Our land has a big story. Sometimes we tell a little bit at a time. Come and hear our stories, see our land. A little bit might stay in your hearts. If you want more, you come back.
Jacob Nayinggul - Manilakarr clan.
The Creation Time
All things in the landscape were left by the Creation Ancestors. They left ceremonies, rules to live by, laws, plants, animals and people, then they turned into djang (Dreaming places). They taught Aboriginal people how to live with the land. From then on Aboriginal people became keepers of their country.
-Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
One of the main Creation Ancestors in the Kakadu area is Warramurrungundji (Mother of the Earth), who travelled to Kakadu with her husband from the islands in the north-east. She sent out spirit children, telling them which languages to speak and teaching them how to hunt and gather food from their land. She created river systems, billabongs, and much of the wildlife in the region. Her journey completed, she sat down and rested, changing into a large rock, which marks her Dreaming site.
The Rainbow Serpent
Rainbow Serpents, or Rainbow Snakes, are powerful Creation Ancestors that many Aboriginal people throughout Australia identify with. They are believed to be one of the oldest artistic symbols used in the world and seem to hold value and power wherever they are depicted. Read on...
In Kakadu, Aboriginal people describe the Rainbow Serpent as the 'boss lady', all powerful, ever present and usually resting in quiet waterways unless disturbed. Common features of Rainbow Serpents in this area are that they are generally female, they are associated with water, they will eat anything except flying foxes, and they dislike loud noises. If irritated, they are capable of causing serious natural disasters such as floods or earthquakes.
At Ubirr the Rainbow Serpent is known as Garranga'rreli (pronounced garr-rarn-gar-ree-lee). In her human form, she was called Birriwilk and travelled through this area with another woman looking for sweet lily roots. As she passed through Ubirr she painted her image on the rock to remind people of her presence. She rested in the forest at Manngarre, digging a hole in the cool sand. The heap of sand from the hole became a rock where a huge banyan tree now grows: the raised walkway on the Manngarre rainforest walk passes over the rock. Birriwilk stopped to rest in the East Alligator River: the round rocks in the middle of the River near Cahills Crossing mark the place where she rested. From here she crossed the River into Arnhem Land, where she remains in a quiet water hole. Her visit to Ubirr is part of a Creation pathway that links Ubirr with Manngarre, the East Alligator River, and other places in Arnhem Land.
Aboriginal people recognise three types of significant sites: djang (Dreaming places), djang andjamun (dangerous, sacred Dreaming places) and ceremonial sites.
Non-Aboriginal people have come to this country and found used pieces of ochre, stone tools and charcoal from cooking fires. They say that Aboriginal people lived here at least 50 000 years ago. However, Aboriginal people know that they have lived in this country since it was created.
-Warradjan Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
Djang and djang andjamun sites relate to the activities of the Creation Ancestors. The sites mark the Ancestors' passage through the land and their change into other forms or they signify where the Ancestors entered or departed the earth. Ceremonial sites are places created by human action.
These sites are often some unusual feature in the landscape that mark the journey of a Creation Ancestor. The sites are not dangerous and access to them is not necessarily restricted.
These sites are associated with the Creation Ancestor Bula and his wives. If djang andjamun sites are disturbed the results will be catastrophic for all. The Jawoyn people, who look after this area, have strict laws and protocols for access to these sites.
These sites are used for the performance of rituals. Among the common ceremonies are the 'rite of passage' ceremony, which marks a person's progress from one stage of their social and religious life to another, and ceremonies connected with primary and secondary burial.
Aboriginal people were traditionally hunter-gatherers and moved regularly to places where resources were plentiful, rather than remain in one place. However, they did have favourite camping areas which were used time and again by many generations. In areas near billbabongs, they used stringy-bark and paperbark to build temporary shelters. During the wet season, they built their huts on stilts. And in the rock country, they built rock shelters.
‘Bininj culture really strong…very strong for us Bininj. When I was a girl my grandmother, I learn. Same thing I do with younger generation. You have to look after country, for your grandfather country, like mother country, take care.’
Yvonne Margurulu, Mirrar clan
When non-Aboriginal people arrived in the Kakadu area the Aboriginal population decreased markedly as many people died of disease or moved off their land to towns and settlements. The reduced population and the introduction of vehicles and shops have changed traditional seasonal movements: people are able to base themselves in an outstation or town and use vehicles to shop, to visit different outstations, to attend ceremonies and to move about the country on hunting trips.
It is thought that about 2000 people lived in the Kakadu area before the arrival of non-Aboriginal people. There are now about 500 Aboriginal people living in 18 outstations dotted throughout the park.