know them then.

It was good to take them back, back in the school because I need them to have a good education. We settled down my partner was a pastoral manager for wallakanya (the whole big area) and I use to help him doing station works Billinooka and Walgun and Jigalong pastoral leases looking after the cattle there. Branding them and feeding them with a lot of hays, we use to ride down to Midland to sell the cattle on the community truck. It was really hard getting all the cattle in one single truck we use to get a cattle train to. I was doing the paper work for all that work.

I remember in Yalleen there is one big tree covered in those ants and they light up they light up like they are on fire at night time. Beautiful. That place is next to Port Hedland and Indee Station side.

 I been doing a lot of charcoal drawings and bark painting in Jigalong. I learnt charcoal in school I love that it’s easy you sketch maybe a tree and you can always put the shadings on it using your thumbs and even on the clouds.

Now I’m painting with Martumili which I really love, when im in town I paint. I paint about seven sisters and water holes and my ngurra (home Country, camp), my homelands all around Jigalong, Puntawarrie around Parnngurr around Yulpul area.”

© the artist / art centre