Yawkyawk (Water Spirits) and Ngalyod (Rainbow Serpent)

The artist has painted Yawkyawk, the Kunwinjku term used for young women but also for female water spirits that have fish tails as shown in this painting. Sometimes they are described as ‘mermaids’ and live in trees and water in special places in Western Arnhem Land. In this case the yawkyawk are from country called Marlwon, an outstation east of Oenpelli which is the artist’s traditional country and the site of his outstation. The spirits are guardians of a sacred waterhole.

Ngalyod (the Rainbow Serpent) is a most important ancestor spirit in Western Arnhem Land and apears in various manifestations in Kunwinjku mythology. She is generally feared as she may swallow Aboriginals who break traditional laws. Ngalyod dwells also in various billabongs (lagoons) in Arnhem Land. In the Dreamtime Ngalyod assumed a range of animal forms, including snake, kangaroo and crocodile and at times transformed herself from one to the other, or into a combination of each.

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