Coiling technique was introduced in the 1920s at Goulburn Island to the Maung people by missionaries and quickly spread to the mainland. Many artists produce coiled baskets of varied shapes, ranging from small round baskets to large oval baby baskets made from dyed pandanus. Artists combine colours and patterns to obtain intricate new graphic patterns.
Yawkyawk is a word in the Kunwinjku/Kunwok language of Western Arnhem Land meaning 'young woman' and 'young woman spirit being'. The female water spirits Yawkyawk or Ngalkunburriyaymi are perhaps the most enigmatic of mythological themes. Sometimes compared to the European notion of mermaids, they exist as spiritual beings living in freshwater streams and rock pools, particularly those in the stone country. The spirit Yawkyawk is usually described and depicted with the tail of a fish. Thus the Kuninjku people sometimes call them ngalberddjenj which literally means 'the young woman who has a tail like a fish'. They have long hair, which is associated with trailing blooms of green algae (called man-bak in Kuninjku). At times they leave their aquatic homes to walk about on dry land, particularly at night.
Wayarra/Wyarra is a spirit that floats around at night and can appear as a floating white skeleton. They take their skin off to wash. These spirits can be frightening in appearance, however they usually stay away from humans. A result of being a 'clever man' or a traditional healer, is they can commune with the Wayarra/Wyarra. It is also believed that the Wayarra/Wyarra can endow humans with the power to heal. The ghost-like spirits are an integral part of Aboriginal cosmology in the western and central parts of Arnhem land.
The Wangarra spirits inhabit clan waterholes where they are reborn as new members of the clan. The birth of a child is always announced in a dream, when the spirit of the new child makes itself known to the child’s father. The spirit comes from the clan waterhole, and 'gets hold' of the mother when she is out collecting. When a person dies, the various ceremonies that are associated with the stages of the body’s disposal are concerned with making sure that the dead person’s spirit finds its way back to the clan waterhole from where it came. Because the Wangarra spirits are themselves part of the power of the Ancestral Beings who created the land, so too are the clan members who are the human forms of these spirits.
Aboriginal people in the rocky environments of western and south-western Arnhem Land tell of the existence of tall slender spirits which they call Mimih. The people of western Arnhem Land believe that Mimih spirits live in a social organisation similar to Aboriginal people and that Mimih society existed before humans. Mimih are credited with instructing the first people with knowledge relating to survival in the rocky environment of the Arnhem Land plateau. Mimih are said to have taught the first humans how to hunt and butcher game meat and also how to dance, sing and paint.
Courtesy of Maningrida Arts and Culture (MAC) 2015