Marrkidjbu (Clever Man)

According to the Kunwinjku people of western Arnhem Land the mimi spirit beings were the first inhabitants of the rock escarpments around Gunbalanya. Mimis taught skills and knowledge for ceremonies, dance, song, hunting and bush tucker to marnkidjbu (clever old medicine men), who then passed on this knowledge to other binninj (Aboriginal people). Today mimis still live in escarpment country although only marnkidjbu can see them.

This story is an important reflection on the beliefs of the Bininj – Aboriginal people of Western Arnhem Land. It is said that when a person is close to death, both close friends as well as the Traditional Healer or “Clever Man” (Marrkidjbu), can sense when the spirit is going to be taken. The special connection that is shared between friends offers a unique support in those last few hours. A best mate will let his friend know that his time to pass is coming. Sometimes in the early morning he will see the spirit that is waiting to take his friend. Often when walking with him he will see that spirit in the distance and will smile and whisper to his friend to “watch out, he is behind you and coming for you”. To protect his friend, he will yell out to that spirit to go away and not follow them as he wants his friend to be safe and not to leave just yet.
When the time is really close, the Marrkidjbu will come to be beside that person. The Marrkidjbu stays with the person and is there to support, give advice, to show them that they are strong and more importantly to protect them. Sometimes the Marrkidjbu will offer them something very special like a feather or stone to give them strength and keep it with them forever.
When a person is really sick, Marrkidjbu will use the smoldering leaves of the Ironwood tree to gently smoke the body to help purify and relieve the pain. In the time that the person is sick to when the spirit leaves the body both family and friends will use rocks to cut and hit themselves on the body. It is believed that the pain experienced by them will relieve the pain felt by the sick person.
When the person has passed away a smoking ceremony is used in each place that person has visited during their life. The smoldering smoke is believed to have cleansing properties and the ability to ward off bad spirits. However the spirit is not taken forever and many Bininj people believe the soul is only sleeping and that it takes about three years for you to go home forever.