Raft Point

On Location: Australia’s Captivating Tiwi Art and Culture

Zegrahm Contributor|June 3, 2008|Blog Post

We were all excited by the sunshine and dazzling surroundings here in the remote Kimberley as we headed to Bathhurst Island in the Xplorer, the excursion vessel that can take everyone from our ship to shore together. Local Aboriginal Tiwi guides met us and we began a great day exploring and learning about this fascinating culture. We visited a workshop, Ngaruwanajirri, where traditional artwork is created by disabled Tiwis. In a Quonset-style building massive panels painted with Tiwi designs tiled the entire ceiling, while the artisans’ tools and works in progress were spread out neatly along the floor. Most of us purchased a variety of the beautiful artwork, including hand-painted textiles and hand-carved masks. Our next stop was a typical Tiwi church, elaborately decorated with a blend of hand-carved western Christian icons and traditionally painted Tiwi animal designs.

At the Museum for History of the Island and People, our guide detailed the various components of Tiwi history through artifacts, sacred burial totems, vintage photography, and traditional jewelry. We were also treated to homemade tea and bread, Tiwi basket weaving, and Tiwi face-painting. At a Tiwi dance and ironwood cleansing ceremony, painted Tiwi men and women brought smoked branches to each member of our group for blessings of good luck and health, followed by dances evocative of indigenous animals. For birders, a pair of sulphur-crested cockatoos patrolled the surrounding trees long enough to take photos of them. 

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