Performance of this ceremony ensures that
the spirit of the dead person goes from the living world into
the spirit world. The Pukumani is a public ceremony and provides
a forum for artistic expression through song, dance, sculpture
and body painting. The ceremony occurs approximately six months
after the deceased has been buried. The Tiwi believe that the
dead person's existence in the living world is not finished
until the completion of the ceremony. The final Pukumani is
the climax of a series of ceremonies that traditionally continued
for many months after the burial of the dead.
Those participants closely related to the
deceased wear decorated armbands (pamajini
) during the
are woven from the leaves of the
pandanus or screw palm and are decorated with natural ochres
and the feathers of the white cockatoo. The white cockatoo's
association with the Pukumani ceremony extends beyond the use
of its feathers for headbands and armbands. It is believed to
keep a sentinel eye on wayward spirits lost on route to the
island of the dead.
During all ceremonies a series of dances (yoi) are performed;
some are totemic and some serve to act out the narrative of
newly composed songs. Aside from these creative and illustrative
performances there are those that certain kin - such as the
mother, father, sibling and widow - must dance. When all is
concluded and the last wailing notes of the amburu (death
song) have died away, the grave is deserted and the burial poles
allowed to decay.
Not long before the death of Purrukapali,
when all animals and birds were still men and women, Purutjikini,
a boobook owl man and his wife Pintoma, a barn owl woman decided
to perform the first Kulama ceremony. The white-headed sea eagle
Jirakati was the first initiate and still wears the ceremonial
At the close of the creation period, the spirit performed a
second and complete Kulama ceremony. This included the preparation
of the poisonous Kulama yam for food and the performance of
all stages of initiation.
At its completion they agreed that this form of ceremony should
always remain the same. When a gold ring forms around the moon
during the final stages of the wet season Japara the moon man
is performing Kulama. Inside this ring a multitude of star people
sing and dance Kulama songs. This is the time to prepare for
Kulama, the annual celebration of life.
The Kulama yam is a round root vegetable found in the surrounding
monsoon forest. It is highly poisonous when not properly prepared.
While the yams soak in fresh water the earth oven is prepared.
Sand and grass are pushed outward from the centre of the ceremonial
ground and a large hole is dug. Dry sticks about one metre long
are pushed upright into the ground around the oven and a fire
built up of sticks, grasses and crumbled termite mounds.
When the fire has burnt down to a bed of coals the oven is
ready. The yams are placed in and covered with paper bark and
sand. On the third day the yams are eaten, ensuring good health
for all participants until the next Kulama.
During Kulama many new songs and dances are performed. The
composition of songs and dances was traditionally one of the
duties of new initiates. Due to changes, perhaps only in the
last two decades, initiation is no longer a part of the Kulama
ceremony or a part of Tiwi social structure. The song and dance
performances express the wishes and desires of the participants
for a healthy and prosperous future.
Large concentric circles often appear as the main element of
contemporary Tiwi paintings, representing the Kulama circle
or ceremonial dancing ground. They are icons of Tiwi spiritual