Dhatam by Malaluba Gumana


Dhatam by Malaluba Gumana


Title: Dhatam

Artist: Malaluba Gumana

Artwork Size: 60 x 50cm (image), 70 x 60cm (paper)

Artwork medium: Screenprint

Born: c. 1954

Clan: Dhaḻwaŋu, Nuŋburundi group

Moiety: Yirritja

Homeland: Gangan

Art Centre: Buku-Larrŋgay Mulka

Printed by: Basil Hall Editions.


This print represents Garrimala, a billabong near the artist’s residence, the Dhaḻwaŋu clan homeland at Gäṉgaṉ. It is a sacred site for the artists’ mother’s Gälpu clan. But this imagery really refers to perhaps the oldest continuous human religious iconographical practice- the story of the Rainbow Serpent. Es􀆟mates vary from 40,000-60,000 years on the depictions of the Rainbow Serpent in West Arnhem rock shelters.

Wititj is the all powerful rainbow serpent (olive python) that traveled through Gälpu clan lands and on further, during the days of early times called Waŋarr. Djaykuŋ the Javanese filesnake is a companion and possibly alternate incarnation of Wititj, living in amongst the Dhatam, or waterlillies, causing ripples and rainbows (Djari) on the surface of the water (one reference in the cross hatch). The story of Wititj is of storm and monsoon, in the ancestral past. It has particular reference to the mating of Wititj during the beginning of the wet season when the Djarrwa (square shaped thundercloud) begin forming and the lightning starts striking.

The Gälpu clan miny’tji (sacred clan design behind the lillies) represents Djari (rainbows) and the power of the lightning within them. It also refers to the power of the storm created by Wititj, the diagonal lines representing trees that have been knocked down as Wititj moves from place to place. The ribs of the snake also form the basis of the sacred design here. The sun shining against the scales of the snake form a prism of light like a rainbow. The arc which a snake in motion travels through holds to a rainbow shape but causes the oily shimmer to refract the colours of the rainbow.The power of the lightning is made manifest when they strike their tongue. The thunder being the sound they make as they move along the ground.

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