Funerary rites

A senior traditional owner passed away during the initial weeks of my stay and I was invited to the main funerary public ceremony which was held at his house in Banyan, Gunbalanya under a magnificent large Banyan tree with roots the wurdwurd (children) could get lost amongst. There was a lovely breeze and soft fresh sand to sit on. Huge hunks of bullikki (cow) were being cooked and a large djenj (fish) like a swordfish. Many bininj had come, some from saltwater kunbolk (country) so it was probably caught in the ocean. I sat with the daluk in my family as they painted themselves in delek, including their hair. I got more from the art centre for them. Many bininj throughout the week had come to Injalak for supplies, such as boomerang, clapstick and mako (didgeridoo). Young bininj were dancing to clapsticks and mako, many holding a shoe in place of the traditional implement to do the actions as it is referred to in dance and song groups. Then the widow with her head covered by a clothe or towel was led by a group down the street. My karrang explained she was being taken to the house of her family-in-law in order to be freed from the bond to them. senior bininj or clever men led the way painted up and gesturing away evil spirits and the spirit of the deceased. Once they returned to the house where the body lay in state there was much crying and shouting coming from within. Eventually balanda were invited in to pay respects. Inside everyone sat on the floor around the coffin which was elevated. I was overcome by emotion. When the time came for the coffin to be carried to the hearse the widow and other daluk began throwing themselves on the ground in a demonstration of mourning and then karrang got a large knife and began cutting her head so blood dripped down. The knife was shared around for the purpose amid wailing. It was impossible for me not to weep, but I guided karrang and my sisters and children to my troopy and became part of the slow procession to the gravesite at the base of arguluk hill, a significant site for initiations. Young daluk did the actions while singing often unable to hold back the tears and bininj hung their heads, it was a beautiful funeral. Some poems were read in English and Kunwinjku and a balanda priest did the Christian rites. Then his belongings including his mattress were placed in the grave too.

One thought on “Funerary rites

  1. Vanessa, i am so enriched by your journey. I cannot imagine how it must be for you. Thank you so much for sharing these beautiful, honest and exquisitely rich experiences with us. You are an inspiration to me.
    Please pass on these heartfelt wishes to your ‘family’, from your canberra kin.
    XXX Amanda


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