June in Mapuru – Kristina’s reflections
It has taken me some time to
fully understand the influence
that my time at Mapuru has had on my life. The experiences and impressions
of that place continue to influence the way I live and reflect upon
my daily life in Melbourne.
My hope for my visit to Mapuru was that
it wouldn’t be an ordinary cultural tourism venture.
Many cultural tours seem not
only disrespectful, but destructive,
of the cultures they expose. Such ‘ordinary’ tours are
shallow and their effect is to
make the visitors and the hosts
feel disconnected from one another. Through this, these tours remain
in the category of ‘tourism’.
I didn’t want Mapuru
to be like that. And it wasn’t.
The women and their families
made me and the other Balanda
women feel something more than
what Balanda culture would call ‘welcome’: they invited
us to live with them as they
lived their daily lives and, through this, allowed us to feel a special
connection with them.
Weaving and gurrul’yun
The connectedness of people with
one another and people with place
weaves itself into almost every
aspect of daily life at Mapuru.
This has been brought into greater
relief since I returned to Melbourne.
I realise now that, in some ways, I feel disconnected from the people
in my neighborhood. This is because I rarely have the opportunity
to interact with them when I go about my daily business.
Mapuru introduced me to a powerful
word: “gurrul’yun”. Gurrul’yun means to drop
in on people in your community
and share time together- perhaps over a cup of tea, sharing stories
and catching up on the news. At Mapuru, we did this every day, sitting
in the shade of the work hut, from the time when the sun rose and
the crows began to flap and cry around our camp watching us with
piercing eyes to dusk, when we would, regretfully, pack up our weaving
at the end of a full day.
Opportunities for sharing extended into
trips onto Country. One hot afternoon,
weary from collecting pandanus
leaves and dyes that would replace the supplies that
we had used, the women showed
us a special creation place amongst
I still wonder whether
Balanda experience gurrul’yun in the full Yolngu sense of
the word. Even for those of us
who do manage to spend time with friends and family, it seems to
structured and controlled in comparison, and without the same depth,
as that experienced in Yolngu life. Not that Balanda aren’t
conscious of this: Balanda Councils and governments spend a lot
of energy talking about wanting to add something akin to gurrul’yun
to the lives of their communities: words like ‘liveability’ and ‘social
inclusion’ litter policies around the country.
was that the families at Mapuru
appear to live meaningful lives
because they live them to their fullest through activities
inherent in practices like gurrul’yun.
The simple act of sitting
together, sometimes in laughter,
other times in silence, gave us
threads of interaction that brought us
all, Yolngu and Balanda, together
at that place. It was this way
of being together, communing
while doing the simplest tasks,
that was powerful and which I
miss like nothing else.
sitting under the broad canopy
of the work hut on our last day, Marathuwarr graciously
and eloquently said, “Just your coming here and travelling
so far to be here, just sitting with us and being with us has important
significance for us. By travelling
to Mapuru you have respected us. We welcome you here with love.”