Spirit of Anchor
Arnhem Land Aboriginal (Yolngu) narratives regarding the female Dreaming entity Bayini and her husband Birrinydji have puzzled anthropologists and historians since the first sketchy recordings of ceremonies for Allah, anchors and flags, etc., were made by visiting scholars in the 1920s. Inspired by the presence of Indonesians from Macassar (who fished the coastal waters and traded with Aborigines from 1600 to 1907), the enduring significance of Bayini’s songs and dances remained a mystery until the 1990s when the senior custodian of this law, Warramiri elder David Burrumarra, spoke openly about them for the first time. His revelations helped tie together the abundant though largely uninterpretable published ethnographic data. Spirit of Anchor, a new film by anthropologist Barbara Glowczewski, is a valiant attempt to solve the mystery of the Bayini and ascertain the extent of the influence of Indonesians from Macassar on Australian Aboriginal cosmology. The film, shot at Bawaka in northeast Arnhem Land (the place of Bayini’s “anchor”), provides an opportunity for various storytellers from the Gumatj clan to provide detailed, if cryptic, commentaries on local understrandings of the Bayini legacy. Yolngu statements, body language, paintings, songs, and dances, accompanied by the didjeridu, set a compelling scene. The Aboriginal performances are thought-provoking and moving.