Nakarra Nakarra I by Eubena Nampitjin
Nakarra is a familiar, abbreviated, or intimate version of the Kukatja kinship term Nakamarra, a female ‘skin’ (kin) name that is often used as a form of address. It is also a children’s form of the skin name Nakamarra. (An English equivalent of this usage, would, for example, be calling a girlchild or young woman whose name is Susan, by the shortened form Susie.)
Plurals in the Kukatja language (and in Warlpiri) are sometimes formed by re-duplication; that is, simply by doubling the singular version of the noun/nominal. Hence Nakarra Nakarra implies more than one girl or woman, who all share the skin-name Nakarra. In this particular instance there are seven girls/women with the same skin-name Nakarra. They are sisters. In fact, these young women are the Seven Sisters – the Pleiades.
In the Kukatja kinship system (as is the case in the Warlpiri kinship system) there are eight relationship terms, which are subsections determined by where one’s mother fits into the kinship system. Each of the eight subsections have a male and a female iteration. The female form always begins with ‘N’, whereas the male form always begins with ‘Tj’. Within this kinship structure there exist many regulations. including a preferred marriage partner for members of each subsection. Some sexual relationships are considered incestuous regardless of whether or not there is a biological relationship between the two people who make a couple. Whether or not such a relationship is permissible is determined by the kinship system.
The Nakarra Nakarra Dreaming, or Seven Sisters narrative, exists in many forms and permutations throughout Indigenous Australia. At the core of the narrative are the Seven Sisters, Creator Beings who move around country, creating natural phenomena and involving themselves in ceremonial life, including ‘young men’s business’ or initiation ceremonies. A man who has ‘got the hots’ for these gorgeous young women is chasing them across the country, meaning that the girls are endlessly on the run, trying to escape his unwanted amorous advances. This man is in the ‘wrong skin’ relationship to the sisters and therefore not a suitable marriage partner for them under Kukatja law. In fact such a union would be considered incestuous and therefore wrong. The man’s pursuit of these nubile young women is permanently ‘engraved’ onto the night sky itself in the form of the cluster of stars known in English as The Seven Sisters. The Seven Sisters (the Nakarra Nakarra) are forever destined to flee this lustful, immoral man, a kind of bogeyman figure who seeks physical gratification for his uncontrolled, transgressive sexual love. While he never catches them and never fulfils his illicit desires by having his way with them, the sisters can never rest.
There are many interesting things about this Tjukurrpa or Dreaming narrative. For instance, in terms of cross-cultural crossovers, in Greek mythology, this cluster of brilliant stars is also thought to comprise seven sisters, believed to be the seven mythical daughters of Pleione and the legendary Atlas. Another is the fact that it reveals Indigenous people’s detailed knowledge of astronomy as well as the strict moral codes within which they operate. There are many different versions of this Seven Sisters Dreaming narrative throughout Aboriginal Australia that are sung and painted – for example, the story and artistic representations of it extend as far south as the Ngarrindjeri people of the River Murray in South Australia. This particular Kukatja version encapsulates classic Yilpinji elements wherein people derive a kind of guilty pleasure at the ‘wrong skin union’ but only as a kind of spectator sport that is ultimately condemned and socially outlawed in no uncertain terms.
Furthermore, in the case of the Nakarra Nakarra Dreaming based near Wirrimanu (Balgo) Western Australia, women have particular rights and responsibilities in relation to the narrative and paintings, whereas in some other Australian Indigenous societies, others may have greater custodial rights. Balgo-based ceremonial leader Eubena Nampitjin provides a fine example of the Nakarra Nakarra Tjukurrpa in her work. This is one of 28 prints included in the exhibition Yilpinji, Love Magic & Ceremony that toured throughout Australia and internationally.
This is the first time in the history of Aboriginal printmaking that a body of prints became available that focused on a unique aspect of Aboriginal culture. Fifteen senior Aboriginal artists have each created a thematic work on Yilpinji, the love magic practised by the Warlpiri and Kukatja people of the central and western deserts of Australia. This little-known aspect of Aboriginal culture is explored in this important body of etchings, screenprints and linocuts.
This print and the other 27 showing in the exhibition are graphically illustrated with accompanying text in the book, Yilpinji Love Art & Ceremony, written by Christine Nicholls, senior lecturer, Flinders University
This is an original limited-edition etching created by the artist on a metal plate and printed by master printmaker Basil Hall on Hahnemuhle 350gsm archival paper.
- Medium: screenprint
- Image size: 40cm x 35cm
- Paper size: 76cm x 56cm
- Edition size: 99
Eubena (Yupinya) Nampitjin is the best known of Warlayirti Artists’ many painters in Balgo Hills. She is one of the most esteemed law women in the community, being consulted and deferred to on all questions of law. Mukaka, Eubena’s mother, taught her Maparn (healer/witchdoctor) skills before she passed away, when Eubena was just a young girl. The family travelled and hunted, performing ceremonies and law for the upkeep of their country and their own spiritual preservation. Nomadic life was harsh and most of her extended family had passed away or moved to other parts of the country.
Eubena, with her husband and family, travelled up the Canning Stock Route to Billiluna Station before following the mission as it moved around, until arriving at its present site at Balgo Hills. Before his death, her husband, Gimme, helped Father Piele with a Kukatja (Eubena and Gimme’s second language) dictionary, to which Eubena also contributed. Today, she is one of the few people alive who maintains a full vocabulary of this language. Despite living at the mission and tending herds of goats, Eubena continually travelled back to her country, living in and from the land for extended periods. Her extraordinary hunting instinct, which remains today, combines with an effortless energy when she is out in the country.
Eubena started painting with her second husband, Wimmitji, in the mid-1980s. Their work shared a luminous and intricate complexity, along with a love of the warm reds, oranges and yellows that continues to be Eubena’s signature today. Her reputation grew as one half of the famous painting duo at Balgo, but also as a solo artist in her own right. Eubena has a spontaneity and strength of brush mark that carves the paint, leaving rhythmical tracks across the canvas. Her work resonates with the power of place and pride in country that Eubena has been able to maintain throughout her life, a life that has evolved from hard, proud desert nomad to an artist feted in Australia and overseas. A regal character, she is both iron-strong and unfailingly generous. Painting is like her second language and she paints persistently with passion and dedication.
Image size: 40cm x 35cm
Paper size: 76cm x 56cm