Summary

This is a tunga and is made by Tiwi people from a single sheet of bark that has been folded and stitched down opposite sides to form a container. It was collected by Baldwin Spencer, who was hosted on Bathurst and Melville Islands in 1911 by the legendary buffalo shooter, Joe Cooper. The two men had met in Darwin the year before, and their collaboration resulted in over a thousand objects being collected mainly from Tiwi people on the islands, but also from mainlanders, primarily Iwaidja people, who worked directly for Cooper in his camp. Spencer is known to have purposely purchased a bolt of coloured cloth in Darwin to take with him on this trip to use as a commodity of exchange. No doubt he also traded for important artefacts with sticks of tobacco.

Physical Description

A single sheet of bark, Eucalyptus sp. folded and stitched down two long sides with cane to form a pocket. The outer surface is painted with natural pigments. The rim and the back are reinforced with close stitching and a piece of string drawn through two holes forms the handle.

Local Name

tunga

Significance

Containers made from a single sheet of bark folded over and stitched down two sides are made by Tiwi people in association with funeral ceremonies called pukamani. At the end of the funeral, these tunga are broken over the carved and painted poles erected in a circle around the grave. Walter Baldwin Spencer collected an extraordinary array of these containers from Bathurst and Melville Islands, each painted with a unique design using natural pigments.

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