Hollow Log Ceremony





Aboriginal Fine Arts Gallery
has a range of Hollow Logs by various artists including Ivan Namarrikki and
husband and wife team James Iyuna (Dec'd) and Melba Gunjarrwanga
From Central Arnhemland. NT)
Natural opchres on wood

Hollow Log Ceremony

The usual method of burial of an Aboriginal person in Arnhem Land is to dig a shallow grave and leave the body there for about a year or placed in a small cave or a ledge in the rocky escarpment after which the bones are retrieved or dug up and carried around in a woven dilly bag for a few months. The bones are then painted with red ochre and placed in a hollow log, which has been decorated with the totemic symbols of the clan of the deceased. This practice goes back to the Dreamtime when the first hollow log was made by Muruyana, a mogwoi (spirit) with strong sexual desires, who is said to have always been chasing women. He cut down a flowering tree and hollowed it out. It was then placed in the middle of the sacred dance ground and a ceremony performed around it, honoring the dead person, so that his spirit might depart in peace for the happy land.

A great friend of Muruyana was Wak the Crow Man, an Ancestral Being of the Dreamtime. He constructed the first fish trap by cutting down saplings and placing them across a shallow river, leaving a gap in the middle so that a woven basket, conical in shape and tied with bush string at one end, could be suspended from saplings on each side of the gap.

At the other end of the fish trap a removable woven cone was placed inside the opening to stop the fish from getting out. Crow Man had given his two nieces to a friend as wives, but they refused to sleep with him and as he dozed beside the fire one night they threw hot ashes over him. His legs and arms shrivelled up and he changed into a possum and ran back to his own camp, telling his tribespeople what had happened to him and begging them to return with him and kill the two women. This they did, and after the women were killed, their spirits went into the bodies of catfish swimming around in the fish trap. Diver ducks sitting in nearby trees swooped down and picked the catfish clean, leaving only the bones, in which the spirits of the two women still resided.

Devastated by the loss of his two nieces, Crow Man begged his friends to help him hold a ceremony in their honour. The hollow log ceremony was duly devised, and after the ceremony the bones of the catfish were gathered up and put in a paperbark basket, which was then placed in the hollow log, and everything went up into the sky. The hollow log made a void in the sky alongside the Milky Way, on which the stars represent the catfish bones. Other stars represent the bodies of Crow Man and the singers and dancers who performed the ceremony.