The women of Mäpuru
The CERES women's camp was a treasured life experience that will be imprinted in my memory forever. I would like to thank you and the Arnhem Weavers for a wonderful adventure. I had a fabulous journey that has enriched my soul, and gave me a chance to stop, reset and relook at life in a new way. The women of Mäpuru live a fabulous simple existence within their small community...
The basket making workshops were
eagerly awaited like mediation each
day. The days seem to pass way to
quickly because we were all simply
engrossed in the making our baskets
not on life’s challenges – a time to
just breath and relax. As the days
rolled on we developed a routine
and bonded with the Mäpuru
women over basket techniques.
They were very patient with us and generous in giving their skills to our group.
The women who attended the camp were such a great bunch of passionate and community minded individuals that it was easy to build friendships with the group over cooking roster and campfire chats. Two learning journeys unfolding at the same time - the campers and the weavers.
I am so thankful to have been given a unique opportunity to stay at the community - an outstanding concept. I am feeling very inspired and working on new work for my
next exhibition. I am dreaming of the warm lush climate as it has been sub zero temperatures since my return.
Thank you to everyone for making it such a memorable experience and I look forward to making another journey to you.
9th August 2015
Here is a story about a Balanda’s time in Mäpuru.
My name is Val, I live in Brunswick Heads northern NSW. I am a 59yo man who works as a medical herbalist.
About a year ago a friend told me about a work colleague who regularly goes to Yolŋu Land (east Arnhem land) and walks around bare footed with the Yolŋu. The thought of doing this really appealed to me, so I contacted her colleague and was put onto Sam, whom has a business called Nature Philosophy, which amongst other things runs trips to Mäpuru.
After driving 2 days to the east of Darwin our group of 10 men, a few more women and a scattering of children we arrived in Mäpuru up near the Gulf of Carpentaria.
There was a group of Yolŋu men whom made our acquaintance and spent the next 10 days hanging out and orientating us to their land and customs.
We did interesting things like make spears, spear throwers and didgeridoos. We camped in pristine places and hunted a lot of our food. Concurrently the women were in a separate camp and were involved in basket weaving and affiliated women’s business.
I grew up in a rural Australian town and thus had some contact with aboriginals but found it difficult to see past the endemic social problems that have developed since European settlement. Being an Aussie rules player I did have high regard for the athletic prowess of indigenous players.
Although I was only in Mäpuru for a short time and being highly ignorant of Yolŋu culture and mindset, I would still like to share my balanda (European) experience and impressions. I, like most of the new wave of Australian settlers have never had any contact with indigenous Australians whom have an intact culture and skill base, with minimal exposure to the white man’s way. These people could speak the multiple languages of Arnhem land but English was rudimentary, the use of money as a unit of exchange was also a concept they struggled to master. John Greatorex a balanda whom lives within the Yolŋu community explained to me that the Yolŋu put value on quality in relationship, thus find the quantitative nature of money and trading a strange concept.
Part of Yolŋu tradition is to adopt any new arrival into their kinship network, and so within a few days we were all integrated into the local family network. One of our group, Jono had done some Yolŋu language and culture units and was keen for our group to understand our kinship relationships with our hosts and each other, hence classes were held on a regular basis. It soon become apparent that once adopted an outsider became part of the system and everybody knew what to expect from this new person and what their duty was toward them. Terms that have family meaning to us like uncle, brother, father, etc are used but I suspect the relationships are far more precise than that. For instance a nephew to one brothers son will have a completely different relationship than a nephew to a sister’s or even another brother’ son. Socially this has great ramifications as it means everyone knows they belong and are valued without having to prove anything, ie they are perfect as they are. I think this instills a self-confidence that we Balanda lack, hence we are always trying to prove our worth to ourselves and others.
As part of the adoption process a name is decreed, ie after an animal, bird, vegetation or part of the weather or landscape. I can’t begin to fathom how these names are chosen and what it means in terms of relationship with this totem, however I suspect that is a profound connection. Seems to me that the way kinship groups are intimately woven together with a myriad of responsibility spill out to the environment a whole. I think everything and everybody is connected to the extent that responsibilities and expectations exist with all beings and non-beings alike. Hence there is a great respect for other beings and the environment.
I was amazed by the skill levels the Yolŋu had. One of the ‘men’ overseeing our group was a 7 year old boy. There was nothing this kid could not do! He could sing, dance, make and play a didgeridoo, catch fish, cook, make spears and was totally aware where he was in the bush.
My feeling is that the indigenous Australians are soooo special and that we should value and learn from them. This could enrich our own lives on a personal and social level and cultivate a connection with the environment that is respectful and sustainable.
The more exposure balanda Australians have to communities like the one in Mäpuru the greater will be the admiration and respect from Australian society in general toward our First Peoples. Hopefully the day will come when we realise what a living treasure exists in the First People communities of Yolŋu Land and other remote areas.
I would like to thank the men from Mäpuru country for welcoming us, and providing the opportunity for us to have such a rich experience.
I would particularly like to thank my gäthu (son) Yirriṉiṉi for kindly incorporating me into his kinship group, teaching me so much of the Yolŋu way, and gracing me with Guwak, a name from his ancestry.
Mäpuru Mens Trip 2015
Its been almost a year since my trip to the small community of Mäpuru in September 2015. John Greatorex said it would be good for me to write something about it, that it would help. I kept telling myself I would, just as soon as I “processed” it all. I felt like I
needed time to think. I should have written something on the last day, straight away without waiting, because now it feels like the magic is lost. But let’s see... I think the biggest shock of the whole trip was going back to Darwin. The two day journey in the back of the troopy was a gradual re-entry into the life I lived before.
I remember when we stopped at the petrol station in Bulman. I had been fantasizing for
days about what would be the first thing I would buy: a cool drink? Some chocolate? An
ice block? But when I went into the shop it just felt weird and artificial. Where did all of
this stuff come from? There were too many colours and too many choices. How could it
be that spending just 10 days in Mapuru made the life I lived before strange and foreign
I can’t explain it, but that’s how it felt.
The next evening when we were in Darwin I went to get an ice cream - there were at least
10 different flavours - I couldn’t believe it. I was thinking to myself “how is this
possible? Is it really necessary?”
There were so many memorable moments from the trip - they are special - I almost feel
like I might ruin them by writing about them. I could tell you stories of adventure - of
trekking and hunting and fishing, but I’m worried that you might misinterpret it as some
kind of a boy’s-own fantasy. I could tell you stories of beauty - of sunsets and fires and
people, but again, I don’t want you to think that this is tourism. Maybe I could tell you
stories of culture - of singing and dancing and “flying”?
I don’t want to. But I will say, come and live it for yourself. If you have any urge, if you
are physically able, if you are prepared, don’t miss an opportunity to be part of a trip like
Jono Crane July 2016
PS To my Yolŋu hosts - thank you for an unforgettable and immensely enriching
PPS To my Balanda companions - I feel incredibly lucky to have shared the trip with
such a resilient, tolerant and supportive group of people.