Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Note - Tjukurpa
Parks Australia, 2009
'Tjukurpa panya tjamulu, kamilu, mamalu, ngunytjulu nganana ungu, ku runpangka munu katangka kanyintjaku' - Pitjantjatjara
'This Law was given to us by our grandfathers and grandmothers, our fathers and mothers, to hold onto in our heads and in our hearts.'
What is Tjukurpa?
Tjukurpa is the foundation of Anangu life and society. Tjukurpa refers to the creation period when ancestral beings, Tjukaritja, created the world as we know it, and from this the religion, Law and moral systems. 'Dreamtime' or 'Dreaming' is often used to describe the way we and other Indigenous Australians see our origins. This translation suggests the beliefs are unreal. Tjukurpa is no dream, and there is no such word as 'Dreamtime' in Anangu languages.
The creation period
Prior to creation the world was featureless and none of the places existed until our Tjukurpa ancestors, in the form of people, plants and animals, traveled widely across the land. The adventures and battles of the ancestors formed the world as we know it today. Our land is inhabited by dozens of ancestral beings. Their journeys and activities are recorded at sites linked by iwara (paths or tracks) and iwara link places that are sometimes hundreds of kilometres outside the park and beyond Pitjantjatjara country.
The Mala Tjukurpa, for example, involves three groups of mala (rufous hare-wallaby people) who travel from the north to reach Uluru. Two groups then fled south and southeast to sites in South Australia. Kuniya Tjukurpa involves the travels of the woma python from the east. Many other Tjukurpa such as kalaya (emu), liru (poisonous snake), lungkata (blue tongue lizard), luunpa (kingfisher) and tjintirtjintirpa (willie wagtail) travel through the park.
Anangu land is mapped through the events of Tjukurpa and is therefore full of meaning. Tjukurpa is the basis of all Anangu knowledge. Where you are born, where you live and where you die are of great significance to Anangu. When Anangu travel across the land we do so with the knowledge of the ancestral beings. Knowledge of the land, and the behaviour and distribution of plants and animals is based on knowledge of Tjukurpa. Anangu recount, maintain and pass on this knowledge through ceremony, song, dance and art.
Tjukurpa is passed down
Photo | Steve Strike
Our social structure
Anangu refer to sites as being 'my grandmother' or 'my grandfather' because we are part of the land and we identity with the land. Tjukurpa shapes Anangu relationships with other people and the kinship system, based on Tjukurpa, prescribes a range of proper behaviour within the immediate family and with other relations. It outlines rules about marriage and other relationships between men and women, young and old. Family obligations extend to the entire language group.
Our moral belief system
Tjukurpa provides Anangu with a system of beliefs and morality with which we can judge right and wrong. Tjukurpa guides daily life through a series of symbolic stories and metaphors. The stories are not simple stories as they represent complex explanations of the origins and structure of the universe, and the place and behaviour of all elements within it. Understanding of such stories increases throughout an individual's life. For a child, a story may be a moral tale about greed, while for an adult it may provide complex explanations of ethical behaviour.
Tjukurpa establishes the rules we use to govern society and manage the land. It dictates correct procedures for dealing with problems, and penalties for breaking the Law. The proper way of doing things is the way things are done in Tjukurpa. Since the coming of non-Aboriginal people we have had to modify some of the penalties under traditional Law. We have also adapted non-Aboriginal law to help enforce Tjukurpa. Sacred sites are protected under Commonwealth and Northern Territory legislation and hunting and foraging rights are protected under the legislation and lease agreement with Parks Australia. The Uluru-Kata Tjuta National Park Plan of Management protects Tjukurpa by using it as a guide for making management and policy decisions.
Inma - traditional dance
Passing on Tjukurpa
Tjukurpa is not written down, but memorised. It is a cultural obligation to pass on this knowledge to the right people. Ceremonies play an important role in the passing on of knowledge. Specific people or groups in the kinship system have responsibilities to maintain different sections or 'chapters' of Tjukurpa. These chapters may relate to a specific site, or a section of an iwara (ancestral path) and this knowledge is carefully passed on to people who have inherited the right to that knowledge either through their birthplace, or through having earned the right by progressive attendance at ceremonies.
Tjukurpa is taught and remembered through specific verses of inma (songs), site related stories, ritual dances or rock art. The iwara (ancestral paths) are recalled in long sequential lists of sites, sometimes including sites beyond country which have been visited, and including sites belonging to other people. Tjukurpa may also be recorded in physical forms such as ritual objects and some objects are created for a specific ritual and then destroyed, others are very old and passed on from one generation to the next. These objects are extremely important, and knowledge of their form and existence is highly restricted. They are not discussed in front of children and may be specifically restricted to men or women.
Tjukurpa is also recorded in various designs and paintings, such as the 'dot' paintings of the Western Desert Region. Designs are often sacred and their use may be restricted to specific groups or individuals. Some sounds are associated with particular Tjukurpa, for example the sound of the bullroarer is associated with sacred men's ceremonies. It is for this reason that Anangu don't want bullroarer objects sold to tourists. Tjukurpa is extremely important to Anangu and learning deeper levels of knowledge means a deeper level of cultural responsibility. Therefore some Tjukurpa information is restricted to certain authorised individuals.