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In Burarra and Gun-nartpa languages the figure represented in this artwork is generally known as a wangarra ‘ghost spirit’. For the Warrawarra clan ghost spirits have their own particular characteristics and their own name – Warraburnburn. The Warraburnburn and the closely related Galabarrbarr spirit (owned by the Balkarranga clan) are also manikay song topics.  The spirits are related to each other as maternal grandparent and grandchild, just as the people of Warrawarra and Balkarranga are. The dancing of the two ghost spirit figures forms the finale performance for funerals, and is the final goodbye to a deceased family member. In many ways the Warraburnburn and Galabarrbarr ghost spirits are like people. They emerge from the patches of jungle on Warrawarra and Balkarranga country in the late afternoon and go hunting in family groups of men, women and children. They stay in contact with each other by calling out as the men hunt for fish and the women walk with their dillybags looking for vegetable food.  The ghost spirits are associated closely with white ochre and artists commonly paint the bodies of carved figures in white. Different types of ghost spirit wear different patterns. Warraburnburn is decorated with uniform white dots while others are painted white all over. Some ghost spirits are shown with a design painted on their chest infilled with rarrk ‘cross-hatching’, the same designs that are painted onto japi an-guyinda ‘male initiations’.  They also have supernatural characteristics including superhuman size (jarra anbaykarda ‘super tall’). They know the country intimately – some are malevolent towards humans and will lead people astray, taking them to unfamiliar and dangerous places. These malevolent spirits are likened to an-muburda ‘sorcerers’ and can conduct dangerous rituals that cause harm to people. Others are benign and will lead humans back to familiar paths and their own camps.  

Name: Serena Bonson

Language: Djinang

Community: Maningrida


Born in Miwirnbi, Serena Bonson lives and works in Manigrida community in the Northern Territory. Her heritage is of Djowinge moiety, the Djinang language group and she is part of the Murrungun clan. Bonson has quickly become known for her striking carvings in stringybark painted in black and white to depict the Wangarra spirits. The Wangarra play a key role in the stories of Bonson's community relating to death, birth and the transition of the spirit into the afterlife, and in rebirth. They are considered indicative of ancestral beings and deeply connected to the waterholes that are central to the stories of the clan and their connections to land.

© the artist / art centre