Art of the Tiwi

The Tiwi people live on Melville and Bathurst Islands north of Darwin. 

In the 1900's buffalo shooters came to the island and in 1911 a Catholic mission was established at Nguiu on Bathurst Island.

There are several differences between the art, sculpture and ceremony of the Tiwi islanders and indigenous people who lived on the mainland of Australia.

Tiwi ceremonies are about the initiation, Kulama, that celebrates life and the mortuary rites of the Pukumani.

Tiwi women play an important role in ceremony and are also actively involved in the arts.  In the beginning, when the ancestors came during creation, an old women, Mudungkaka, rose out of the ground at Murupianga in south-east of Melivlle Island.  She was the creator of the land and the rivers.  She bought with her 2 daughters and a son, their decendants settled throughout the island.

The Pukumani ceremony has produced a lot of great art painted on the Pukumani poles.  These poles represent the deceased, there can be up to 20 poles for one grave site which show the seniority of the deceased.

Bark baskets are painted elaborately for these ceremonies and are placed on the top of the poles at the end of the Pukumani ceremonies.

The Tiwi  are great weavers and carvers; elaborately painted and carved spears are still done today, along with woven head and arm bands created with feathers, fibres and reeds in intricate detail.

In the 1930's the Tiwi developed their art skills with sculptures of figures, birds and animals carved out of wood and elaborately painted.

Sculpture has traditionally been the Tiwi's main art form, now paintings, that were originally done on bark in ochres for ceremoney, are today painted on paper and flattened bark for the commercial market.


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