Creation Stories

The following accounts of Tiwi creation stories were given by Maryanne Mungatopi, 1998. Palaneri - The Creation Period The Tiwi Islands of Bathurst and Melville were created at the beginning of time during the dreaming or Palaneri. Before this time there was only darkness and the earth was flat.

Mudungkala, an old blind woman arose from the ground at Murupianga in the south east of Melville Island. Clasping her three infants to her breast and crawling on her knees she travelled slowly north. The fresh water that bubbled up in the track she made became the tideways of the Clarence and Dundas Straits, dividing the two islands from the mainland. She made her way slowly around the land mass and then, deciding it was too large, created the Aspley Strait, which divides the Islands. Mudungkala then decreed that the bare islands be covered with vegetation and inhabited with animals so that her three children left behind would have food. After the Islands were made habitable she vanished. Nobody knows from where she came or, having completed her work, where she disappeared to.    

Purrukapali and Bima Purrukapali was Mudungkala's only son. Every day his wife Bima went out gathering food for him, accompanied by their young son Jinani. In the same camp lived an unmarried man, Japara, who used to persuade Bima to leave her child under the shade of a tree and go into the forest with him.

On one very hot day Bima neglected her son too long and he died in the hot sun. On hearing of the child's death, Purrukapali became so enraged that he struck his wife on the head with a throwing stick and hounded her into the forest. In an effort to help the anguished father, Japara promised to restore the dead child to life within three days, but Purrukapali was inconsolable and the two men soon became locked in a deadly struggle.

Purrukapali picked up the dead body of his son and, walking backwards into the sea, he decreed that death should come to the whole world. As his son had died, the whole of creation would die and, once dead, never again would come to life. There was not death before this time. The place where Purrukapali died, on the east coast of Melville Island, became a whirlpool so strong that anybody who approached it in a canoe would be drowned.

When Japara saw what happened he changed himself into the moon. But he did not escape the decree of Purrukapali, for even though his is eternally reincarnated, he has to die for three days every month.One can see on the face of the moon man the wounds that he received in his fight with Purrukapali.

Bima, still bearing scars on her head, became Wayai, the curlew bird, that still roams the forest at night, wailing in remorse for her misdeeds and for the child that she lost.

Tokampini The death of Jinani brought the creation period to a close. This event was marked by the first Pukumani burial ceremony. Tokampini, the father of Bima called all the original creators, men and women, to the ceremony. These mythical beings were taught the rules of behaviour and the laws of marriage and tribal relationships that had always to be obeyed. Then the periods of light and darkness were established, determining the cycle of daily events. The creators transformed themselves into various creatures, plants, animals, natural forces or heavenly bodies - and spread across the islands. They are the Tiwi totems or skin groups.

Tokampini or bird, were present throughout the creation story and mortal beginnings as witness, messenger, mourner, informer and lawmaker. They continue to be part of Tiwi traditions in much the same way today. Tokampini, the birdman, is an intrinsic part of the Tiwi creation story. Tokampini was there to witness the end of the creation period and was fundamental in making and delivering to mortal Tiwi man the new laws for the land.

Tokampini’s daughter, Bima, left her son Jinani under a tree to go off into the forest with Tapara the moon man, whilst her husband, Purrukapali, was out hunting. The death of baby Jinani from the extreme heat of the day caused the owl to wake and many other birds to begin crying. Tokampini was present when Purrukapali discovered his dead son and heard him decree that as his son had died, the whole of creation would now die and, once dead, never again would come to life. When Bima heard Tokampini crying she returned from the forest but was followed and blocked by many birds, angry pelicans followed her saying she had brought death to mortals. Tokampini were chanting, ‘shame, shame and death’. Scared, in disbelief and shame, Bima returned to the forest where she became Wayayi, the curlew bird, roaming the forest at night wailing in remorse for her misdeeds and for her lost child. Tapara, partly to blame for Jinani’s death, attempted to redeem himself by offering to revive Purrukapali’s son during the full moon periods. Purrukapali rejected this and battled with Tapara who escaped Purrukapali’s wrath by ascending to the moon, where the scars of battle can be seen on his face. Purrukapali then carried his son into the sea where he too died. This water is now a strong whirlpool off the East coast of Melville Island and will drag in all who paddle too near. Now the Tiwi people had become mortal, there was need for new laws. Wirreeween-pinilla (fire skin), and Tokampini began to create the laws. They established kinships, exchanging sisters and taking wives from skin groups, families and clans to create the laws of kinship. The death of Jinani brought the creation period to a close and the beginning of mortal man. This event was marked by the first Pukamani burial ceremony. Tokampini was present at this first ceremony. He gave the paint and feathers for the funeral rings (known as Pamajini) and instructed clan leaders on how to proceed. Man and bird worked together to fell, carve and paint grave poles to remind the Tiwi of how death had come to the people and how man only lives forever in the spirit land.

For further reference: Le Brun Holmes, Sandra. The Goddess and the Moon Man. Craftsman House, Australia 1995