Monthly Archives: August 2011

Following the book

I was speaking with A earlier about the actors that I might follow during the Arnhem Weaving workshops. One powerful actor that emerged from this conversation was the book

During the the two weaving workshops I participated in at Mäpuru, I used the book to write down new words I was learning in Gupapuyŋgu, stories people would share with me about my gurruṯu and to help keep the weaver’s time-sheets. It was for this final function that the book attracted a lot of attention from the weavers and its power in the network was reinforced. So how was this book performed at Mäpuru this July?


In hindsight it was not such a great idea for the time-sheets to be in my book. I became a sort of a gatekeeper to important information which the weavers wanted to access. All of the weavers knew about the time-sheet and that G (a weaver) and I were maintaining for the week. Weavers would often ask me, ‘Do you have x’s name in the book?’ and I would have a look in the book and confirm it was there. If not, we would write it in. Looking back at the situation, I realise I was quite anxious about the whereabouts of my book; it contained a lot of things that I considered to be important to my Yolŋu education. I had no idea until later in the week that the book was also being protected by other people, but for a different reason. 


On occasions the book, which often sat on the mat next to where I was weaving, would be carelessly abandoned (by me) and safely put away by one of the weavers. This protection and care of the book (usually by others and not myself) was starting to tell a story. Was the story about the time-sheet? If so, what kind of story? At some point I need to write the back-story on how the time-sheet came into being, but I’ll do that later. 


Throughout the week I increasingly felt like some kind of supervisor, for I was giving power to the time-sheet (a very Balanda construct) by helping to fill it in. Although we never spoke about this with each other, I have a sense that G also felt like she was in this prickly role. Whilst I could pretend that there was a balance that we were disrupting, I think that would be naive. There are all kinds of actors that have more power than others when these weaving workshops are being enacted (e.g. confidence in speaking English, mother’s with babies, bright and abundant piles of dyed pandanas and Balanda confident in speaking Yolŋu Matha to name a few). 

At the end of the week G and I explained to the weavers how the time-sheet would be used to divide up the payments made by workshop participants. This was not the first time a time-sheet had been used, but was its performance during this workshop any different? My book was certainly not always an actor.

So, again it was A who reminded me of Latour with the question, what would it cost to break the network? A question I’ll leave open and contemplate! One thing I am becoming increasingly aware of is how I am trying to grasp ANT terminology – for me it is performing as an awareness that helps me to observe which actors are there, how they are performing and what networks are being formed/undone. 

5 Comments

Filed under Life as Bilinydjan

Performing learning

What happens when we learn in a ‘creative’ context?

“When we are weaving together, even though the stitches are the same, there’s an element of self that goes into the stitches. No matter what we create, and whether you remember the conversation, or something that’s come up culturally, the main thing is to be creating and learning at the same time” (Hamm, 2009: 46).

What does this bring up for me? Hamm’s quote does not really resonate with my own experiences (see Weaving a relationship). Whilst she focuses on the integration of self into that which is being created, I have spoken about a stripping back of personal identity and ownership. What is the basket evidence of? A product of personal endeavor? An artifact of learning? If so, what? A skill/technique or process? Maybe the self and how we create stories about ourselves whilst we are performing ‘learning’. Or, are the actors in weaving a  basket really performing a relationship? Reading back on this question I say, ‘Of course a relationship(s) is being performed!’ but between which actors? There are the visible physical actors performing, but what of the less visible/invisible metaphysical actors that are being performed when we weave together? What world is being made/re-made as we women all sit together performing this gunga djäma?

I haven’t even contemplated the ‘creative context’ in which these workshops take place. Do I want to frame it as that? Instead, maybe ‘generative practices’ of which, weaving is one and relationship building is another.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Weaving a relationship


/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-qformat:yes;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin-top:0cm;
mso-para-margin-right:0cm;
mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt;
mso-para-margin-left:0cm;
line-height:115%;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:11.0pt;
font-family:”Calibri”,”sans-serif”;
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

From earlier… after my first visit to Mäpuru

Weaving was a collaboration, a relationship between my gurruṯu (kin) and I. Time disappeared, sitting, watching, slowly observing the differences in each woman’s weaving. At first these differences appeared through patterns and colours and designs. Then the subtle differences emerged… each woman holding a basket in a special way, pulling through a stitch with a different emphasis. 
My identity as ‘Nia’ meant so little whilst I was in Mäpuru. Once I was adopted by my yuku yuku (younger sister) and ŋäṉḏi (mother) I was called by my mälk (skin name) Baŋaḏitjan or identified through my kinship relationship to people. As I wove I was being reminded that collective identity and relationship mattered more than the individual. Just as I was getting attached to the colours and design, one of my gurruṯu would take ‘my’ basket in hand and add her own self to it. “Just let go…” was my mantra for the week, because weaving was about my relationships with the women of Mäpuru, not the baskets.

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized

To the other side of the universe

To begin this story properly I need to go back to July 2010 when I first went to Mäpuru for an Arnhem Weaving workshop (I love how reality is like a labyrinth; just when you think you are moving to the heart of something you are steered back to where you came from). 

On my first morning of our weaving workshop I sat next to an experienced weaver M, watching her hands rhythmically work with the pandanas. Soon after a young woman and her mother came and sat nearby. It wasn’t long before these women, D and L started to take on teaching me gunga djäma; one coil at a time, through the kala changes, slowly weaving me into their story. D asked me, ‘Are you adopted?’ I told her that no, I wasn’t adopted… well, I was soon after that. My new yukuyuku and ŋäma gave me my mälk, Baŋaḏitjan and began teaching me about my gurruṯu and country. I contemplated, What does this all mean for me? A question I am sure many Balanda have asked themselves when they are made part of the Yolŋu universe. J offered some insights as to why adoption happens with Yolŋu – perhaps Yolŋu are trying to make sense of a Balanda world, give clarity to how they should appropriately relate to Balanda. I was made a Yirritja woman, part of the Gupapuyŋugu clan. My bäpurru, the Guyumirrilil. All of a sudden, this identity Baŋaḏitjan, my place in the Yolŋu universe, spread around to all of the Yolŋu in Mäpuru. Walking around the community, people would call out and acknowledge me, ‘Yow Baŋaḏitjan!’ Very soon, the concept of Nia as identity, began to morph and that name left behind.   

To unpack all of my experiences relating to gurruṯu at Mäpuru since then will take time, but a feeling that has grown inside me each time I’ve gone back is the sense that I am a small child beginning my learning in the Yolŋu world as Baŋaḏitjan. All of the teaching that my mari’mus M and B have shared with me and my waku R, had begun to give me a tiny glimpse into the connections I had when I was being with… people, country, everything. At the time I struggled to comprehend the act that was taking place, the meaning underlying the teaching. Friday’s events have brought to the surface feelings and thoughts that have been germinating for a long time; I have a felt understanding of what these teachings mean, even if I can’t articulate a cognitive understanding.  


Meeting and getting to know M, a Balanda ḏirramu who was adopted by Yolŋu and given the mälk Bulany, has been a blessing in my life. Realising that we were ‘wrong mälk’ for each other (particularly as Baŋaḏitjan and Bulany are both Yirritja moiety) presented an ‘issue’ to be resolved. A possible way forward was for one of us to ask our Yolŋu family to change our mälk. It seemed fairer for me to do this as he had been adopted for longer and was more established in the Yolŋu world. A reluctance set over me and I put off speaking with my family. I knew that changing mälk was inevitable, it was a show of respect to our Yolŋu families and other Yolŋu we would come to know. Despite this, I was reluctant. [Unusual that I am writing this as a story for an audience… is that because I have told a few people about this blog?].All of the relationships I had established seemed relative to me being Baŋaḏitjan. Were they? How much did this affect how people related to me? 

A balance disrupted when I phoned my ŋäma on Friday to tell her about my love situation, ”Ŋarra djäl waŋgany Balanda ḏirramu ga nhanŋu Bulany mälk.” She repeatedly told me that I should be with Wämut. “Ŋarra marŋgi,” I told her I understood. Through my rough Gupapuyŋgu and her attempts at English we established that a mälk swap could be a way forward – despite my yukuyuku declaring, “Yaka!” when asked if I should swap (what did it mean to D to be my yukuyuku? I feel distant from her but maybe this meant nothing, we were sisters). Finally my ŋäma declared me to be Bilinydjan, her yapa. I am now Dhuwa, a Djambarrpuyŋu woman… to the other side of the Yolŋu universe. I am now the ‘right mälk’ to be with M, so everything’s ok, right? 

I still can’t get over the feelings of upset I experienced after this phone call. Part of me tried to drag myself into the trivial, I’m not even Yolŋu! but it didn’t feel like that. I felt like I was in a new place, like something foundational had shifted. Most of all, I was worried that all of the Yolŋu who had invested their energy in teaching me might feel like it had been a waste of time. Maybe they would be reluctant to teach me about my new gurruṯu. Thank goodness for the generous listening of M, A, Y and J who didn’t make me feel like it was all trivial. 

So what now? I return to Mäpuru as Bilinydjan, in an open relationship with Bulany and start again… a newborn in the Yolŋu universe.  

Leave a comment

Filed under Life as Bilinydjan

Becoming the quiet weaver

Written on Monday 22nd August

I just had a wonderful conversation with A about all things, including ANT. I asked her the question, can ANT reflect and provide a useful vocabulary for Yolŋu metaphors? Things that I captured from our conversation… ANT is more a discipline or a way of seeing the world, just like mindfulness. Also, it rejects dichotomies and renders things as heterogeneous. A said a wonderful thing, ‘When you follow the actors, you find things.’ She also suggested that the ANT vocabulary is designed to refrain from giving actors pre-determined roles (I should read Law’s book After Method). I don’t know that A completed answered my question in the way that I had hoped she would. She flipped the question back onto me. Here are some of the things I said… one of the central reasons for me pursuing my Masters research is so that I can immerse myself in Yolŋu language and worldview. A key dilemma though is, how can I, a Balanda woman who sees the world from a western worldview, ‘see’ and ‘hear’ phenomenon and concepts in a Yolŋu world when I am projecting my own perceptions onto the world? How can I become more conscious of my assumptions that are born out of my own worldview? Is there an academic discipline which will help me to strip back my projections and make visible what exists in a Yolŋu world? Can ANT ‘see’ the generative practices of Yolŋu ‘making the world’ through dhäwu and bunŋgul? I am trying to find a way of understanding and making sense of Yolŋu ideas, a way that wont intrude loudly – like a quiet weaver sitting patiently next to her teacher, watching, waiting to be shown how a Yolŋu world is woven together.

Leave a comment

Filed under Life as Bilinydjan, Theory

Post-supervision

Written mid-July 
At the meeting I circulated a précis outlining the evolution of my thoughts with regard to my Master’s Research topic and challenges that I had faced in the time since we last met. In this document I departed from my original thesis topic, Metaphors that connect: language as reflection of Yolŋu relationships to country, and provided justification for this. The reworked topic which I presented was, The political act of being with: experiences of Mäpuru Yolŋu in the Arnhem Weaving workshops.
Through conversation Michael suggested framing the topic as such:
The political act of being with: Exploring the philosophical work of Yolŋu women in Mäpuru through the Arnhem Weaving workshops. 
As soon as M suggested exploring the philosophical and more specifically, ontological aspects of the Mäpuru women’s experiences, I felt as though the topic had ‘landed’.
The relationships between language, country/people and worldview and encapsulating these, a sense of being. 
A common experience of women who participate in the Arnhem Weaving workshops is to be adopted by a Mäpuru Yolŋu. A key question that may help to shape my research is why do Yolŋu put Balanda into the gurruu system? Is it to place order on the Balanda world? Alternatively, is it an act of generosity and grace? Perhaps I can explore the ontological work of Yolŋu in re-shaping the world (the interface with Balanda) to make it less chaotic more integrated/holistic.
Other key questions/themes that emerged during our discussions were: 
  • Exploring a Yolŋu philosophical framework
  • How do Yolŋu re-make the Balanda world in a generative way? 
  • Emergent reality in a Yolŋu world 
  • The nature of language in a Yolŋu world
  • Language produces the world 
  • Epiphenomenon of Yolŋu world
  • Language as an offshoot of people being on place: right people, right place
o   No distinction between people and country (?)
o   Yolŋu trying to keep things (country, language,  people) together (assuming they already are part of a whole and not separate)
§  Stories of unification and holding together?
§  Preventing nature/culture dualisms: redacting ancestral narratives 
·         The agency of metaphors
A possible goal of my research/project could be to make more accessible stories in Ritharrŋu language. The two women who I hope to collaborate with in my research,  M and B, are speakers of a number of Yolŋu Matha, but primarily Ritharrŋu.  There is potential for artefacts, stories and other representations of stories (e.g. visual representations), to be uploaded onto the Arnhem Weavers website as a way of sharing these weaver’s experiences with a broader audience. By sharing representations of M and B’s stories, I would hope to bring greater visibility to what these Mäpuru women are trying to say about, ‘being themselves and united with their ancestry’ (Michael Christie).  In essence, putting into words and images the seeing of another world.
M is going to forward me articles on auto-ethnographic research. One of the benefits of using an auto-ethnographic approach would be its ability to render me as the ‘stranger’. I, my reactions and responses to  stories shared, would become the object of anthropological analysis, rather than the Yolŋu women I am collaborating with. The dynamic that emerges here gives authority to and normalises Yolŋu philosophical perspectives, ontologies and cultural practices. Also, by using this approach I can practice being reflexive throughout my Masters, a process which I seem to be doing naturally. Perhaps I can begin to turn my journal writing into a private blog so that it is recorded in a more accessible way?
The suggestion was made that I go back and look at the YACI website (Yolŋu philosophy of knowledge and education articles).  M also has a box of Yolŋu research papers which I can look through and photocopy. J has a number of recordings of stories told by M and L in Mäpuru about the Arnhem Weaving workshops. He will forward some of these on to me so that I can transcribe and translate them (need to be clear on how I can use these – are they on the public record so that I am able to use them in my research?). Y’s sister Y may be able to work on the project as a translator of stories told in Ritharrŋu  language.

2 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Emergence of a topic


/* Style Definitions */
table.MsoNormalTable
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0;
mso-tstyle-colband-size:0;
mso-style-noshow:yes;
mso-style-priority:99;
mso-style-qformat:yes;
mso-style-parent:””;
mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt;
mso-para-margin-top:0cm;
mso-para-margin-right:0cm;
mso-para-margin-bottom:10.0pt;
mso-para-margin-left:0cm;
line-height:115%;
mso-pagination:widow-orphan;
font-size:11.0pt;
font-family:”Calibri”,”sans-serif”;
mso-ascii-font-family:Calibri;
mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin;
mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;
mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast;
mso-hansi-font-family:Calibri;
mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin;}

Written in mid-July

The political act of being with… 
What first attracted me to the use of metaphor by Yolŋu in storytelling was the way in which concepts central to Yolŋu epistemology could be translated into a visual form and be made more accessible to me as a non-Indigenous person. Metaphors I read in transcribed oral stories shared key insights into the processes used by Yolŋu to work together, learn and live ‘right’ ways.
Framing my Master’s research topic has been fraught with apprehension, as I have struggled to find the words and concepts that will bring me close to understanding a Yolŋu worldview. Initial attempts to do so only exposed my own western worldview and left me feeling as though I was projecting this foreign way of seeing onto a Yolŋu world. I am not Yolŋu, so how do I sensitively collaborate with Yolŋu to give voice to their perspectives? In essence, how can a person who sees the world from a different worldview, which does not share the same conceptual language, create a bridge to understanding?
When speaking to J about my idea to look at how metaphors are used to describe Yolŋu connection with country, he invited me to re-frame my perspective by sharing the idea of ‘being with’. I had never been conscious of the assumption that underlies the idea of connection, i.e. that something is broken or a separation that needs to be bridged. For many years my work as a teacher and community development worker focused on the premise that people were disconnected from themselves, community and place and that the goal of re-connection was central to creating healthy communities. Unquestioningly, I carried this loaded concept over into the framing of my masters research question. So, the idea of ‘being with’ was a revelation and offered me a new way of seeing and describing relationships. All of a sudden I felt this idea unfolding and expanding in different directions. Relationships that I had struggled to see in the past emerged and began to tell a story. This concept of ‘being with’ might be able to tell stories of how people, Yolŋu and Balanda, are in relationship with themselves, each other and country. The idea of ‘being with’ feels more whole and does not draw distinctions between people and country.
The language used to describe Western concepts for relationships between people and country is loaded with dualisms; there is an underlying assumption that there is a separateness that needs to be bridged. When working collaboratively with Yolŋu, how might these aforementioned assumptions impact on the development of our research partnership and my ability to truthfully represent Yolŋu perspectives?

1 Comment

Filed under Uncategorized