The Djan'kawu

This myth recalls the journey of the wondrous Djan’kawu Beings and is the traditional basis for the Dua nara rituals, which recreate the myth. The myth also explains why men now perform the Dua nara ritual.

Djan’kawu is the collective name for three Ancestral Beings – a male figure called Djan’kawu and his two sisters, Bildjiwuraroiju and Miralaidj. They left Bralgu, the island of spirits, and traveled across the ocean in boats filled with sacred objects, including the ngainmara mat and the wooden rangga poles. The Djan’kawu searched for a place where they could create a nara (ceremonial) shade. All around the Port Bradshaw region, the Djan’kawu established their cult, with the singing of ritual songs.

During this time, Bildjiwuraroiju gave birth to a baby boy and then a baby girl. They were laid on a mat to protect them from the sun. Bildjiwuraroiju was careful not to open her legs too far for if she did, many more children would have come forth, for she stored them in her uterus. Soon several children of both sexes were born. The Djan’kawu put the little boys in the grass so that later they would develop whiskers, but they hid the girls under the ngainmara mat to keep them smooth and soft, with no body hair. The Djan’kawu then departed. The children they created later grew up and married and became the progenitors of the Aboriginal people who live in this region today.

Later, the Djan’kawu came to Marabai, and the two sisters left their sacred dilly bags in a shelter which they made, and then went off to look for mangrove shells. The bags contained sacred rangga objects and emblems. While they were away, the Djan’kawu brother and several male offspring stole the dilly bags and made off with them. The two sisters heard the whistle of the djummal mangrove bird warning them that something was amiss so they ran back to their shelter. They discovered their sacred regalia missing, and tracks on the ground of the men who had stolen them. They followed the tracks to retrieve their sacred property but as they came closer to where the men were, the Djan’kawu brother began to beat his jugulung singing sticks and the other men began to sing. As soon as the women heard the songs they fell to the ground in fear and began to crawl. They were too afraid to approach further, not so much of the men but because of the power of the sacred songs. In doing this, the men had stolen not only the songs of the women and their sacred rangga, but also the power to perform sacred ritual which, until then, was a power belonging only to the women. In this way did men assume authority over the sacred dua nara ritual – thereby taking power from the women which was rightfully theirs.

The women were initially in a quandary but later accepted that the men held their sacred rangga and allowed the men to look after the rituals. They agreed to spend more time collecting bush tucker at the same time realizing that they really had lost nothing.

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