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© George Milpurrurru/ Licensed by Viscopy, 2017

Goose canoe egg collecting

Date: 1988
Overall: 1635 x 722 mm, 20 kg
Display Dimensions: 1413 x 540 x 6 mm, 3135 kg
Medium: Ochres, stringy bark
Credit Line: ANMM Collection
Object Copyright: © George Milpurrurru
Object Name: Bark painting
Object No: 00006217

User Terms

    This painting by George (Milpurrurru) Malibirr depicts a goose egg hunting expedition on the Arafura swamp in Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.

    This painting is influenced by a photograph taken by anthropologist Donald Thomson in April 1937. Milpurruru has taken Thomson's ethnographic 'staged' photograph of hunting goose eggs in the tidal swamps of Arnhem Land, and transformed it into a work of art.
    SignificanceThis bark painting depicts the ceremony of the gurrumba mapu (goose eggs) - an important ceremony sacred to the Ganalbingu people of Arnhem Land.
    HistoryAs soon as the Gurramatji (magpie geese) begin to tread down the grass in the Arafura swamp to make their nests, the Ganalbingu people establish camps nearby and peel bark from trees in preparation to make their Njarrdan (stringy-bark canoes).

    The Njarrdan are made from one large piece of stringy bark, which has been soaked in water, steamed and shaped. The ends are sewn together and sealed to make them watertight. Carefully shaped, the Njarrdan's sharp bow and shallow draft allows it to part tall grass in the swamp and pass over snags and obstacles while being poled from a standing position.

    At the end of Midawarr (the wet season around March/April) the Gurramatji lay their eggs. The Gurramatji, their eggs and their nests are sacred to Ganalbingu people - who are often called the magpie goose people. When the eggs are first collected in a season they are hunted at a certain phase of the moon, and a small ceremony is held to open the season.

    The Gurramatji are watched during the nesting period, and when enough eggs have been laid the Ganalbingu people launch their Njarrdan and hunt the eggs and geese. With no dry land, the Ganalbingu men live out on the swamp in tree platforms above the water, enabling them to hunt for several days at a time.

    This is the ceremony of the gurrumba mapu (goose eggs) - the nest is sometimes thought of as a resting place for souls. A small ceremony is held with the newest born Ganalbingu babies and the goose eggs to open the season. The mothers paint themselves with white clay around the armpits and chest like white on the geese, which is said to represent breast milk. Two men dance the goose dance with cooked eggs, break the shell and give it to the mothers with their babies. Egg is rubbed over their bodies to ensure that they and their mothers will stay healthy over the infant years.

    Goose egg hunting was recorded by anthropologist Donald Thomson when he visited the Arafura Swamp in 1937. Thomson took part in two expeditions on the swamp, and his images (which are now held in the Museum of Victoria) became the inspiration for the 2007 Rolf de Heer film 'Ten Canoes' which was based around an expedition to collect magpie geese and their eggs.

    Additional Titles

    Primary title: Goose canoe egg collecting, language: Ganalpuyngu, clan: Gurrumba Gurrumba

    Web title: Goose canoe egg collecting

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