Published by on

Djamo (dog)

The djamo (dog) holds special mythological as well as practical significance for people of Central Arnhem land, particularly women. The men used to go hunting with a spear and the women with a dog. If the men didn’t catch a kangaroo, the women would catch a goanna. If neither caught anything, then they could catch fish. If there was neither kangaroo nor goanna, then they would eat sugarbag. This is how it was long ago – sugarbag, lily root, yam, goanna, sand goanna, fish and more were part of the regular diet. “Don’t forget that long ago we didn’t know European food, we knew bush food. We used to grow from bush food.” Rembarrnga women have literally and metaphorically brought together strands from their country and the mythology of their heritage to produce three dimensional fibre creatures filled with mystical significance. Dog, mermaid, rainbow serpent, blue tongue and fish multiplication spirits: each creature plays an important role in the clan’s cultural landscape. Materials for this camp dog comes from the clan estate. Dayarr (pandanus) and rulk (grass) are the twines used for the creature’s bodies. Warlppurrunggu (bush turkey) and nganarrngh (black cockatoo) feathers provide bulkkan-na (hair). Marnarr (red), gamununggu (white), garlba (yellow) ochres and roerroe (black) ashes are then carefully mixed and applied for colour. The use of local materials provides an integral link between the mythological nature of the creatures, which inhabit the country and their physical form.

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