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Oceanian ➔ Painting, Minala, The Freshwater Tortoise

Minala, the Freshwater Tortoise.  Bopani, Liagalawumiri group, Dua moiety of Milingimbi, Arnhem Land, Northern Territory.  Ochre on bark.

Minala, the long-necked freshwater tortoise, plays an important role in the Ancestral stories of Barama and Laindjung, the foundation myths of the Yiritja moiety.  The artist, Bopani, although a man of the Dua moiety, may paint the design, as his mother was a Yiritja woman.

In the Dreamtime, Minala was a woman.  She changed into a tortoise, inhabiting freshwater creeks and waterholes in the different clan territories.  Minala is shown in the painting in running water.  Around her are the signs for water and mud (Art of the First Australians, p. 60)

This painting represents a story or dream owned by an individual or ancestral tradition. There are typically several layers or levels of stories in this type of painting. Artists are inducted into a complex system of levels and grades of stories, that traditionally ensure not only the survival of these stories, but also their proper veneration and dissemination. A story cannot be painted unless it is owned by the artist. Unfortunately, this traditional practice is dying out today, although a strong export trade continues in this art form.
circa 1975
Bark, Ochre
14.5" h 33.25" w
Current Location Status:
In Storage
Gift Of The Australian People

Mysterious Voyages ()

Journey Through The Pacific (February 4 – June 1 2017)
Oceania is one name for the vast region of our Earth that stretches across the Pacific Ocean from Australia to Hawaii and Easter Island. Although it is dominated by water, Oceania is made up of more than 10,000 islands and is currently home to more than 40 million people. These remote islands were some of the last places on earth to be settled by humans. The migration and settlement of the Pacific Islands is one of the greatest stories of exploration and discovery in human history.

Oceania has many distinct and impressive, yet often little known, artistic traditions. Although they vary widely across the region, these traditions share a focus on the use of traditional methods and available materials which have been passed down over centuries. From sturdy wooden tools to delicate barkcloth textiles, these beautiful objects serve a variety of utilitarian and ceremonial purposes for the people who made and used them.

The Australian People

Carol S. Ivory
Associate Professor, Dept. of Fine Arts, Washington State University
Related Places
Northern Territory
Arnhem's Land
Related Object