Friday, November 8, 2013

Sepia Saturday: Yolngu bungul


The theme photo for Sepia Saturday #202 prompted me to dig out some photos from 40 years ago. They're not Sepia but it does seem like a long time ago nevertheless.

In 1971 and 1972 I lived on an island, in a village called Galiwin'ku on Elcho Island off the coast of Northern Australia. Galiwin'ku is home to the Yolngu people and the beach is an integral aspect of their culture for food, beliefs and fun.

I've chosen some images from that time that show the sandy beach as a dancing platform for fun and ceremony. The Yolngu dances are called bunguls (the u is pronounced as in oo in book) in that part of Australia, and the adults and children danced for fun almost daily. Someone would grab a didgeridoo or a piece of poly pipe, someone else would grab a pair of clapsticks or similar, the drone would start, the rhythm would start, the singing would start and the dancing would start. And somehow they all knew what dance to do and when to stop, without instruction. 

An important aspect of the bungul is being able to flick sand from both feet as you dance and of course the beach is perfect for that.

Children doing an impromptu bungul (dance), Elcho Island. Note the polypipe didgeridoo.
Teenage girls doing a bungul (dance), Elcho Island
Flicking the sand with feet, bungul (dance), Elcho Island

Adults performing a circumcision bungul, Elcho Island
There was no body paint for the impromptu dances but all of the ceremonial dances required a lot of preparation with body paints and decorations beforehand. In the photo below the children are painting their faces and bodies with foam from the surf, just for fun.

Children decorating their bodies with surf foam.
And lastly, a run for the sea, just for fun.


And finally. You have to watch this. About five years ago a group of dancers from Elcho Island (the chooky dancers) took Australia by storm when they performed Zorba the Greek dance Yolngu style. (I hope this works - I've never embedded a video before.)


You can do some more beach exploration over at Sepia Saturday.

20 comments:

  1. How very interesting, and the kids all look like they were having a good time! What were you doing on Elcho Island back then, working or volunteering or something?

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  2. Oh my goodness, what a post, and your photos seem like they were just from yesterday, if you hadn't said from 40 years ago.

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  3. Fascinating dance, and didn't Zorba originally do his dance on the beach too? I envy you such vivid and impressive experiences. Some of us will never get to see anything like this. Amazing stuff - especially with the children.

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  4. The pictures and video are great - especially the video which worked just fine. What fun! Wonderful sharing. Thanks!

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  5. Love those chooky dancers -- I'm exhausted after watching, but they're amazing! Good old Zorba could take some pointers, I think!

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  6. Again a post that taught me something about which I was absolutely ignorant before reading this. One question is that why are ther e 2 names for these people? Bungul and Yolngu people? Certainly looks energetic to me

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    1. Thanks Pat. Bungul is the Yolngu word for dance.

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  7. Variety galore seems to be the keynote for SepSat and this post was great. Did you try the dancing ?

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    1. No! I would have been rubbish at it and the Yolgnu thought we balandas (white people) were funny enough normally.

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  8. Great post! I have a didgeridoo (a gift from my mom) and recently brought it out to demonstrate to a small group of music students. Your photos and the video were the first time I've seen it used as a real folk instrument. One could almost animate your snaps.

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  9. Wonderful - how have I never seen this video before!
    What an interesting life you've had, so glad you are recording it for your future generations.

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  10. Wonderful post. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Well done on adding the video too. The chooky dancers were very entertaining.

    I imagine that you had many experiences and learnt a a lot from your time on the island. My brother worked in an aboriginal community in Northern Australia and was honoured by being "adopted"

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  11. Wonderful photos. Such exuberance and love of life.

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  12. This was fun! The photos are full of action, much like the video. Learning about the culture is certainly a bonus.

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  13. Very interesting dance and excellent photos and video. I have read a couple of memoirs from Australia recently and was surprised at how much discrimination there was against aborigines there.

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  14. A really enjoyable post. The video worked just fine - what fun!

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  15. A great post and a wonderful record of the beach dances. An experience you will always remember I'm sure. Don't ever lose those photos.

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I love to read your comments. Thankyou for your interest.

Lorraine