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Wäkwak/Dhatam/Dirrpu/Dherrang/Nindan (Yolngu names)
Nymphaea spp. (Latin name)
'waterlily' (common name)
This plant belongs to the Yirritja and Dhuwa moieties
Cultural information about this plant:
There are two similar plants. Dhatam, which is a lotus. It is Dhuwa. And then there is wäkwak, which is a lily and this one is Yirritja. To make things confusing, some people also call the seed pod of the wäkwak, dhatam. The dhatam has delicious seeds in a big pod and the skin is so thin that you can run your fingernail down the side and then the seeds will spill out into your mouth. They are quite oily. The flowers of dhatam are big but those of wäkwak are smaller. They can each be purple, pink or white.
The wäkwak has tubers buried in the mud and these are known as nindan (young water lily), dirrpu or dherrang.
I remember sitting on top of a big log above the waterline waiting for my waku (my mother's mother's mother) to hand me the nindan so that I could put it in the wayku (paperbark container). A wayku is made by tying the ends of a sheet of rangan (paperbark bark) at each end. The wayku would usually float beside the woman doing the gathering, wherever she moved in the water. I still remember climbing on that log because I was afraid to sit in the bush. I was scared of snakes and buffalo. But the buffalo were few then. Now there are too many.
My waku's name was Lalu, a Manggalili woman who was the grandmother of Bandinga 1. This plant is ngatha for the Nyangbulwa Yolnguwa. Bäpurru Nyangbul are part of the Dhalwangu family of the mungurru (deep ocean). I remember bringing the fire with us to a billabong at Garrapara in the burning end of a gunga (pandanus) trunk. My waku built the fire, and then we went into the billabong to get the nindan. To me she was like my teacher in my journey growing up. In this place I saw my first nyangura (short-necked freshwater turtle). Wäkwak is the flower/plant name; as I said before, some people call the seeds within the pod dhatam but we call them galiwurrk. In the wet season, after the first rains, the young plants are ready to eat. Seeds are extracted and eaten, and also parts of the young flower buds are eaten. The stem of the lundu (flower) can be peeled and eaten raw like a stick of celery.
The appearance of gurrukawuk, the long sweeping grass with very long brown seed stems, is the signal of this season to tell the Yolngu this food is ready to be collected and eaten. This grass is known as 'speargrass' in English and is a thinner version of warrarri or gaditjirri, the main variety of speargrass. Young boys still collect large quivers of the stems of these grasses and have spear wars during this season.
Later in the year, when the water is low, you cut away the dead plant and dig into the mud following the 'string' to find the tuber. The round black tuber has yellow flesh and is known as nindan which can also be called burpa (blue lily rhizome). Another distinct form of tuber produced by this plant, which is longer, is called dirrpu or dherrang. It is cooked straight away on the coals and peeled. When Yilpara was first established we used to live off nindan from the billabong Guyapi. It is in the Madarrpa, Manggalili and Dhalwangu songs. We sing it. We cry it.
(Written by Mulkun Wirrpanda, 2017)
Botanical information about this plant:
- an aquatic, annual or perennial plant with stems to 2 metres long from perennial tubers
- ovate-elliptic to orbicular glossy green leaves to 31 centimetres in length, 26 centimetres in width
- numerous flowers with 10-18 petals, white-tinged pale purple or pale blue to dark purple
- fruit in the form of a depressed globular berry to 55 millimetres wide; with many small seeds
- grows in water up to 2 metres deep, abundant in seasonal swamps and billabong edges; common and widespread across northern Australia
- seeds, leaf stems and tubers all highly valued food resources wherever they occur.
A botanical painting in natural pigments and ochres on eucalyptus stringy bark, depicting the native plant species Wakwak. The painting features two plant forms. Each plant has four leaves with white crosshatching. The background features lines in olive green and white, and crosshatching in red-brown, yellow-ochre and white. The painting is bordered in brown. On the reverse of the bark, the number '4235Q' is handwritten in black ink, and there is a 'BUKU-LARRNGAY MULKA' adhesive label attached, including the artist's name and other details.
The collection consists of nine larrakitj, or painted hollow logs, and 113 bark paintings painted between 2011 and 2014 by Mulkun Wirrpanda, a senior female Yolngu artist at Yirrkala in north east Arnhem Land. These works are a product of Wirrpanda's interest in documenting the ecology of her country following her participation in a joint project with non-Indigeous artists, printmakers and academics, charting the country and yam supply at Blue Mud Bay.
The works in this collection provide a unique visual record of Yolngu knowledge of plants and food-bearing and medicinal species. Wirrpanda depicts aspects of the plants' life cycle across numerous works, including the gestational period through to fruiting and the interconnections between the food source and the extensive freshwater flood plains and rivers, beaches, sandhills, salt flats and estuaries in her Yolngu country.
W 524mm x H 1085mm x D 83mm