Warra & The Circle of Life

On our Rainbow Serpent Tour you will see both my family's Birth Site and a painting of dubal which was used when someone passed away.

In traditional Aboriginal society the Birth Place was a very important site as it marks the beginning of the Circle of Life and gives us our warra or spiritual identity. To give you an example, I describe myself as Nugal-warra, meaning 'I am Nugal, I belong to Nugal lands', just as you might describe yourself as Australian or English or German. We all need warra as it provides us with the strength we need for our journey through life.

In this region, when life ended in the practical sense, the family would first bury the body in the ground so that it could decay and give food to the living plants. After several weeks they would return to collect the bones, washing them carefully, embalming them with ochre, then wrapping them with bark. This wrapping is called dubal and you can see one drawn over the hand stencil below. 

The dubal was placed in a cave adjacent to the deceased's birthplace. This showed the Great Creator where the deceased came from, so that when the Circle of Life was completed his spirit would remain in the most wonderful place he knew: the place where his journey started and which gave him his spiritual identity.

During the time that the body was in the ground, close family of the deceased would put white ochre on their bodies to show they were in mourning. People seeing this would avoid mentioning the name of the deceased as a mark of respect, but they could use an alternative name if it was really necessary. The length of mourning depended upon the individual, but would not continue beyond the time the bones were removed from the ground, approximately twelve months later. This also ensured that any disease associated with the death was not spread to other members of the clan.

How it is today...
Nowadays, despite the Lutheran Church banning these cultural practices, some remain in a different form. Today bodies are buried in the Hope Vale cemetery with a funeral service which marks the start of the body's return to the earth. We celebrate the passing of the body into its spiritual form a year later with a tombstone unveiling ceremony. In many places it is still considered a lack of respect to mention the name of the deceased until this ceremony has taken place.

For many years it was also custom to close up the house of the deceased, and the family would move back in only after the tombstone ceremony had taken place and the house had been smoked. This custom had to stop because of the housing shortage, which is a shame as the smoking ceremony was a joyous event, marking the end of the long period of sadness and introducing happiness and joy back into the house again.

My Family

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