Important Aboriginal Works of Art
25 May 2016


(1925 – 1995)

synthetic polymer paint and natural earth pigments on linen

121.0 x 181.0 cm

signed verso: JoriJonu David Dwnzs [sic]
bears inscription verso: size and cat. 040

$15,000 – 20,000
Sold for $15,860 (inc. BP) in Auction 43 - 25 May 2016, Melbourne

Commissioned by Duncan Kentish in 1987
Collection of the late Duncan Kentish, Adelaide

Catalogue text

The Wakaya ceremony was introduced into the south Kimberley in the late 1950s early 1960s and by 1963, the initial 'introductory' sections of the ritual had reached La Grange. Originating from the east of the Northern Territory, the Wakaya ceremony shares the same name as a language group found south of the Gulf of Carpentaria and straddling the Northern Territory and Queensland border around the upper reaches of the Ranken, Georgina and Buckley Rivers systems.

Throughout the 1960s, ‘70s and into the early 1980s, instalments of this ceremony moved westwards from the Northern Territory and played a major role in the ritual life of the Aboriginal people of the south Kimberley – particularly the Wangkajungka, the Walmajarri and the Mangala people, who had moved from their homelands on the northern and western edges of the Great Sandy Desert to centres such as Balgo (Wirrimanu), Billiluna (Mulan), Christmas Creek (Krungal), Fitzroy Crossing, Looma, and La Grange (Bidyadanga). This painting depicts the Walmajarri, and their neighbours from the southeast, the Wangkajungka, who 'came in' after the Walmajarri had settled in and around Fitzroy Crossing. The Wangkajungka men are depicted with their more traditional chignon hair-styles, while women, who also played a part in many aspects of the ceremony, are shown dancing.

Each group adopting the cycle would acquire and perform an instalment and then pass it on to the next adjacent group who wished to participate in the cycle. From the perspective of the south Kimberley, these travelling ceremonies may diverge, and go northwards into the central Kimberley and also southwest to the Pilbara via the Desert folk now resident at La Grange (Bidyadanga). Some aspects of the Wakaya ceremonies also bore striking associations with concepts found in Christianity.

In this painting, Men Dancing Wakaya, c.1987, Jarinyanu David Downs presents the scene of a Wakaya ceremony being performed. This particular dance sequence displays many references to rain and rain-making. Male dancers wear tall matura or kutari head-dresses (enhanced representations of the hairbun or chignon worn by men in the past) each topped with feather ornament (ngaliwirri/ngarliwirri) representing clouds that are known by the same name. In their hands, the dancers hold the curved returning-type boomerangs called jangkarr that the Desert folk had always received as ceremonial gifts from their neighbours to the west. The symmetrical, curved boomerangs represent not only the important sickle-shaped wilany clouds that bring rain to the desert, but the curved pearl shell blades, integral to rain-making ceremonies. Wilany designs are also painted on the chests of the dancers.