Banumbirr, The Morning Star Pole

Gali Morning Star Pole Elcho IslandImage:  Performer and Artist Gali Yalkarriwuy Gurruwiwi’s Banumbirr. Photo:HelenRead



Binding life and death, identity and land on Elcho Island, exquisite Banumbirr, shown here, are created for ritual purposes including The Mortuary Ceremony.

Banumbirr (Morning Star Poles) make specific statements through a variety of beautiful feather arrangements, string, wood and natural earth pigment colours. Attached with intricate care either in rings of jewel-like brightly coloured feathers, or bold white plumes hung from twine made at times from human hair, the Banumbirr’s design changes according to the performers clan group and the ceremony it will be used for.

Through natural pigments painted on the mast itself, the earth colour can pin-point where the artist belongs on Elcho Island.

Here, on this tightly understood island in far North East Arnhem Land, the language spoken is Yolŋgu Matha. The name for people belonging for millennia to this country is Yolŋgu. It is the Yolŋgu men who wield the Banumbirr in observance of Elcho Island’s Mortuary Ceremony.

One detail of the ceremony describes throwing the Banumbirr in the air and, as the feathers fly up in decent, “the stars are released (feather arms) on the pole before dawn and they fly away like a kite. They act as a guide for the dead spirit to find its way ‘home’ before being pulled back to daylight (Source: Elcho Island Art and Craft at Galiwin’ku).

As night falls, the first star to be seen is the Banumbirr Star.




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