A Myth of the Ancestral Being, Barama

About this object

Iconographic meaning

The tree in the centre panel top panel is the Tree of Life, on top of which sits a bird called Guwarg, the conveyor of messages from earth to the spirit island Barrlku, where the powerful spirit Barma lives. Possums scurry up and down the tree conveying messages from the people to Guwarg, who then flies across the sea to take the messages to Barama and to bring back helpful advice. Guwarg is also said to take the spirit of a person from the artist's moiety (Jiridja) to Badu Island, their land of the dead.
The two women in the lower panel are Nyapililnu and Wuradilagu who were said to have come from a distant land in a canoe, wandering over northeastern Arnhem Land teaching people to use paperbark for shelter and warmth and how to make string from another type of bark. The women are shown holding a digging stick used to pry bark from the trees.

Physical description

Bark painting on a roughly rectangular piece of slightly warped reddish-brown bark. The top is entirely covered with the painted image in yellow, black and white on a dark red ground. The image is divided into six panels. The upper centre panel shows two black possums on either side of the trunk of a tree. The four corner panels each show a pair of vertical yellow and black possums. The bottom centre panel shows two women facing a tree trunk. Above the upper panels is a horizontal panel of wavy lines. The upper and lower ends each finish with a short black band. The reverse is plain bark.