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Wurum (Fish Increasing Spirit)

Aboriginal people throughout Australia undertook rituals, which were designed to result in the increase of various natural species. The Rembarrnga people of Central Arnhem Land tell of the spirit being Wurum who had a human form and carried fish in dilly bags. He is sometimes depicted with fins called konno on his legs and arms suggesting a transformational human-fish nature.

In order to create an abundance of certain fish species, Rembarrnga people would draw an image of Wurum on the side of a tree. They would then call out the following invocation; Deny ngarra-jalman ngarr-mangara, ‘We want to get fish’. Following this they would sleep for a night and then it is said that there would be an increase in fish.
Wurum is associated with a site called Kukaddjerre in Balngarra clan estate south of Maningrida. The Wurum also has a further function.

Burruwal described the paperbark Wurum he constructed as the ‘true’ or original form. This suggests that the more solid wooden carving may have been a later innovation. The artist told that ‘in the early days’ these paperbark figures would be placed, standing upright, around a mortuary site for two distinct purposes; to watch and ward off evil spirits, and to signal to people the presence of a mortuary location, so they could find or stay clear of it.

The ability of a contemporary artist like Burruwal to make these highly traditional paperbark figures – a relic of a bygone era – underscores the intimate spiritual links Burruwal has to his personal ancestry.

Name: Lena Yarinkura

Language: Kune

Community: Maningrida


“No one taught me to use pandanus to make my animals. I have been teaching myself I create new ways all the time.  They are only my ideas…I pass my ideas on to my children and my grandchildren. It is important that I teach them, because one day I will be gone, and they will take my place.”

- Lena Yarinkura, 2012

 Lena Yarinkura is renowned for her ambitious and highly distinctive pandanus and paperbark fibre sculptures. Yarinkura diverged from the more conventional fibre work of her contemporaries to become one of the first Arnhem Land women to work with fibre in a sculptural way.

 Yarinkura has developed her method using pandanus in much the same process as a dilly bag or fish trap might be made: beginning by creating a closed end, much like the base of a dilly bag. When making her noted Yawkyawk spirit form,  Yarinkura works up and out to gently expand the woven structure to fashion a bulbous torso before narrowing the weave at the torso’s base or hips to create a flat two layered section representing the tail fins.  The ochre pigment applied to the textured weave of the pandanus fibre, suggest the scales of the water spirits and the shimmering quality to their skin.

 Yarinkura ‘embraces divergence and invention, and allows for intuition and spontaneity in her process’.[1]   

 [1] Diane Moon, ‘Lena Yarinkura: “weaving, it can make you happy”’, in Diane Moon (ed.), Floating Life: Contemporary Aboriginal Fibre Art, Queensland Art Gallery, Brisbane, 2009, p.134.”

© the artist / art centre