Zug Ngurpik

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Zug Ngurpik is a phrase used to describe a hunter who has trained his shoulder, to throw a Dagul (Spear) or Wap (Harpoon) in order to bring home a large catch from the Sea. Zug Ngurpik tanslates literally to Shoulder Learning .

In my culture the Awadhe (Uncle) of the mother's side, is more imporant and well respected by the Wadhuwam (nephew) than that of the father. Reason being of the bloodline. After a young boy has his first initiation, called the Ubu Pathai (first shave), he is no longer under the care of his parents. He is traditionally handed over to his Awadhe of the mother's side. The Awadhe's role is to teach and educate him in the traditional ways of the Zenadh Kes (Torres Strait) people, and to equip with the skills to hunt and survive on the land and most importantly out at sea.

This print shows how it was practised traditionally before any European contact in the Zenadh Kes. I show the Awadhe instructing his Wadhuwam how to read the actions of the Dhangal (Dugong). Awadhe's verbal instructions tell of the Dhangal surfacing three times before diving down deep to feed in rough seas. As a student of his Awadhe, the Wadhuwam will see only a few of his many prey. These are the Dhangalal (dugongs), Warul (turtles), and Wapil (fishes).

Awadhe and Wadhuwam communicate with their ancestors' spirits from the past. These spirits help direct the prey to the young hunter. When the Wadhuwam returns to his island after completing his instruction at sea, the elders of the village gather as the ceremony begins. A sacred dance was performed by certain members of his Baui (tribe).

These dancers represented certain totems. Later a Sibuy (skull) of the Wadhuwam's totem, along with specific traditional hunting weapons and materials such as the Wap (harpoon), Amu (rope), Kuyurul (darts attached to the wap) are presented to him by the dancers. At this very moment, as the Wadhuwam sits before the dancers, he is blessed by the spirits of his ancestors who were once powerful hunters, long before his time.

The Susu Apu (mother) must only watch her son from a distance as her memory takes her back to when he was a Mepath (infant), and who has now transformed into the Malu Garka (seaman/hunter).

  • Artist: Alick Tipoti.
  • Edition Size: 35.
  • Medium: Linocut.
  • Image Size: 1000 mm x 2100 mm.
  • Paper Size; 1080 mm x 2185 mm.
  • Paper: 280gsm Velin Arches

Alick Tipoti is a Torres Strait Islander who is guided by the traditional cultural practices of his people. He believes in the Zugubal who were spoken about for many years by his ancestors. He is most diligent about what he sees as his responsibility to document the stories, genealogies, songs and other aspects of his culture so that they are available for future generations to learn, understand and practise. He speaks his native language, Kala Lagaw Ya, of the Maluilgal nation of Zenadh Kes.

Alick believes that language is the vital ingredient that binds all cultures in the world today. “Without your language you become a foreigner, lost in another person’s culture. One of my favourite English words is ‘analyse’. In my language, we call it Ses Tham or Thapul. Singing and dancing are forms of art that branch out from the centrepiece called language. Everything you do, traditionally or culturally, evolves from a language. When you know the language, you know your culture.”

Alick has researched the genealogy of Zenadh Kes. He says that when you practise something about your culture, it is important to know your roots and your identity, as this will help you choose your path in life. He has been given the traditional name of Zugub, which enables him to relate to the spirits of his ancestors, the Zugubal. This provides him the insight and ability to translate the words of these ancestors into the beautifully delicate and complex imagery of his lino cuts.

“When I work late at night carving traditional designs, I can sense the presence of the spirits who I verbally acknowledge and thank in language for their guidance and help in visualising the words they have given me. I vividly remember an unusual event late one evening where I was guided to re-sketch and change the interpretation of a block I was about to carve. This was just one of the many occasions when I have connected with the Zugubal, who have instructed me on the proper ways of our cultural traditions. In my life, I have come to a level of understanding that I pray to the Zugubal of my culture.”

The artist holds an Advanced Diploma in Arts, Thursday Island TAFE College, and a Bachelor of Visual Arts, Australian National University, Canberra. Alick’s work can be seen in the collections of Australian National Gallery and state art galleries and museums, the British Museum and other important international institutions. An animated video of his work is currently screening on the eastern sails of the Sydney Opera House at sunset until the end of 2017.

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