NotesMade by Alma Abbakoyok, (born 1949), language Eastern Kunwinjku (see detailed c/v in file). Makes string bags, pandanus coil woven baskets.
'This bag is innovative in its construction, so there is not really a traditional name...probably called djerrk, the name for the traditional string bag'...It 'combines two building techniques. One is a knotted loop which as far as I know is a recent innovation among Kunwinjku women [eg Mary Karlbirra]... It is combined with stitched coils, the same technique used for coil baskets. In this piece Agnes has demonstrated another innovation by using plaits of pandanus fibre rather than simple bundles as the coils. These are stitched over with a wide blanket stitch which shows the coils underneath. The handle is made of several lengths of string...bound into a single strand by tightly looped string.' (Margaret Carew, email, May 1996) Made from pandanus leaves, with bush string made from Brachychiton bark used to finish off top edge with blanket stitch and the handle. Dyes: Pogonolobus reticulatus for the oranges, and Haemodorum brevicaule for the red-purple, light pink and brown. Brown achieved by soaking the dye roots with the fibre over a long period, rather than boiling as with the pink shades. Olive green colour from the soft fleshy end of the pandanus leaf, boiled with the fibre.
The string bag is a basic hunting bag, useful for shellfish and other food that is gathered wet, as it allows the water to drain away; also good for food like fish that would get smelly in a tightly woven bag. Hunting bags were not traditionally dyed.
Note: The word for 'bag' varies: 'I have given the name in the language of the artist who made it. The different languages have different spellings...and so sometimes the name shared across different language groups has a number of spellings... For example the name for string bag is the same right across most of the languages here. In Burarra it is jerrk, in Ndjennana it is djerrk, in Eastern Kunwinjku it is djerrk and in Rembarrnga and Kune it is djerrh'. (Margaret Carew, linguist, email, May 1996)
'The first detailed accounts and collections of central Arnhem Land weaving were undertaken by Donald Thompson during his anthropological research in 1935-37. He noted the variety of weaving produced by both men and women for various purposes, which included tight and open weave conical bags, netted string bags, conical mats, fish nets, woven fish-traps, fish-fences and a range of crafted body ornaments, many of which were decorated with the brilliant breast feathers of lorikeets or spun possum fur.' (M. West, p4) Stylistic similarities and differences arise through family groups working together, availability of certain materials and dyes, influence of new material and dye sources (like boiling CSR sugar packets), and the demands of the market (eg. opening out conical mats to make flat mats). (M. West p5,6).
Maningrida is a township in central Arnhem Land, established in 1949 as a trading post and re-established in 1956 as a welfare settlement. It is now a centre for 34 outstations, and about 1800 people from about twelve different language groups. Following encouragement of commercial development of baskets and weaving by missionaries and others in the region in the early 20th century, the development of the trading post at Maningrida in the late 1940s and its further development in the 1960s, Maningrida Arts was established in 1971. Now Maningrida Arts and Culture, part of the Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation, this centre is committed to the maintenance of traditional culture in the region through a language and research centre; a womens centre; and an arts centre with arts coordinator that acts as an agent for sales of artworks. Unlike some other Aboriginal art workshops that have introduced eg. paper and canvas, Maningrida artists only use natural materials like fibres, barks and ochres and dyes, because of their relationship to local language and culture. (Discussion with Andrew Hughes, coordinator, October 1995).
The bags and weavings (now, but not always previously made by women) have spiritual meanings associated with a classification of all things into social and gender groups as part of a 'culturally-constructed universe' where 'their existence is never attributed to human creativity but to the actions of certain Ancestral Beings' (see West/Carew, publication below, p6.)