Cultural Revitalisation: The Maminjirrada (Hook Spear) Project
June – December 2023
Men’s Art Program | Groote Eylandt NT
Inspired by the success of the Women’s Dadikwakwa-kwa (doll shell) revitalisation project, the Men’s Art program initiated their own cultural revitalisation project centring on the revitalisation of men’s weaponry.
Maminjirrada (hook spears) is one of the three traditional spear types created by Wanindilyakwa and, along with mabarrkwa (fighting/dancing sticks) and awulmarra (woomeras), were commonly created by men across the archipelago. Each of the fourteen clans possess their own unique maminjirrada design, representing the sacred stories of each group. Though each clan’s spearhead is distinctive, all maminjirrada are characterised by hooked prongs that do not allow an embedded spear to be pulled out without causing significant damage.
Maminjirrada has hunting, fighting, dancing and ceremonial roles in Anindilyakwa culture. Unfortunately, like Dadikwakwa-kwa (doll shells), the creation of Maminjirrada and other traditional weaponry rapidly declined from the 1950s onwards due to rapid changes on Eylandt including increased missionary activity, the settlement of Umbakumba by Fred Grey, and the beginning of Manganese mining.
Today the exact designs of each clan’s spear are not known by all the men however, it hasn’t stopped the project. Instead, artists have drawn inspiration from contemporary culture and stories to create their unique designs. While men from both Umbakumba and Angurugu are involved with the project, a group of young artists from Four Mile Outstation on the east of the Eylandt have enthusiastically taken on the revitalisation project. Experimenting with design elements from their Macassar heritage and bright colour palettes, the expert carvers have created maminjirrada that both acknowledge the original traditions and are something wholly new.
As senior artist, songman and arts and culture officer, Elvis Bara says, “maminjirrada is back… The young men (at Four Mile) are making maminjirrada. They started with little ones but now they are making big ones. They’ve got the style. Their own style… They have taken the knowledge and made it new. They will pass it on to their sons.”