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Social Life and the Dreamtime: Clues to Creation Myths as Rhetorical Devices in Tiwi Mortuary Ritual

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image of Religion and the Arts

The visual arts of the Tiwi Aborigines from Bathurst and Melville Islands, Australia, have their origin in mortuary rituals that entail a re-enactment of creation myths. In mortuary ritual a script—inherited from the mythological ancestor Purakupali, who introduced death into Tiwi society and had the death rites performed for the first time—has to be followed, but the participants link the conventional ritual events with their own stories and personal experiences put in metaphorical language and action. The requirement that Tiwi singers compose entirely new songs for every occasion, and that the makers of carved and painted mortuary posts produce unique works, has its impact on how creation myths interact in narratives and in the visual arts. Their interrelatedness can be studied in a more systematic way in the performative arts by taking the actors' current social and political concerns into account.

Affiliations: 1: Radboud University Nijmegen


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