Yawkyawk and Kumoken 68/99

In this print the artist, Gabriel Maralngurra has depicted a yawkyawk (freshwater mermaid) swimming alongside kumoken (freshwater crocodile).

Yawkyawk is the Kunwinjku term used for young women but also for female water spirits that have fish tails as shown in this work. Yawkyawk start out in a tadpole-like form, as they get older they grow fish tails and spend most of their time in the water but are able to sit on the banks of billabongs. When fully grown they are able to change their tails into legs and walk on land to forage for food. These spirits are guardians of sacred waterholes.

Kumoken is the long nosed freshwater crocodile, different from the short nosed kinga (saltwater crocodile). They don’t bite people which is perhaps why we can see this one swimming alongside a Yawkyawk. We see them in many places, they are seen in flowing water, and high in the stone country. They eat small prey such as rats, fish, prawns and frogs. In the past the old people used to catch and eat kumoken and cook them in a ground oven and also they would eat the eggs.