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Tiwi Bird Carvings

Tiwi Bird Carvings

Aboriginal artists create Tiwi bird carvings using hardwood, decorated with natural earth pigments. Referred to as Tokampini. They are present throughout the major creation story of the Tiwi people.

First Ancestor of the Tiwi Tribe

Tokampini were mortal beings who acted as witnesses, messengers, mourners, informers, and law makers. They were present at the end of the creation period. Furthermore, they were fundamental in making and delivering to mortal Tiwi people the new laws for the land. Tokampini’s daughter, Bima, and her son, Jinarni, are central figures in the Purrukapali creation myth and song cycle. Which lies at the centre of Tiwi ceremony and culture.

Purukuparli, the first Ancestral Being of the Tiwi tribe, went out hunting one day. Thus leaving his wife Bima and baby son under the shade of a tree. His brother, Tapara, came into the camp and persuaded Bima to go off into the bush with him. Leaving the baby still sleeping. Gradually the sun swung around and dehydrated him. And Purukuparli became very angry when returned and saw his condition.

When Tapara and Bima walked back into the camp the two men had a bitter fight. During which, Tapara flew up into the sky and became the man in the moon. Purukuparli picked up his son and started to walk backwards into the sea. Vowing that henceforth death, hitherto unknown to the Tiwi tribe, would now come to everyone. Bima changed into a curlew, and every night she wanders through the mangroves. Crying for the loss of her husband and child. This is how death first came to the Tiwi tribe. Death was unknown to the Tiwi people before this.

What Happened Next

In vain Tapara called down from the moon, begging Purukuparli to desist and he would come down and try to revive the baby. But Purukuparli kept on walking until the waves closed over their heads.

After this the Pukumani ceremony became a mourning ritual. The Ancestral Being that devised it was Owl man. In fact, this ceremony still happens today. And is to honor Purukuparli. The number of carved poles placed around a grave can vary. This depends on the importance of the deceased.


At AAIA gallery we have a range of Tiwi bird carvings. This artefact is very popular, due to the intricate designs and important heritage. If you would like to purchase one of our Tiwi bird carvings please contact us. You can call, email, alternatively, you can use our contact form here. Or if you would like to view our other popular artefacts click here.

Aboriginal Art - Tiwi Bird Carvings