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Tjukurpa is a large and complicated system, which Anangu are obligated to remember. When Anangu talk about Tjukurpa, they are not talking about vague rules and simple stories. Many anthropologists have noted that central Australian Indigenous legal and religious systems are among the most technically complex in the world. Tjukurpa is also remarkable because people carry most of it in their heads. Equally, Anangu find it amazing that we trust our legal system to pieces of paper which can easily be destroyed or lost and find it disturbing that our laws can be changed. Anangu have therefore devised many mnemonic devices and social structures to help them to remember all the information. Guides should be mindful that the story form of Tjukurpa is only one aspect of how Anangu remember and access this knowledge. RULES Much of Tjukurpa can be expressed in the form of rules. This is because Tjukurpa sets out the proper way that things can be done by describing how they were done during the Tjukurpa. At Uluru, this form of Tjukurpa is most often seen in rules of access (eg: who can or cant enter a site). It is also why we suggest appropriate ways for visitors to behave (such as being quiet in Kantju Gorge, or not climbing Uluru). Anangu often have to determine how to apply the rules deriving from Tjukurpa to new situations. For example, is it right for a rock band to play near Uluru? In some cases, rules from Tjukurpa apply very simply to new situations. In other cases, Anangu schooled in Tjukurpa spend much time discussing the correct interpretation and application of the rules of Tjukurpa in a new situation. CREATION AND CREATIVE EVENTS Tjukurpa revolves around the creation of the physical and social world, and specific creative events. The details of all these events to be remembered are innumerable. Therefore the task of systematising this knowledge and then committing it to memory is immense. Anangu have achieved this immense task by clever multilevel organisation of the material. They also give different groups of people the responsibility for maintaining and transmitting portions of that material according to these organising principles.

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The sequences in which Anangu maintain their knowledge of sites are called iwara, meaning paths. The iwara are remembered in long lists of site names. Anangu also use the foraging (and these days, driving) routes connecting one site to the next as a way of remembering. Often tracks traverse the country of many different Indigenous groups. Some senior Anangu are able to recite the names of sites well out of Pitjantjatjara/Yankunyjatjara country even though they may never have been there. The sites along some important tracks, particularly those relating to mens and womens ceremonial activities, are memorised by everyone who has been initiated into these ceremonies.


To organise the Tjukurpa material to be memorised, the total body of information is first divided into sections according to which ancestor was responsible for the tasks. Anangu remember the activities of each ancestor in sequence. Sections of this sequence are further broken up according to the geographical location at which the activity occurred. For example, the activities of Mala ancestors which stretch for hundreds of kilometres, constitute a discrete block of knowledge of Tjukurpa at Uluru which Anangu must memorise. Particular people have responsibility for holding and passing on each of these knowledge blocks. Responsibility is determined according to rules relating to ownership of the land through which the ancestor passed. For example, the responsibility for learning and then teaching a Mala knowledge block belongs firstly to those born at sites along the path of the Mala ancestors, or those who inherit responsibility for those sites through their father or mother. Anangu born at a particular place therefore refer to themselves as belonging to the Tjukurpa of their birthplace. Those born along the Mala Tjukurpa route refer to themselves as Mala men or women. Particular responsibility for the knowledge block falls to the traditional owners born at the place to which the knowledge relates. A person born at Uluru takes precedence over other Mala men or women for transmitting particular knowledge relating to their birth site.

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Anangu use physical sites to remind them of an ancestors activity. For example, at Uluru, Mala Puta is in the shape of a hare wallabys pouch. This reminds Anangu that Mala women were active in the area. Similarly, the holes in Uluru north of the smoke below Lungkata's cave, remind Anangu that this is where the young Kuniya man was speared by Liru warriors. Sometimes the relationship between Tjukurpa and the physical landscape is used in a practical way. For example, because Anangu know that a certain ancestor stopped and drank water in a particular location, they know to look for water at that location. Similarly, because a certain ancestor at a particular time of the year found bush raisins, Anangu know to look for raisins at that time. In this way valuable ecological knowledge is maintained . Traditional owners of the sites have responsibility for learning and teaching the knowledge associated with that site. They remember the knowledge in the form of inma verses, stories and ritual dance moves. The inma verses are rather like epic poetry and are sung during ceremonies. The stories explain and expand on the verses. The ritual dance moves are specific to the ancestor and to the site. SONGS Inma or song verses are the most important form of Tjukurpa knowledge. Some songs have thousands of verses which are learned over a lifetime of attending ceremonies or by being specially trained by the owners of the songs and the sites. Knowledge of the song for a place is viewed by Anangu as major evidence of traditional ownership of that place. Song verses are carefully guarded and only passed on to those who have earned the right to know them. On their own, inma verses may not give away very much information about the Tjukurpa for a place. Often they are condensed and informal and even archaic language. The meaning of an inma verse is difficult to decipher. You need to know the ancestor, other sites along the iwara, the dance and ritual that goes with the verse or the long version of the story of the place in order to understand the inma. DANCE AND RITUAL Dance steps and ritual actions often accompany the public performance inma verses. These dances and rituals also record information about Tjukurpa that may not be contained in any other form. To understand the meaning of the dance or ritual you need to know and understand other parts of Tjukurpa relating to that site or ritual sequence.

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Director of National Parks 2007

Like inma verse, Anangu only learn the dance or ritual for a place once the right to know it has been earned. This is earned through participation in ceremonies or through inheriting the right through birth. Again like inma verses, the older an Anangu man or woman gets, the more he or she will learn of dance or ritual. TJUKURPA STORIES What non-Indigenous people call myths are the longer narrative versions of Tjukurpa events. The story versions of these events often contain details used by the individual storyteller to make the story seem more vivid to listeners. Anangu prize good storytellers, and consider it a great talent to be able to embellish and illustrate Tjukurpa well without altering the substance of the story. The story versions of Tjukurpa also take into account the level of knowledge of the listener. For example, a good storyteller is able to relate the story of Mala at Uluru to uninitiated listeners without giving away any of the secret details that only initiated people can know. Any published accounts of Tjukurpa stories should be read with caution as it is not possible to know the cultural providence of the material concerned. Some authors, for example, published childish versions of stories as if they were the deepest Anangu knowledge such as Mountford's account of the Pungkalungu (giant flesh-eating ogres) at Kata Tjuta. These ogres are not Tjukurpa, but part of a separate folk tradition. They are used by Anangu to scare naughty children. DESIGNS Particular designs are associated with particular Tjukurpa ancestors, and the rituals and dances associated with them. These designs incorporate elements now familiar through the Western Desert acrylic art movement. Traditionally they are used for body painting in ceremonies, decorating ritual objects and the ground (as in sand paintings), and as cave art. Anangu consider many of these designs sacred because of the association with Tjukurpa. Like other aspects of Tjukurpa they belong to particular people who have earned or inherited responsibility for them. PAINTINGS Anangu have traditionally used painting for religious and ceremonial purposes, and in sand drawings and cave art for teaching and storytelling. People have now largely abandoned cave painting as a mode for teaching and storytelling. Instead they have adopted modified Western techniques including acrylic paint on canvas to continue their storytelling and to generate income.

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Like other kinds of ritual behaviour, some sounds are particularly associated with Tjukurpa. For many central Australian peoples, for example, the bullroarer is a sound particularly associated with mens ceremonies, and the sound of bullroarers is considered frightening and dangerous. For this reason, Anangu are disturbed by the sale of bullroarers. Other sounds are associated with particular ritual contexts. For example, in pacifying Wanampi (water snakes from Tjukurpa) such as the one that stays above Mutitjulu waterhole, Anangu call out as they approach the spring.


Anangu often use sign language to communicate across distances and also to communicate about things than cannot be spoken of out loud. One feature of Tjukurpa is that many restrictions apply to who may know particular things, who may talk about particular things, and the manner in which particular knowledge can be communicated. Like looking at some sites or rituals, just hearing about some things can be dangerous for the uninitiated. The speech restriction applying to some parts of mens and womens business is that some things should only be spoken about using signs. This particularly applies if there is some chance of being overheard by the uninitiated.


Restrictions on speech, while not as common for Anangu as they are for some other Indigenous peoples, apply particularly in areas dealing with Tjukurpa. When Indigenous people are talking about particularly sacred things, they will often whisper backwards speaking while drawing breath rather than breathing out. In this way they ensure that what is being said can only be heard by those standing very close. In addition, there are speech restrictions between some people. For example, a man is not allowed to talk to his classificatory fathers-inlaw, and vice versa. This restriction applies also to being in the same room, the same car, and the same camp.

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Director of National Parks 2007