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Marlulu (boys) initiation, Lajamanu / Marnakurrawarnu -1st initiation night / Barbara Glowczewski / Lajamanu, Tanami Desert, Central Australia, NT




Kurdiji The boy's first Initiation


At least once a year, and sometimes more often, a ceremony called kurdiji, shield, takes place to prepare one, two or, very rarely, three boys for the man-making operation. Some ritual innovations have been introduced since the 1950s, but until recently the purpose was always the same to ally the young initiate to his future father-in-law, the main initiator, and his future mother-in-law. This mother-in-law is usually a girl of his own age, whose daughter, already born or yet to be born, is to become his wife.


On the day of his capture by the elders, the novice is called marlulu (from marlu, kangaroo), and for the first time he attends a ritual male dance. Meanwhile the mothers and sisters are painted with red ochre and decorated with minyeri headbands. The men, gathered some fifty metres away, display the kurdiji shield, which is painted with a special Dreaming design that they hide in a pile of bushes. The mothers then kneel in a circle and sing with the sacred female yukurrukurru to share the Dreaming power that these boards will transmit to the new initiate. Men and women sing and dance all day. The women also cook for everybody.


In the evening everybody gathers together and the boy is brought back to the middle of the group which is waiting on a plot of ground especially prepared for a nocturnal gathering, marnakurrawarnu, during which the men sing and the women dance. The novice is separated from the men by the women and the children. He sits at the back, and is made to stand up at regular intervals by two guardians, his brothers-in-law, who make him look at the sky where the morning star will appear. The most active role in the singing and dancing is taken by men and women called yulpuwarnurlu, the novice’s ‘fathers’ (father’s clanic brothers), the maternal uncles, the ‘mothers’ (mother’s sisters and co-wives) and the paternal aunts. These women have their chests painted, wear a minyeri headband and dance handing a firestick from one to the other. 


The novice’s clanic sisters and brothers, who in this context are called jarrawarnurlu, also participate, the former dancing and the latter singing until daybreak.


At dawn, the novice passes through the assembly with his guardians, who take him to the seclusion camp where he receives the firestick that passed between the women dancers, and with which he lights his first fire, thus becoming warluwarnu.


The firestick is given back to the women, who light it a week later, on the day before the operation, during a second nocturnal mixed gathering on a new ceremonial ground, kirrirdikirrawarnu. This time, the ground is formed into two big circles linked by a wide path and surrounded by two bough windbreaks, yunta. The men sit by the windbreak located to the east. The ‘mothers’ and the ‘father’s sisters’ of the boy come close to the men where the decorated boy sits and they touch him with their yukurrukurru boards. Then they walk to the windbreak located to the west where all the women and children sit. They dance, punctuating their jumps with the traditional ‘Pah! pah!’

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Archives de chercheurs: Barbara Glowczewski [Collection(s) 28]
Marlulu (boys) initiation, Lajamanu [Set(s) 821]
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Object(s) ID 84592
Permanent URI
Title/DescriptionMarnakurrawarnu -1st initiation night
Author(s)Barbara Glowczewski
LocationLajamanu, Tanami Desert, Central Australia, NT
Coordinateslat -35.27 / long 149.08

Copyright Barbara Glowczewski
Rank 1 / 73
Filesize 785 Kb | 3000 x 1861 | 8 bits | image/jpeg
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Quote this document Glowczewski, Barbara 1984 [accessed: 2022/9/25]. "Marnakurrawarnu -1st initiation night" (Object Id: 84592). In Marlulu (boys) initiation, Lajamanu. ODSAS:
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