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  • Title: Dhaŋuniya 1347-19
  • Artist: Mulkun Wirrpanda
  • Region: Arnhem Land
  • Art Centre: Buku Larrnggay Mulka
  • Medium: Etching
  • Collection:
  • Dimensions: 53 x 36 cm
  • Edition Size: 20
  • Price ($AUD): $ 275

Artwork Story

Dhaŋuniya (Dhuwa)

Ipomoea graminea – grass-leaf yam

• a perennial underground tuber with annual climbing stems; tubers vary greatly in shape and size

• grass-like leaves to around 15 centimetres in length

• white flowers with a narrow corolla tube; open at night and on cloudy days; during periods of sunshine, wind themselves shut and are hard to see

• grows in open woodlands and forests across the top of Australia, north of Larrimah.


Ŋamakurr dhuwalany ŋatha ŋanapurruŋ Dhaŋuniyany’. Dhiyaŋ ŋathay yukarran nhinan ŋäthiliny yolŋu wuṉdaŋarr ga walŋa weyin’. Balanyar bili ŋayi dhuwal ŋathany bitjan ganguri (maṉmuŋa) wo gaṉay’ yurr waḏitjan nhe yurr dhuwalany maḻŋ’ thunmaram, yaka weyin nhe yurr yow’yun. Dhäkaydjulŋi ŋatha ŋanapurruŋ murnyaŋ, guyaḻ’yunamirr ŋatha ŋanapurr yurr guyaḻ’yun guṉḏirrlil bala bitjan bili muŋthun biḻmayu bala ḻukan. Wiripuny ŋayi dhuwal ŋatha yäku Ḏuyŋa.


When I was 12 years old my first language was Anindilyakwa. I had forgotten my Yolŋu language. I saw this ŋatha (food) following behind my mother, the old lady named Djaparri. I first ate this food on Wangurryarrikpa (Woodah Island) at Yirrinyarra and Nengarri. We used to go there and stay a while just to harvest and eat this food. The leaves are a bit like gaṉay’ (long yam) or maṉmuŋa, but maṉmuŋa takes too long to dig whereas this one is much quicker. The leaves are bigger than gaṉay’ and it is usually found on wet marsh ground where the plant spreads itself widely. It tastes like sweet potato, cassava or bäwaŋ and can be pounded by a biḻma (a clapstick) to make it soft before it is eaten.


I am so sad that no one eats this food any longer. It is healthy. I know this food. I can still taste it. I remember what it looks like from when I was 12, collecting it with my mother and cooking it in the underground oven using the red ant hill nest to make the oven hot. This food is murnyang’ for the other food, especially meat like turtle, tortoise and fish. Murnyang’ means a complementary carbohydrate accompaniment to merrpal’ (protein). We gathered them in the Kurrajong string woven bags known as gay’wu until they were full and then just used wayku or watjumuŋu, containers made of paperbark on the spot.


Manikaymirr dhuwal Ngatha. Wuyalwu ga Gandjaḻaḻawu. Ŋarrak Märi’mirriŋu Waṉawalakuymirr Marrakulu ga Marrangu (this is a plant which is held in the sacred songs which relate the journey of Wuyal, the honey hunter, and his poison cousin Gandjaḻaḻa). It can be found at Wayawu and in all places that are Lurrtha Wäŋa. Lurrtha Wäŋa describes places touched by the songline of Wuyal.


There are different varieties of this plant which the Yolŋu see as separate but which non-Yolŋu see as the same species. The dhaŋuniya tuber is big, fat and short. The gaṉay’ tuber is smaller and shorter than dhaŋuniya. Gomili grows only near the sacred site of Yalaŋbara. Mawuka grows only on Bremer Island and comes from those songs. Duynga might be another name for dhaŋuniya.


© Copyright 2019. This work and documentation is the copyright of the artist and may not be reproduced in any form without the written permission of the artist and clan concerned. Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Art Centre

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