from Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Northern Territory

Larrakitj; hollow log coffin

The Aboriginal peoples of Arnhem Land conduct a unique second burial ceremony where the bones of the deceased are disinterred, painted in red ochre and placed inside a naturally occurring hollow log (called larrakitj in eastern Arnhem Land). When a person dies, part of the soul commences the treacherous journey to the land of the dead, and the mourning period commences. The mourning period can last up to several years. A number of prohibitions are come into force among the community. For example, the name of the deceased is never mentioned, certain foods are avoided and these days, photographs of the deceased are hidden away.

When the soul safely reaches the land of the dead, the second or bone burial takes place to mark the end of mourning, and symbolically, a new beginning. A log (usually that of the stringbark tree) which has been hollowed by termites, is cleaned, and during the course of the ceremony it is painted, the bones placed inside, and it is erected on the deceased’s land where it is left to the elements.

Although hollow log coffins have been made for millennia, these objects went largely uncollected until in 1988 the community of artists at Ramingining in Central Arnhem Land created an installation of 200 of these painted coffins to mark 200 years of European settlement in Australia. The work, entitled The Aboriginal Memorial, was not a protest piece, but rather a memorial to all those Aboriginal people who had died defending their land and their culture from the invading forces. The Aboriginal Memorial now holds pride of place in the front gallery of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Since then, Arnhem Land artists have made painted hollow log coffins for sale on the art market.

It should be noted that none of the painted hollow log coffins on the market were ever used in ceremonies and never contained bones.

Yimula Munuŋgurr

Djapu [Larrakitj], 2019

ochre on hollow stringy bark log
234 cm

$4,600

In stock

from Buku-Larrnggay Mulka Centre, Northern Territory

Larrakitj; hollow log coffin

The Aboriginal peoples of Arnhem Land conduct a unique second burial ceremony where the bones of the deceased are disinterred, painted in red ochre and placed inside a naturally occurring hollow log (called larrakitj in eastern Arnhem Land). When a person dies, part of the soul commences the treacherous journey to the land of the dead, and the mourning period commences. The mourning period can last up to several years. A number of prohibitions are come into force among the community. For example, the name of the deceased is never mentioned, certain foods are avoided and these days, photographs of the deceased are hidden away.

When the soul safely reaches the land of the dead, the second or bone burial takes place to mark the end of mourning, and symbolically, a new beginning. A log (usually that of the stringbark tree) which has been hollowed by termites, is cleaned, and during the course of the ceremony it is painted, the bones placed inside, and it is erected on the deceased’s land where it is left to the elements.

Although hollow log coffins have been made for millennia, these objects went largely uncollected until in 1988 the community of artists at Ramingining in Central Arnhem Land created an installation of 200 of these painted coffins to mark 200 years of European settlement in Australia. The work, entitled The Aboriginal Memorial, was not a protest piece, but rather a memorial to all those Aboriginal people who had died defending their land and their culture from the invading forces. The Aboriginal Memorial now holds pride of place in the front gallery of the National Gallery of Australia in Canberra. Since then, Arnhem Land artists have made painted hollow log coffins for sale on the art market.

It should be noted that none of the painted hollow log coffins on the market were ever used in ceremonies and never contained bones.