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Milky Way Dreaming

The Jakamarra ancestors of the Warlpiri tribe have lived since the beginning of time at a place called Yirlkirdi in the western desert of Central Australia. Early in this century, however, their vast lands were leased to a pastoralist and renamed Mt. Singleton. Cast out from their homeland and forced to wander over the desert camping wherever they could, they still retained strong links with their traditional sacred sites

Custodians called kirda were appointed to ensure that social and ritual laws were never forgotten, including the performance of sacred and secret ceremonies at Yirlkirdi and at Pikilyi with which they had matrilineal ties.

This latter site, with twenty four rockholes in which Rainbow Serpents live and around which sacred and secret ceremonies have been performed since the Dreamtime, was also leased to a pastoralist and renamed Mt. Townsend. Today the area is fenced off and special permission has to be obtained from the pastoralist by Aboriginal custodians to gain entry to their own lands for the performance of ceremonial rites. Some ceremonies have inevitably ceased, because Aborigines are not happy with them being performed at any place other than the sites established by the Ancestral Beings.

At regular intervals the Jakamarra Ancestral Beings made dreaming tracks across the desert to visit small groups of Aborigines living at isolated camps. At each place they created sacred sites, gave the people the Warlpiri language and taught them law and ceremony. These ancestral beings had the ability to transform themselves into other creatures or metamorphose into natural phenomena should danger threaten or if they felt their time had come to die. In this way their spirits would live on forever.

In the Dreamtime a group of seven Napaltjarri women were being pursued by a Jakamarra man called Jilbi. He had been sitting in a cave at Yirlkirdi practicing love magic by cutting off his long hair and weaving it by hand onto a wooden spindle, then performing songs and dances which people from far off could hear. Often he would entice young women to come to his cave and live with him. Jakamarra men were very proud of their successes when they practiced this magic, and spent much time boasting among themselves about their prowess.

The seven women had no intention of sleeping with the Jakamarra man and ran away from him, journeying a long way across the desert until they were too tired and hungry to go any further. They sat down at Uluru to search for honey ants, then when they saw Jilbi approaching went to a place called Kurlunyalimpa, and changed themselves into seven fires. With the help of spirits at Uluru they went up into the sky to become stars. Ever since then they can be seen as a cluster of seven stars in the constellation Taurus, known as the Pleiades. Jilbi transformed himself into the Morning Star in Orion’s belt, and continues to chase the Pleiades across the sky.

This Dreaming (jukurrpa) is closely related to men’s secret and sacred ceremonies involving senior initiated men, and may only be painted by women with the consent of Paddy Japalarri Sims, custodian of the Milky Way Dreaming. If he does give permission, he insists that any secret aspects are never revealed. The women artists need not necessarily be members of the Warlpiri tribe, although they usually have some matrilineal or marriage ties to the Warlpiri.

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