Aboriginal Hollow Log Coffin Art
What are Log Coffins
From sacred sorry business to works of art.
The story of aboriginal hollow log art
In Central Arnhem Land. Soon after a death a sequence of mortuary rituals begin, these days often referred to as sorry business and ends with the bone coffin mortuary ceremony or “hollow log” ceremony.
Each language group from this area of Arnhem Land knows the ceremony by a different name. Most commonly known as the Dupun ceremony, or Lorrkon ceremony it is also known, according to language, as Djalumbu, Badurru, Mudukundja, Mululu and Larajeje.
The hollow log ceremony is unique to Arnhem Land. The purpose of the ceremony is to allow the spirit of the deceased to embark on the final journey beyond earthly existence
Traditionally, when a person in Arnhem Land dies the body is ritually painted with relevant totemic designs, sung over and mourned. It is then taken to the deceased's clan land, and is either buried or placed on a platform in a tree and left to decompose.
The bones are recovered later placed in a roll of soft paperbark, which grieving relatives then carry around in ditty bags for twelve months or more. At a given time the final rites for the repose of the dead man begin and a hollow log ceremony is performed.
The log is made from a termite hollowed Stringybark tree (Eucalyptus tetradonta) and is painted an decorated with totemic symbols
The western Arnhem Land version of the Lorrkon ceremony involves the singing of sacred songs to the accompaniment of karlikarli, a pair of sacred boomerangs used as rhythm instruments. During the final evening of the ceremony, dancers decorate themselves with kapok down, or today, cotton wool and conduct much of the final segments of the ceremony in the secrecy of a restricted mens’ camp.
The complete ceremony may stretch over a period of two weeks, but on the last night the bones of the deceased, which have been kept in a bark container or today wrapped in cloth and kept in a suitcase are taken out, are painted with red ochre and placed inside the hollow log. This ceremony may take place several years after the person has died.
At first light on the final morning of the Lorrkon ceremony, the men appear, coming out of their secret bush camp carrying the pole towards the women’s camp. The two groups call to each other using distinct ceremonial calls.
The women have prepared a hole for the pole to be placed into and when it is stood upright, women in particular kinship relationships to the deceased dance around the pole in a jumping/shuffling motion.
The hollow log coffin is then left to the elements, to decay and the burial cycle is complete.
Since as early as the 1950’s many hollow log coffins are made and painted specifically for exhibition purposes and for sale as artworks. Some of the artwork is just extraordinary.
These examples below, some at our gallery and others at artists home, show the many many hours of dedicated painting by artists.
Unbelievable fine crosshatching.
Thousands and thousands of brush strokes.
Above image shows James Iyuna when still alive in 2013 with his wife Melba and
family with two awesome hollow log paintings
The image to left shows some of the hollow log paintings on sale in the gallery
These three images above . First is Simpy and Hamish Numundja with hollow log Second image is Louise Namirriki children and 2 of her hollow logs. Really like the one with bones painted on outside ,great !! Third image is Ivan Namirriki at his home we went out to pick these two logs up.
The National Gallery of Australia
is the permanent host of the. “THE ABORIGINAL MEMORIAL”
The Aboriginal Memorial is an installation of 200 hollow log coffins from Central Arnhem Land.
It commemorates all the indigenous people who, since 1788, have lost their lives defending their land.
The artists who created this installation intended that it be located in a public place where it could be preserved for future generations.
The path through the Memorial imitates the course of the Glyde River estuary which flows throughthe Arafura Swamp to the sea.
The hollow log coffins are situated broadly according to where the artists' clans live along the river and its tributaries.
The different painting styles apparent in groupings are related to the artists' social groups (sometimes described as clans) which link people by or to a common ancestor, land, language and strict social affiliations.
Since the 1988 the exhibition has created a lot of interest as a form of artwork in its own right “Aboriginal Hollow Log Art”. Many galleries now sell free standing “Hollow Log Art”. Despite being heavy and costly to transport are very popular.
At no time have the log coffins offered for sale in galleries contain bones, nor would they have ever been used in a mortuary ceremony. Like other sculptures by indigenous Australians, shown in galleries, they were made as works of art for public display and purchase.
James Iyuna with one of the best hollow log rarrk poles . Truely outstanding . Can you even imagine the work in that . All free hand with a very fine long hair brush. Amazing. James died 19th Feb 2016