Morning Star Poles

Monday, 13 July 2009

According to the creation story of the Yolgnu clans of Arnhem Land, when people die, their spirits return back to where it all began, to Burralku. It was from here that the Djang'kawu Sisters began their ancestral journey, near the morning star, or Venus. The Djang'kawu sang about the morning star on their way to Yalangbara (eastern Arnhem Land), where they birthed the first clans. When Venus rises in the east in the dawn, the stories say that a rope hangs below her, connecting her to Burralku.

The year after a Yolgnu relative dies, the Banumbirr (morning star) ceremony is performed. It ensures the relative finds their way through the countries of their clans back to Barralku. Gali Yalkarriwuy Gurruwiwi is a senior man of his clan on Elcho Island in Arnhem Land. He is the custodian of the morning star pole that is used in the Banumbirr ceremony. The knowledge of them was passed down from his father's father to his father, and from his father to him. He is passionate about keeping the knowledge alive.

The poles are rich with symbolism. The feather at the top represents the morning star itself. The string attached to the pole is used by the spirit to climb upwards to Burralku from the earth. The feathers which hang from the pole represent rays of light and also represent the changing of the seasons. Some of them also represent different clans. The seed pods are food for the spirits. The paintings on the pole represent the land, while also indicating the pole owner's place within that land. Often the plants or animals of the area are painted.

I saw Gali on Sunday Arts back in February. He says he feels connected to his father, his ancestors, and his land when he paints these poles. There was something about them which spoke to me so strongly. He remembered, speaking via an interpreter, when the whitefella preacher came to town and talked about Jesus. How moved Gali was when he heard this Jesus referred to as the morning star. He went forward to receive him. "It was a change in my life," he said.

"I need to show the world to get together, to sit on one foundation, to share things, black and white. We have to go, like, colourblind, because we are one."


You can read the episode outline here (scroll down to number 2) or download the Sunday Arts episode featuring Gali Yalkarriwuy Gurruwiwi here (from memory I think it's the third or fourth story - scroll through)


  1. "We have to go, like, colourblind, because we are one."

    Just wonderful, Sue! What a guy... That quote deserves to be celebrated all over the world!

    I've linked to it here.

  2. Thanks for the link, Mike. It's an awesome way to look at the world, huh :)

  3. Beautiful! They remind me of the totem poles of the Alaskan and NW tribes around here.


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