Maningrida Arts and Culture

Ngalyod (Rainbow Serpent) by Melba Gunjarrwanga

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Known as Ngalyod in the Kuninjku language of western central Arnhem Land, the rainbow serpent is mostly associated with bodies of water such as billabongs, creeks, rivers, and waterfalls where she resides. Therefore, she is responsible for the production of most water plants such as water lilies, water vines, algae, and palms, which grow near water. The roar of waterfalls in the escarpment country is said to be her voice. Large holes in stony banks of rivers and cliff faces are said to be her tracks. She is held in awe because of her apparent ability to renew her life by shedding her skin and emerging anew. Aboriginal myths about the rainbow serpent often describe her as a fearful creature that swallows humans only to regurgitate them, transformed by her blood. The white ochre used by artists to create brilliant white paint for bark paintings, body decoration, and in the past, rock art, is said to be the faeces of the rainbow serpent. 

As a cultural practice, bark art is a continuation of tradition, passing down sacred stories, designs and teachings through intricate strokes. The collection process begins after the wet season when the Stringybark tree is stripped, cured by fire, weighted and left to dry. Then using earth pigments, designs are layered, often with crosshatched strokes that speak to the cultural identity and visual language of the artist.  

Maningrida comes from the Ndjébbana phrase mane djang karrirra, meaning ‘the place where the totemic ancestors transformed.’ The community is located in Central Arnhem Land, a region defined by linguistic and cultural diversity, home to twelve language groups, 110 clans and 32 outstations or homelands. 

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Artist: Melba Gunjarrwanga
Title: Ngalyod (Rainbow Serpent), 1677-18.
Medium: Bark Painting
Dimensions: 114 x 42cm

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