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Fire, Smoke & Festivities

There's no disputing the Tiwi Islands and its people are renowned for two things – their love of footy and the vibrant art synonymous with the region. This month, you’re invited to delve a little deeper and experience more of the rich cultural history, as Milikapiti and Pirlangimpi communities join forces, with a helping hand from Artback NT, to present the inaugural Yirrawinari Festival.

By Kate Conway 

The festival’s namesake, Yirrawinari, is one of the minor seasons within the Kumunupunari Dry season months of March to August, known as the season of fire and smoke.

The theme of the festival is ‘Learning for our Young Tiwi’ and highlights the exchange of knowledge it’s hoped the festival will bring about between community members, Traditional Owners, and welcome visitors to the lush, garden island. Stefan Carrillo is Artback NT’s Remote Events Manager, and says this transfer of knowledge is at the core of culture.

“There’s a focus on the passing on to young people the culture, their way of living, and singing and dancing. It’s a celebration that’s come at an important time because there’s been lots of sad events lately. This festival is really great because it’s celebrating life, and it gives another perspective,” he says.

The festival committee, made up of five Traditional Owners and community Elders, generously decided not to charge an entry fee for the festival. For them, it was more important that people come along for the immersive experience.

Across two days, the Pirlangimpi Club and oval grounds are transformed into a thriving hub of workshops, showcasing weaving, carving, painting and bush medicine, as well as musical performances from local musos The Munupi Band, and hip hop talents Current Vibe.

If you’ve ever been lucky enough to witness a traditional yoi – the energetic Tiwi celebratory song and dance – you’ll know how inherent dance is to Tiwi culture. Dancing is set to play a starring role in the festival with performances from Jilamara and Milikapiti dancers.

Senior Tiwi Elder, Carol Puruntatameri, says proceeds from the workshops are reinvested back into vital projects, to teach the children in Tiwi schools about Country and culture.

“We go to the school and talk to the kids about the smoking ceremony, telling them what it’s about and showing them. Some of the kids know it’s healing for our bodies, and to chase the spirit away.”

If you’re looking for a unique way to spend time over the May Day long weekend, this is a special opportunity to be immersed in the vibrant, joyful and artistic culture of the Tiwi Islands.

Yirrawinari Festival

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