Elizabeth Djuttara and some of her fibrework © Peter Eve
Many of the fibre articles marketed by Bula'bula Arts today are identical to those made since the beginning of time. The original creation stories contain practical information on the shape and design of woven items, their materials, techniques and uses.
The basketry produced today is made with as much care and reverence as it has been for centuries, continuing to be made for ceremonial and utilitarian purposes, as well as for the market. As with other items of material culture there has been adaptation to suit people's changing way of life, and the demands of the balanda (European) market. New techniques have been introduced at various stages. Some of these have been mastered and adopted in the constant experimentation which keeps art exciting and dynamic both to those creating it and for the many discerning admirers of their art.
Traditionally men as well as women are weavers, producing a range of items; dug out canoe sails, fishing nets and lines, rope, fishing traps, string sculptures (ceremonial objects) and fine ceremonial basketry and feather work. In 1992, Ramingining weaver Elizabeth Djuttara won the prestigious Vic. Health National Craft Award. Djuttarra's richly coloured woven floor mat so impressed the judges that it was easily the winning item among the 180 or so entries.
Dyed Pandanus © Peter Eve
| Pandanus Weaving|
The three youngest bunches of leaves from the top of the Gunga (pandanus spirilis) or Screw Palm are hooked down by long stick, and the prickly edges stripped off with the thumb nail. On their return from the bush, the women strip the long leaves into several fibres, bundle them up and hang them to dry. Weaving may commence at this stage and the finished article left ‘plain’ or decorated with ochres, or the fibres are beautifully-coloured with the natural bush the dyes collected, and then woven.
Milipa © Bula'bula Arts 2004
| Shades of yellow to deep orange are obtained from the Milipa (Opilia amentacea), or Sand-paper leaf fig. The root of this shrub is stripped of its yellow-colour and the chips boiled for up to an hour with the pandanus strips until the desired depth of colour is reached. They are then hung to drip-dry, and are ready for weaving whilst the fibres are still moist and pliable.|
Bunyagutjagutja © Bula'bula Arts 2004
Shades of pink to reddish-brown and purple are similarly obtained from the root of Bunyagutjagutja (Haemodorum coccineum), a shiny green-leafed grass with bright red root.
Recent experimentation with inclusion of parts of the pandanus tree and ash from the leaf of the coconut palm have resulted in interesting shades of lime-green to dark blue. Occasionally exhaust baths are blended to make subtle shades. The Gunga is then skilfully woven into many beautiful and useful items.
Nganiyal - The traditional form of mat here in Central Arnhem Land, it is conical in shape, and used as an insect screen when erected, and as a sitting mat when folded. When folded, it was also used for wrapping up food and other girri. They are also used for ceremonies involving 'women's business'.
Dilly bags (Mindirr) © Bula'bula Arts 2004
Mindirr - A generic name in this area for 'dilly bags' of various shape, size and use, worn hanging down the back with the string handle across the forehead. These are finely-woven of various sizes for carrying personal possessions whilst travelling, or hanging from a forked-stick support in the camp out of reach of dogs and kids. Men use long, cylindrical closely-woven bags for personal or ritual items, which are richly-decorated with clan designs painted in ochres or decorated with feathers for ceremonial use.
Dhimbuka - A very tightly-twined bag, so closely and finely woven as to carry guku (bush honey or sugarbag) or even water without leakage. Or, larger, generally open-weave hunting bags for ngatha (vegetable food), guya (fish), or warrakan (meat). The open weave allows sand, dirt, blood, and water to sieve through on the journey back to camp.
Coil weave technique as used by Namiyal Bopirri © Bula'bula Arts 2004
| Bathi - Baskets or containers. These are very often woven in innovative shapes and patterns with a handle attached in the European style. They are either woven in the same traditional manner as the mindirr, sometimes varying the weave to create a pattern, or the coil weave technique is used. This technique was introduced by a young woman missionary in this region as an adaptation of a style employed by Aboriginals in other areas. The coil-weave technique involves securing bunches of pandanus fibre with strips of pandanus in a button hole stitch using a large needle. A spiralling colour and pattern effect from the centre outwards is created. This weaving style is also used to make table mats.|
Circular Floor Mat by Judy Baypungala. Acquired by the Museums and Art
Galleries of the Northern Territory from the National Aboriginal and
Torres Strait Islander Art Award 2002
© Bula'bula Arts 2004
- These are an adaptation of the traditional conical mat (Nganiyal) being tightly-woven so that the circular movement of the weft determines the pattern by variations of colour, or of a more loosely woven style leaving bands of the warp visible as to create a pattern. The remaining warp threads are left un-cut in the outer rim to give a natural flowing finish. The fibres in these mats, as with the other weavings are hardy and long wearing as well as visually pleasing.
Batjparra, traditional sieve by Elizabeth Djutarra © Bula'bula Arts 2004
| - Traditional sieve. This is an open, woven form in a rectangular shape, generally with one edge stitched to form a cone. Ngatha (bush foods) or warrakan (meat) can be rinsed through these in flowing water or shaken free of sand.|
Miwana by Rosie Rrodji
© Bula'bula Arts 2004
- These ‘special traditional’ collecting bags are made from Sedge-grass (Cyperus javanicus; Cyperus conicus) without processing or dyeing. Other utilitarian items such as sieves and fish traps are occasionally made from this material as well.
- An open-weave bag first used by the two Spirit Beings in the form of women who lived in the Yathalamarra waterhole (near Ramingining). They collected their ngatha (waterlillies, their bulbs and stems), and and guya (fish) as do the Yathalamarra women today. The Miwana are produced seasonally when the rains have begun and the sedge grass has grown tall. They are much-prized by older women for gathering and hunting.
Balgurr string © Bula'bula Arts 2004
Twisted balgurr © Bula'bula Arts 2004
Djan’pa used as ceremonial regalia by Namiyal Bopirri © Bula’bula Arts 2004
- String is made from a variety of sources:
- Kurrajong tree, bark used (Brachychiton parodoxis)
- Billy Goat Plum, roots used (Planchonia careya)
- Banyan tree, roots used (Ficus virens)
Each of these fibres has its own peculiarity of colour, texture and flexibility.
String in the Ramingining region is mainly made from Balgurr.
The bark of the Kurrajong is stripped from a young tree and chewed or beaten whilst still fresh. Sometimes an older woman with teeth missing might get help from the children for this process. It is thought that this bark also has some nutritional value. The chewed and dried bark is then ‘spun’ undyed, or coloured. Colour may be imparted by hitting the yellow-coloured part of the Milipa (Sand-paper leaf fig) tree root with a rock into the bark, or boiling the bark with the chopped root for about half-an-hour. The yellow colour may be changed to shades of pink to reddish brown by adding the ash from the Gudirri (Eucalyptus confertiflora), Smooth-stemmed Bloodwood, to the dye bath, or holding the bark or string in the smoke of a fire burning from this wood. The bark is then spun by rolling it forward in two strands on a bare thigh, and these are then plied by a backward rolling motion.
Once spun, the string has many uses. Ceremonially it is plied with feathers, either bright red from the lorikeet or white goose-down and used as body ornaments, or in other ways including:
- String used for body decoration
- Plaited string
- Armbands and headbands
Djerrk, string bags, by Kathleen Malpumba and Namiyal Bopirri © Bula'bula Arts 2004
Djerrk - A bag made of string that is either knitted or knotted to form the weave. These range from small looped personal bags to large bags for hunting and gathering.
Women in Ramingining use their legs as a loom, stretched in front of them, the distance between them determining the the size of the resulting bag. Five or so threads are tied to form a circular neck, which is placed around the ankles, and a simple looping technique employed to form the bag. The fibre is introduced and spun as neccessary as the bag progresses to the desired size. When the bag is removed, it is secured across the bottom and the handle added and bound.