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Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art

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Figure of Djan'kawu, ancestral being of the Dhuwa moiety

collected 1960


Mawalan Marika


circa 1908 - 26 Nov 1967

Language group

Rirratjingu, Arnhem region


The Djan'kawu, a man and two sisters, are the primary ancestral creator beings for the Dhuwa moiety of central and north eastern Arnhem Land. Yalangbara, where the Djan'kawu landed after their canoe journey from Burralku (an island to the east), is the most important location painted by Mawalan Marika. The Marika family consider themselves to be Mayarr Mayarr – the children of the Djan'kawu. In a series of five large bark paintings, Marika depicted the Djan'kawu journey by canoe across the sea, and their activities after they landed at Yalangbara. These paintings are considered to be the most comprehensive visual narratives of the Rirratjingu ancestral song cycle in existence.

'Djan'kawu creation story', 1959, portrays the verses from the song cycle that tell of the Djan'kawu Sisters travelling to different locations and giving birth to the Dhuwa clans. The lower panel refers to the Sisters giving birth at Arnhem Bay and later at Milingimbi, above. Marika also includes eight mawalan (sacred digging sticks) that the Djan'kawu plunged into the ground, creating waterholes, sacred trees and food-bearing plants. To the right of this, the Djan'kawu watch a sunrise and sunset. The top panel shows the death of the Sisters at Galiwin'ku (Elcho Island), while Djan'kawu the man is shown at Yalangbara contemplating the mawalan and singing.

The two carved, wooden Djan'kawu, ancestral being[s] of the Dhuwa moiety, 1960, are painted with ceremonial body designs and decorated with human hair, feathered pendants and bark aprons. Marika's figures are rare, three-dimensional representations of these miraculous ancestors.

Marika was a great law man with extensive sacred knowledge. He led key parts of the Djan'kawu and Wawilak ceremonies, which are the basis for most of his paintings. Marika also painted other subjects, including depictions of Murruruma, a Rirratjingu songman and cultural hero, and hunting scenes. He occasionally painted Macassan subjects, recalling the trepang fishing fleets that worked around the north coast of Australia until they were banned in 1907. Marika was one of the first artists at Yirrkala to begin painting barks for sale, and was also one of the first leaders and artists from Arnhem land to visit the southern Australian cities. Marika strongly protested against the activities of mining companies in his country, through letters written by his son, Wandjuk Marika, to the Federal Government in Canberra. Mawalan Marika wilt be remembered as a passionate advocate for his people's cultural and land rights.

Ken Watson in 'Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia', Art Gallery of New South Wales, Sydney, 2004

© Art Gallery of New South Wales


Other Titles

Figure of an Ancestral Being, of the Dhuwa Moiety

Figure of Djan'kawu, Ancestral Being of the Dhuwa moiety


collected 1960

Media category


Materials used

wood, human hair, bark fibre, parakeet feathers, white feathers, natural pigments


81.0 cm height

Signature & date

Not signed. Not dated.


Gift of Dr Stuart Scougall 1960


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Mawalan Marika

Artist profile

Works in the collection



Where the work was made

Shown in 10 exhibitions

Exhibition history

Referenced in 9 publications


Edmund Capon AM, OBE, Steven Miller, Tony Tuckson, James Scougall, Mollie Gowing, Harry Messel, Craig Brush, Ronald Fine, Alison Fine, Gordon Davies, Rosalind Davies, Christopher Hodges, Helen Eager, Rosemary Gow, Sandra Phillips, Daphne Wallace and Ken Watson, Gamarada, Sydney, 1996, 30 (colour illus.).

Jonathan Cooper (Editor), The Art Gallery of New South Wales Bulletin, 'Yiribana Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Gallery', pg. 6-9, Sydney, Apr 1995-May 1995, 6 (colour illus.).

Frederick D. McCarthy, Australian Aboriginal art: bark paintings, carved figures, sacred and secular objects: an exhibition arranged by the State art galleries of Australia, 1960-1961, 'Introduction', pg. 7-17, Sydney, 1960, 22 (illus.), 32, 33. plate no. 9; 100

Ewen McDonald, AGNSW Collections, 'From Colonialism to late Modernism', pg. 7-106, Sydney, 1994, 89 (colour illus.).

Hetti Perkins and Margie West, One sun one moon: Aboriginal art in Australia, ‘Banduk Marika in conversation’, pg. 78-83, Sydney, 2007, 83 (colour illus.).

Hetti Perkins and Ken Watson, A material thing - objects from the collection, Sydney, 1999.

Paul S.C. Tacon, Aratjara: art of the first Australians, 'The Power of the Image among the Past and Present Peoples of Arnhem Land', pg. 127-196, Dusseldorf, 1993, 182 (colour illus.), 337. 50

Ken Watson, Tradition today: Indigenous art in Australia, 'Mawalan Marika', pg. 78, Sydney, 2004, 78 (colour illus., right figure).

Margie West (Editor), Yalangbara: art of the Djang'kawu, 'The Journey of the Djang'kawu: Mawalan 1 Marika', pg. 12-19, Darwin, 2008, front cover (colour illus.), 12 (colour illus.).