Justinna Napaljarri Sims ‘Yanjirlpirri or Napaljarri-Warnu Jukurrpa (Star or Seven Sisters Dreaming)
An ancient story
The constellation of the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, has been a potent symbol for artists, writers and storytellers for thousands of years.
The star cluster is mentioned in the Bible and the Koran and was important in Greek, Celtic and Norse mythology. The seven brightest stars of the Pleiades have been the focus for stories, myths and rituals for many First Peoples and is an important dreaming story for Aboriginal peoples across Australia. ‘Dreaming’ is an entirely inadequate term for incredibly complex systems of recording, holding and passing on cultural knowledge and laws encompassing every aspect of life from creation, ethics, morality, kinship, medicine, food, seasons and water, all mapped onto landscape, watercourses and sky. The complex kinship system and how it relates to animals, birds, landscape and skies determines which individuals and families are entitled to tell which particular Dreamings.
Counterweave currently has an example of the Seven Sisters Dreaming, by Warlukurlangu artist Justinna Napaljarri Sims. Warlukurlangu artists depict the Pleaides as the Napaljarri -Warnu Jukurrpa or Seven Sisters Dreaming.
The sisters are seven women of the Napaljarri skin group and are often depicted in paintings of this Jukurrpa carrying the Jampijinpa man ‘wardilyka’ (the bush turkey) who is in love with the Napaljarri -warnu and who represents the Orion’s Belt cluster of stars. Jukurra-jukurra, the morning star, is a Jakamarra man who is also in love with the seven sisters and is often shown chasing them across the night sky.
In a final attempt to escape the women turned themselves into fire and ascended to the heavens to become stars.
The custodians of the Napaljarri-warnu Jukurrpa are Japaljarri/Jungarrayi men and Napaljarri/Nungarrayi women. Some parts of the Napaljarri-warnu Jukurrpa are closely associated with men’s sacred ceremonies of a very secretive nature. Yanjirlpirri Jukurrpa (Star Dreaming) tells of the journey of Japaljarri and Jungarrayi men who travelled west to Lake Mackay on the Western Australian border. Along the way, they performed ‘ kurdiji’ (initiation ceremonies) for young men. Women also danced for the ‘kurdiji’.
The site depicted in this canvas is Yanjirlypiri (star) where there is a low hill and a water soakage.
The importance of this place cannot be overemphasized as young boys are brought hundreds of kilometres to be initiated, from as far as Pitjanjatjara country to the south and Lajamanu to the north. In contemporary Warlpiri paintings traditional iconography is used to represent the Jukurrpa, associated sites and other elements. Often depicted in paintings for this Jukurrpa is the female star Yantarlarang (Venus – the Evening Star) who chases the seven Napaljarri sisters for having stolen the night from her.
Justinna Napaljarri Sims was born in 1977 in the Alice Springs Hospital, the closest hospital to Yuendumu, a remote Aboriginal community 290 km north-west from Alice Springs and the location of the Warlukurlangu Artists Aboriginal Corporation. She went to school at Yirrara college in Alice Springs, but returned to the community in 1999 where she has lived permanently ever since. She is married to Gordon Jangala Robertson and has two daughters, Vicky and Chantal. Apart from being a mother and painter, Justinna also works part time in a local store in Yuendumu.
Justinna is the grand-daughter of Paddy Japaljarri Sims (dec), one of the founding artists of Warlukurlangu. She has been painting with Warlukurlangu since 1999, however it wasn’t until 2010 that she has had time to paint consistently. She paints many of her grandfather’s Jukurrpa stories, Dreamings, which include Ngarlkirdi Jukurrpa (Witchetty Grub Dreaming) and Yanjirlpirri Jukurrpa (Star Dreaming), Dreamings which relate directly to her land, its features and animals.
Deepening Histories of Place, edited by Mary Anne Jebb and Ann McGrath, Australian National Universality Press 2015 downloadable here http://press.anu.edu.au/publications/aboriginal-history-monographs/long-history-deep-time
The Oxford Companion to Aboriginal Art and Culture general editors Sylvia Kleinert and Margo Neal, Cultural Editor Robyne Bancroft OUP 2008
Friday Essay: land, kinship and ownership of ‘Dreamings’ March 17, 2016, Christine Nicholls, Senior Lecturer in Australian Studies, Flinders University, https://theconversation.com/friday-essay-land-kinship-and-ownership-of-dreamings-39637