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Perspectives on Dancing, Singing and Well-being from the Kimberley, Northwest Australia

Sally Treloyn and Matthew Dembal Martin


There is substantial published material on the musical conventions of Junba dance-songs, as composed and practiced by Ngarinyin, Wunambal, and Worrorra peoples in the Kimberley region of northwest Australia. As a dance-song genre, these musical conventions are inseparable from the dancing that accompanies them. Accordingly, published analyses that address elements of composition and performance—such as song texts, song ordering, the modal organization of rhythm, percussion accompaniments, and gendered melodic voicing—also discuss elements of the dances, including choreography, body paint and designs, and paraphernalia used and worn by dancers (Treloyn 2006a, 2006b, 2007a, 2007b). The complex cultural and social contexts in which composing, singing, dancing, and otherwise participating in the creation and reception of Junba occur have also been examined especially with regard to how Junba composers and performers reinforce and assert relationships between people, spirits and ancestors, and place, in ways that are central to personal, social, and cultural identities (see, for example, Redmond 2001a, 2001b; Treloyn 2006a).

     This ethnographic approach to appreciating the significance of Junba stems from an analytical tradition within ethnomusicology applied to dance-song traditions across Australia, often conducted in collaboration with anthropologists of dance and human movement and/or linguists.1 The analysis of Junba presented in this paper stems largely from Treloyn's extended ethnomusicological fieldwork conducted in the town of Derby and Gibb River Road communities between 1999 and 2002 and from 2010 to the present. It also stems from a tradition of intercultural teaching, learning, and collaborative research fostered by senior Ngarinyin stakeholders in the Junba tradition, and the subsequent transcription, analysis, and integration of this teaching and learning with research.

     Prompted by requests made by community leaders and organizations, recent research, supported by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies and the Australian Research Council, has been directed at identifying strategies to sustain endangered Junba practices and knowledge into the future (Treloyn and Emberly 2013). Key stakeholders in the initiation and development of this work have been expert dancer and singer Matthew Dembal Martin and his father, the composer and singer Scotty Nyalgodi Martin.2In recent coauthored conference presentations that address the need to sustain endangered Junba practices into the future, our attention (that of Treloyn and Matthew Martin) has turned to the role that dancing and singing play in establishing and maintaining social and personal well-being, largely in response to the loss of elders and high rates of youth suicide in the Kimberley region.3In these presentations, the social and emotional well-being of people and the well-being of the Junba tradition have been treated as related issues.4

     This paper brings together prior documentation and analysis of Junba dances with these considerations of well-being. It represents the first extended publication on Junba performance coauthored by a researcher and senior dancer/singer.5In Part 1, the origins and basic characteristics of Junba and Junba dancing are introduced, summarizing earlier work. In Part 2, the cultural significance of Junba in relation to notions of well-being is considered, culminating in a reflection on why it is essential that the well-being of endangered traditions such as Junba be maintained for local cultural heritage communities in the Kimberley and for the Australian nation.

Part 1. Junba

Junba (also known as Balga) is a dance-song genre that is indigenous to a large area of the Kimberley in northwest Australia. It is one of Australia's oldest and richest dance-song traditions. Practitioners trace its origins back thousands of years, and, since the 1900s, there have been at least thirty-five composers across more than five languages, responsible for an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 distinct dance-songs. Anthropological and ethnomusicological research (Redmond 2001b; Treloyn 2006a) has examined ways in which the conception, composition, singing, dancing, learning, and sharing of Junba have been key resources for Indigenous peoples of the region for adapting to the changing social, economic, and cultural world of the Kimberley since colonization in the mid- to late 1800s to the present day.

     Performed at public festivals and community events that are open to both the cultural heritage community and the wider population of the region, as well as more private events, Junba is an open or 'public' genre. This means that all members of a particular performing community are welcome to participate in the performance as dancers, singers, onlookers, helpers, or patrons. Performances are mediated (explained to onlookers) by one or more senior elders (mananambarra; all terms used in this article are in Ungarinyin—the language spoken by Ngarinyin—unless otherwise indicated) who deliver 'serious talk' (jolmon), elaborating on the stories told in the dance-songs and events that are affecting the community.

     Distinguishing Junba from other dance-song genres performed in the region, Junba singing is performed by a mixed-gender group of singers led by a composer/song leader (jumanjuman). This leader has either received the songs in dreams from the spirits of deceased family members or from another songman or woman, or has been asked to perform the songs by another person who has authority over them. The composer/song leader accompanies the singing and dancing with clapsticks, and the larger group of singers performs body percussion (clapping or lap slapping). Dancing is done primarily by men and boys, supported, in some cases, by women and girls. It features distinctive, vigorous, and synchronized stamping of the ground (described in more detail below), performed in time with the body percussion performed by the singers.

     The contemporary predominance of Junba at festivals, community celebrations, and cultural demonstrations, both in the Kimberley and more distant cities, continues a tradition of negotiating changing identities within new economies and societies through dance and song. Insofar as personal and social well-being is contingent on opportunities to establish and assert identities in relation to family and Country in Indigenous Australian cultures, in this paper we suggest that the fostering of intergenerational engagement and relationships between people, their deceased kin, and Country in Junba performance is central to appreciating the link between the performance tradition and well-being.6To understand how these relationships are fostered, we first need to consider the origins of the genre and its basic characteristics.

1.1 Origins

Wanjina, Wunggurr and Galaru

The Junba genre is considered to have always existed, originating in the Ngaranggani (Dreamtime) in which ancestral animals and creative beings known as Wanjina traveled over the earth, creating the landscape, inaugurating social conventions and laws, and creating the Junba genre. Ngarinyin, Wunambal, and Worrorra peoples all share their belief in Wanjina spirits, which are localized ancestral beings who left paintings of themselves in caves. They also share beliefs in Wunggurr and Galaru, which are more ubiquitous ancestral spirits that are the source of all life and creativity, including the creation of human beings and their identities, animals, and plants.

     The region to which these groups are indigenous are made up of patrifilial clan countries, each of which is inhabited by one or more Wunggurr totemic sites and Wanjina beings. Attending to one's Wunggurr and Wanjina place(s), keeping waterholes clean and free of weeds, keeping paintings bright, and acknowledging the presence and power of these spirits along with Galaru are considered key to keeping the creative sources of life healthy, replenished, and sustainable into the future.

Moiety Heroes and Wurnan

Junba originates with a system of trade and an ethos of relational sharing between groups of people, and people and Country, known as Wurnan. For Ngarinyin, Wurnan was created by two moiety heroes, Wodoi (Spotted Nightjar, Eurostopodus argus), which represents the Ornorr (bone) moiety, and Jun.gun (Owlet Nightjar, Aegotheles cristatus), which represents the Amarlad (dust/dirt) moiety. They stole a secret stick and fought with one another before sharing it with others (Redmond 2001b: 129). This pattern of shared intent and action, followed by fighting and opposition, followed by more shared intent and action, installed a model of social interaction based on "collectivizing" and "differentiating" modes of action (ibid.) that underpins all moiety-based social transactions. These include the determination of a child's "skin," exogamous marriage, and Wurnan trades between clans of opposite moiety. As anthropologist Anthony Redmond has elaborated, while a fundamentally interdependent, relational sociality seeded by the moiety heroes underpins and energizes modes of social interaction, enabling people to relate to one another and people and Country to relate to one another, it is also dependent on human effort and action. It follows that people maintain their connections with other people and with the Country and ancestors that give them their identities and life, through deliberate effort and action, such as trading Junba on the Wurnan, by giving and receiving, and by dancing and singing.

Song Conception: Spirits and Place

The final aspect of the origin of Junba to consider is the way in which Junba is created in the contemporary world. Like Wangga dance-songs from the Daly region (Marett 2005), Junba repertories are given to composers in dreams. The sharing of Junba that is evident in the transmission of repertories from group to group, according to Wurnan, continues in the transmission of repertories to living composers by the spirits of deceased family members (see Treloyn 2006a). These spirits (referred to in Ungarinyin as burrunguma or juwarri) travel from Dulugun (the island of the dead) and take the composer on a journey over vast distances where she or he witnesses ancestral and contemporary events, interactions between spirits, and dancing and singing performed by the spirits. These spirits show the composer performances that enact ancestral and modern historical events. They are about the landscape and Country: ancestral creative beings; animals, plants, spirits, and living people; and natural phenomena, such as tidal waves, whirlpools, and sea breezes. The songs, dances, and events that the composer sees and hears in his or her dream get stuck in his/her mind (ni) and, once awake, the composer can choose to prepare the dances and songs for performance, in collaboration with a spouse and close network of singers and dancers. In doing so, the composer continues the intergenerational transmission of knowledge by passing dances and songs that he or she received from spirits on to younger generations—and on the Wurnan, as described above.

     By passing Junba on the Wurnan, a composer provides a receiving group with a vehicle to express and reinvigorate their relationships with places named in songs and depicted in dances. For example, in the 1950s-60s, a Worrorran composer named Wati Ngyerdu dreamt a repertory of Junba songs in the new Community of Mowanjum. Many Ngarinyin, Worrorra, and Wunambal people were resettled in the new location, some many hundreds of kilometers from their ancestral lands. Pansy Nulgit, a senior Ngarinyin elder and singer, has described the early reception of this Junba by Ngarinyin people:

We looked at it first: they brought it to Mount House first, dancing, singing there, sitting looking first. We thought, "meaning is all Ngarinyin: Manaliyan [Mount House], Wanalirri [near Gibb River], Mejerren [Mount Agnes]—all the Ngarinyin-side hills." That composer explained, "This not my Junba, only juwarri [spirit] gave him, it's up to you mob now."7

In giving a Worrorran composer a Junba repertory that named and depicted Ngarinyin places, the spirits gave Ngarinyin people a vehicle to renew and assert connections with their ancestral homes. It may also be that, as in the creation of a tripartite ceremonial performance system at Port Keats (Wadeye) to manage new intergroup relationships (Marett 2005; Furlan 2008: 156-59; Barwick 2011: 307-8), that the spirits gave the Worrorra composer Ngarinyin dances and songs in order to reinforce social relationships, impacted by new socioeconomic forces and the growing pastoral industry.

Figure 1
Figure 1: Mowanjum Community, Mt. House and Ngarinyin places named in the Wanalirri Junba composed by Wati Ngyerdu (Worrorra) in the 1950s-60s.

Exactly how relationships with Country are expressed and reinvigorated through song and dance requires further attention. First, it is necessary to outline some of the basic characteristics of Junba musical and dance conventions. The following discussion draws on previously published description and analysis of Junba performance and compositional conventions.

1.2 Junba Singing and Dancing: Some Basic Characteristics

The Performance Space

Figure 2 provides a diagram of a typical Junba performance space. A clear, flat space (bararru) is bounded on one side by a bough screen (wurawun) behind which the dancers prepare for each dance, and on the other by the singers (ngalanyba-birri). The composer/song leader (the jumanjuman) sits at the front of the ngalanyba-birri, in close proximity to a supporting lead singer referred to as the 'offsider.' At the most basic level, a performance of a particular Junba repertory, which typically lasts from between thirty minutes or so to several hours, features the repeated movement of dancers from behind the screen toward the singers and back again.

Figure 1
Figure 2. Junba performance space.

Dancing, Body Paint, Head Caps, and Totems

The male dancers, with their bodies painted with white, red, and sometimes yellow ochre and black charcoal, move across the dance ground with an action described as jod jod. This involves raising each knee, in turn, in front of the body and then stamping the raised foot down on the ground, in time with the body percussion performed by the singers (see Figure 3, below). The space between the singers and the dancers is compressed as the dancers move forward, and stretched as they retreat back to the screen. There is a strong focus on synchronized group movement, distinguishing the genre from more individualistic styles of other northern genres that are performed, often by the same dancers before or after Junba, such as Wangga. Women dancers, when they participate, position themselves in lines on either side of the dance ground, and gently stamp the ground with alternating feet, and wave small branches of eucalyptus leaves or small 'totems' (see below), both in time with clapping and men's jod jod.

     There are two primary subgenres within the Junba tradition. One subgenre, known as 'Jadmi,' 'Jodmolo,' or 'Ngodben,' is characterized by the use of tall, conical head caps made from the bark of the paperbark tree (Melaleuca quinquenervia), bound with wool or string. The other, known as 'Jorrogorl,' 'Galinda,' or 'Balga,' is characterized by the use of large, painted boards (Balmara) and tall string crosses (Waringgi or Ornorr [literally, 'bone']) that dancers carry on their shoulders. Both Balmara and Waringgi are referred to as 'totems,' calling to mind the totemic relationship between the item and the Country and ancestor that they represent (to be discussed in Part 2, below). The two subgenres are also distinguished by the gender of dancers: in the Jadmi-type Junba, only men and boys dance, whereas in the Jorrogorl type, women and girls have a distinctive role in dancing in addition to men and boys. As well as dancing on the sides of the dance ground, individual women dance directly behind particular male relatives.

Figure 1
Figure 3. Jadmi-type Junba: paperbark head caps (Photo copyright Kevin Shaw, 2003).

Figure 1
Figure 4. Jorrogorl-type Junba: Balmara and Waringgi (Mowanjum Festival 2011. Photo Sally Treloyn, copyright held by Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre).

Singing, Song Texts, and Gendered Voicing

As noted above, the composer/song leader accompanies the singing and dancing with clapsticks, and the larger group of singers perform body percussion (clapping or lap slapping) at half the rate of the clapsticks, coinciding with the jod jod of the dancers.8

     Songs broadly demonstrate a Central Australian musical style: each song is distinguished by a unique, relatively short, song text (an example is provided in Part 2, below); the song text is repeated cyclically throughout the period of dancing and singing, and the song text is performed isorhythmically—that is, each time the text is repeated, it has an identical syllabic rhythmic setting and demonstrates a regular relationship with the beating accompaniment (Treloyn 2006a, 2006b). Song texts, which are characterized by formulaic structures, juxtapositional and paratactic arrangement of named places, ancestral beings, animals, and so on (Treloyn 2007a, 2009), are fixed from performance to performance, and only the number of repetitions varies to accommodate accompanying dance and melodic structures.

     Also as noted, the singing group is comprised of both men and women singers. The melody of each song performance comprises two or more descents from a high pitch to a low pitch, followed by a period of level movement on a tonic pitch. The voicing is gendered: the song leader/composer commences the song and each descent, closely followed by other male singers; then the women join in, lifting the tune up an octave. The sequence then repeats, so that men's and women's voices alternate throughout the performance. The women's part, characterized by level tonic movement, is referred to as biyobiyo, 'pulling' and 'following' the tune along. We will discuss the significance of these conventions of singing and dancing in Part 2.

Part 2. Dancing, Country, and Well-being

In recent public performances, such as at the 2011 Mowanjum Festival, the "serious talks" provided by senior elders (manambarra jolmon) have addressed the loss of elders and young people. This practice appears to transfer to public presentations about Junba, where elders address issues of social and personal health, focusing particularly on youth mental health and well-being. Junba performances at festivals and more private events have become key forums for raising concerns about the health and well-being of communities and young people, in particular. These concerns are also addressed through the singing and dancing itself.

     This link between dancing, singing, and well-being is supported by a range of studies in Australia and elsewhere that link participation in ceremony with health benefits (Atkinson 2002; Burgess and Morrison 2007; McCormick 1994; Schiff and Moore 2006). Within Australia, the link is increasingly made explicit in declarations that advocate for the protection of endangered performance traditions and languages and in statements made to, and reported in, national public media. At the 2002 Garma Festival at Gulkula in northeast Arnhem Land, for example, a "Statement on Indigenous Music" was prepared by senior cultural heritage stakeholders and academics that advocated for greater support for the preservation of Indigenous performance traditions in order to, among other factors, support "social and personal wellbeing" in communities (Garma 2002). This most recently culminated in a statement ratified by the General Assembly of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM), which states the following:

Through song and dance, Indigenous Australians maintain social and personal wellbeing, sustain their cultures, and maintain Law and their own identity. Performance traditions also serve to strengthen Indigenous languages and provide intergenerational links between families and communities. Indigenous songs and dances are therefore essential to Indigenous culture and society. (ICTM-ANZ 2011)

     Despite this increasing recognition, support for endangered performance traditions remains lacking, and there is some way to go before policy makers and funding bodies fully appreciate the value of these traditions, not only for the well-being of the vulnerable populations that practice them but for the Australian nation as a whole. In Part 2 of this paper, we seek to improve understanding of the role that singing and dancing Junba play in well-being. We will do this by focusing on the contribution that Junba makes to supporting social and personal identities. It achieves this by providing a ground to enact and reinforce relationships and connections with social communities, family (past, present and future), and ancestral Country.

2.1 People and Moieties: Social Identities

First, it is important to consider the role of moieties in Junba dancing. Paraphrasing Treloyn (2006a), we can summarize by saying that, in an archetypal Jadmi (head cap) style dance, the dancing ensemble is split into two groups as they emerge from the bough screen. Each of these groups represents one of the two moieties—Ornod (bone), represented by Wodoi, or Amarlad (dust), represented by Jun.gun. In a common dance format, when the dancers approach the singers, the two groups cross over each other, and then one Wodoi and one Jun.gun line dancer will dance behind the others, "pushing" or "mustering" them back to the screen. When the song is repeated, the dancers typically enter from the opposite side of the screen to which they entered in the first instance (that is, the dancers who emerge in the first dance from the Wodoi side will emerge from the Jun.gun side on its repeat), as if walking in the footsteps of the other.

Figure 1
Figure 5. Wodoi and Jun.gun moieties in a dance.

When the moieties begin together, split, come back together, then dance in the other's tracks, the participants echo the foundational pattern that is core to all important Ngarinyin social institutions, "collectivizing and differentiating" themselves from the other as they go, like the moiety heroes Wodoi and Jun.gun. This is not simply a case of echoing a foundational pattern. In doing this—dancing in the footsteps of the other—the social network and structure set down by the moiety system is enacted and practiced. Individual dancers find their place in their families and immediate and extended communities; they dance their moiety, learning their "skin" in relation to those of others and dancing these links into existence.

2.2 People and Spirits

Insofar as strong family and social ties are a factor in determining personal and social well-being, the focus of intergenerational knowledge transmission and interaction in Junba dance has great significance. In dancing Junba, there is a clear emphasis on tying the living dancer to the family that came before him, the family that surrounds him, and those that will follow him.

Preceding Generations

One of the key themes of Junba conception, transmission, and performance is interaction between living people and the spirits of deceased family members. In song conception dreams, spirits of deceased relatives "pull" composers to witness and receive songs. In performances, the dancers and singers enact what the composer saw and experienced in his dreams, taking on the appearance and movements of their own deceased family members. In performance, this interaction is played out on various levels.

     First, the dust that rises from the dance ground when the dancers perform their jod jod stamping is said to be the spirits in the Country dancing with the dancer. When carried out with strength and in unison, together with the clapping of the dancers, a loud, resonate, deep boom-like sound is generated. This sound is heard by spirits, and they respond by singing back, with echoes. Matthew Martin explains:

As you're dancing, you're stamping on the ground, you're waking up the spirit. [As] you're singing, and you're hitting this then [strikes clapsticks], that echo goes everywhere. Especially up there, it's hill country you know. Big mob of hills everywhere. You see the echo, you see the spirit comes up when they listen to the sound (Treloyn and Martin 2012).

The sound of the dance-song travels across the country to these hills and caves. From these caves, attached to Dulugun (the island of the dead where the spirits of deceased people reside), the spirits travel down the hills to sing and dance with the dancers.

     Second, the dance ground is often said to be ideally orientated so that the wurawun bough screen lies on the western side of the dance ground. The west (gularr) is the direction of Dulugun (Champagny Island). The dancers move from behind the bough screen, to the east, as if traveling from the island to the mainland to visit their living family and Country. The song texts and choreography of the dances provide insight into this interaction. A dance-song composed circa 1973 in Scotty Naylgodi Martin's Jadmi (head cap) style Junba repertory, in which Matthew Martin was a primary dancer, demonstrates this:

Text: biyu minya redbendinga x2 biyobiyo memmuranga x2

Gloss: this buyu, you pull        you follow this

     A buyu is a luminescent, magnetic rope-like device used by spirits both to interact with composers in song-conception dreams and to entangle or pull people to their deaths. In this song, two spirits, one young and one old, speak to one another as they red, 'pull,' and biyobiyo, 'follow,' one another from a Dulugun cave along a buyu in the direction of distant singing. Below is a transcription of a conversation that Scotty Martin and expert elder dancer Dicky Nyandet Tataya (deceased) had in 1999, as they were explaining the song to Treloyn and Linda Barwick:

Scotty Martin (SM): Buyu minya redbendinga [this buyu, you pull]

Dicky Tataya (DT): Biyubiyu menmurangi—[you follow this] that radar follow that thing along

SM: That person might say 'you pull that'; minya—you say something like, you ask me and I'll say 'this is it.'

DT: This thing, this thing.

SM: Redbendinga, that's mean, that's just like he was pulling it along.

DT: That thing dragging you along you know. . . along to that place now, Junba ground

SM: Biyubiyu menmurangi, that's just like someone would say you can follow that along. (Linda Barwick, field-recording: DAT1999/4)

     As these words are repeated over and over again, two dancers, one young and the other older, emerge from the bough screen, grasping a fishing line that represents the buyu. It is tied to the bough screen and strung across the dance ground to the composer/song leader. This song-dance is performed toward the end of the performance event, when the sun has already gone down and the two dancers emerge from behind the bough screen visible only by the firelight. As they jod jod forward, toward the other dancers, they move their arms as if pulling and following (biyobiyo) the buyu, peering ahead of and behind themselves. At one point in the dance, the two dancers turn around and follow the rope back toward the bough screen. When they return onto the dance ground, the dancer who was in the back is now in the front.

     Late in 2012, we (Treloyn and Matthew Martin) sat and watched a video recording of this dance, performed by Matthew (as the younger spirit), with Dicky Tataya (as the older spirit), at the 2001 Mowanjum Festival. The buyu fishing line was strung across the dance ground to Scotty Martin, sitting at the front of the singing ensemble. Matthew provided insights into the significance of the dance, from his perspective as a dancer, focusing on why the two spirits swap positions:

Matthew Martin (MM): We swapped. The old man, he too old, he can't see that buyu, too old. "I'm a. . . young man, I'll go front. You follow me. Biyobiyo [follow], biyobiyo behind." That old man get it off me again: "Where you going? What you going back for?" he tell me. "Nah, come this way, come back," I'm bin pulling him back.

Sally Treloyn (ST): Pulling him back to where?

MM: Back to that Dulugun. . . He was trying to come out. He couldn't get that string from there, biyu, so I took the lead. And next minute he get it off me. He got in front. I got in back. I pull him back now. We go back now.

Like that old bloke, he telling me. "There's singing over here. We go there, biyobiyo this thing." But he make a mistake half way, so I pull him back: "We can't go there, you can't see the rope."

(Matthew Martin and Sally Treloyn, Mowanjum, December 6, 2012)

     It is clear that the dance, as Matthew's father Scotty has explained, enacts exactly what he experienced in his dream when he, as the 'young' spirit, was guided by his elder mamingi (his MFF [mother's father's father]) toward a Junba performance performed by other older spirits, audible in the distance. At the same time, in performance, Scotty Martin's son, Matthew, takes on Scotty's role, as the 'young spirit,' being guided by and guiding an elder spirit toward the singing, here performed by Scotty and others of his generation.

     The dancers' heads, wrapped in paperbark (wulun), which is traditionally the material in which the bones of deceased people are wrapped for interment (Redmond 2012: 69), further invokes a close relationship between dancers and their predecessors on the dance ground. When dances are performed in the late afternoon or night, as is preferred, the dancers move from the semi-darkness of the bough screen into the light generated by fires set on either side of the singing group. In doing so, they are at first not recognizable, their features obscured by white ochre (ornmal) and the darkness—they appear as ghosts. As they move forward into the light, their features become clearer—they become themselves. Thus, a line of descent from deceased to living relatives is marked and enacted on the dance ground; it is clear where people come from.

Generations to Come

This intergenerational interaction on the dance ground is further evident when we consider the relationship between the dance and baby conception. The advance and retreat of the dancers from the screen, Redmond notes, are "consonant with the emergence of children from the visible ancestral world where they were identified with the spirits of their FF [father's father]" (Redmond 2001b: 119). As Redmond points out, as well as being a receptacle for bones, wulun (paperbark) is also maternal receptacle from which baby spirits emerge (ibid.: 362-63). On the dance ground, the dancer-spirits, emerge from the screen and, as they move close to the singers and into the light, spring from their deceased ancestor. Like baby spirits springing from waterholes and fatty animals, these spirits actively, rather than passively, project themselves into the world: they dance forward with deliberate, solid jod jod movements, imprinting their image and their identities in the living world to be recognized, received and praised by their parents and living grandparents.

     Insofar as conceiving, dancing, and singing Junba foregrounds and enacts the intimate shared identities of living people and the generations that both precede and follow them, the ways in which people dance and sing contribute to social and emotional well-being. The most explicit statements by Junba singers and dancers about the role of the dances in well-being, however, come when considering the relationship between Wanjina, Wunggurr, Galaru and Country in dance.

2.3 People and Country

By dancing and interacting with spirits, Country becomes healthy and is able to provide food and resources to keep people healthy. It keeps Wunggurr and Galaru sites healthy and full of water and, in doing so, full of the baby spirits that spring from Country to give birth to people. Matthew Martin explains that, after singing out and dancing,

When the spirit comes up you'll see everything, like fruit, bush fruit and everything is healthy. Every time they bear fruits, healthy fruits. You get a sugarbag [honey], healthy sugarbag. You kill something, kangaroo, fat. Crocodile, turtle, everything we eat is healthy. It's healthy like the tree, the water. The water don't run dry, it's like a Wunggurr—the Rainbow Serpent boss for Wunggurr water. (Matthew Martin, in Treloyn and Martin 2012)

     Scotty Martin has also stressed the importance of Junba singing and dancing for well-being in relation to Wanjina and Wunggurr/Galaru. His explanation underlines the necessity of Junba, referred to here as 'Culture,' to maintain a connection with Wunggurr/Galaru life sources. In doing so, he stresses both the role of the performers' bodies and the reciprocal power of spirits:

If we don't have any sort of Totem [that is, boards and string crosses] or Culture [that is, Junba], you know, well we. . . haven't got a Galaru. . . , we haven't got Wanjina. You've got to have that because you belong to Wanjina. See those song and dance, everything that Wanjina gave us. And our body, that's the power of it. See we got to have that otherwise we will be lost, without the Culture [Junba]. (S. Martin 2002)9

To appreciate the link between Junba singing and dancing and the spirits that reside in Country, we need to pay close attention to the Totems to which Martin refers. These are the large, painted Balmara boards and Waringgi crosses that are carried by dancers in Jorrogorl-type Junba (see Figure 4, above). The dancers, responding to the name of the place being sung by the singers, first bring the Totem onto the ground with their backs to the singers and audience, so that the place painted on the board cannot be seen. Then, as the song attached to the board is commenced, the dancer turns to the crowd, revealing the board, and the Country and/or spirit to which it is attached. The dancer dances the Country toward the crowd, swaying side to side. His head is positioned at the center of the board, supporting the Country and ancestors painted on it, as if, as Redmond has observed, he is himself an ancestral Wanjina in the Ngaranggani (Dreaming), carrying the place over the landscape in relation to its families (Redmond 2001a).

     This use of Totems in the dances enables people to invoke an identity attached to their ancestral Country even when they find themselves in a new physical location. This performance of place assists people to adapt to new social environments prompted by the changing economic and social conditions brought to the region in the twentieth century—changes that led to the displacement of people into missions, towns and Communities off their traditional Country. A key factor in this is the presence of the spirits that are attached to the places depicted on, or represented by, the Totems. Wherever the Totem goes, so too does the spirit:

When we travel with Junba, overseas, wherever, the spirit travels with that board, so we are not alone. Country brightens up, Wanjina wakes up, comes to life. No matter where you sing, as long as you carry the Totem. Spirit follows you. So wherever you do the dance the painting lights up—the spirit and the country follows you. You feel it. (Matthew Martin, in Treloyn and Martin 2012)

This has the result of making the Country healthy and, therefore, keeping people healthy and alive: "It makes Country healthy. Fresh food, bush tucker, healthy growth. The Wunggurr waters—where people come from—keep alive" (ibid.). Key to this nexus between Country, spirits, and dancing Junba are ornorr (bones). As described in Part 1, when the sound of the jod jod dancing, in synchrony with the singers' clapping, travels out over Country, the ornorr (bones) of spirits in hills (interred in caves) listen and respond, bringing health and abundance of life. Dancers carry the Waringgi/Ornorr on their shoulders and dance in response to the sound of the ornorr of the song (the rhythm and text and the sound of the clapsticks). Dancing in this way invokes the interdependence of bones and well-being of children, and those of Country, sharing identity. This, Mathew Martin explains, is a key contributor to emotional and physical well-being:

When they [the dancers] listen to this [the clapsticks], it's just like they hitting their bone. The spirit hitting their bone, they [the young dancers] get strong. Strong bone. That's why you see them kids real happy and thing. They're not looking sad, they're looking forward for dancing or anything, they'll do anything. Now the bone, that ornorr, is strong to do anything, dance. They can run all day too if they want to. . . They have the Country and for themselves they feel strong, they not weak. The spirit, the singing, the dancing, that makes them healthy. It's always been there. (Matthew Martin, in Treloyn and Martin 2012)


Junba plays an important role in forming and negotiating individual and group identities in relation to family, community, and Country. Elders, such as Matthew and Scotty Martin, draw a direct link between multigenerational participation in Junba, evident at various levels of Junba dancing, and emotional, social, and physical well-being. For the broader community, the importance of safeguarding musical and linguistic diversity in the world, for the benefit of humanity, is well established (Marett and Barwick 2003, Evans 2010, Marett 2010). Traditions such as Junba are unique repositories of linguistic and ecological knowledge that present modes of being-in-the-world and environments that may be invaluable in the future.

     At the same time, however, Junba, like many of Australia's remaining traditions, is critically endangered.10The important role that Junba serves in addressing social and emotional well-being in its stakeholder communities underpins the value of collaborative research, such as that presented in this paper. It also highlights the vital contribution of programs aimed at safeguarding Junba and increasing opportunities for intergenerational knowledge transmission. Private and public support remains necessary not only to address the well-being of people, Country, and Junba locally in the Kimberley but also to safeguard diversity in cultural, linguistic, and expressive identities across the world.



1 Most notable is the collaboration between Allan Marett and JoAnne Page (Marett and Page 1995, Marett 2005).

2 Anthony Redmond has provided a brief biography of Scotty Nyalgodi Martin (Redmond 2000).

3 In recent years has experienced some of the highest rates of youth suicide and suicide attempts in Australia (Senate 2010).

4 This paper stems in part from three joint presentations delivered by Treloyn and Matthew Martin between 2011 and 2012 (Treloyn and Martin 2011, 2012; Treloyn, Martin, Nulgit, and Nulgit, 2011).

5 The article draws together the explanations and ideas expressed by Martin in conference presentations and in conversation with Treloyn, with Treloyn's understanding of these and the Junba genre more broadly drawn from fieldwork, and interpretation of this fieldwork based on reading of related studies, namely, by anthropologist Anthony Redmond (2001b). Once prepared, Treloyn and Martin reviewed the manuscript to check and ensure that the contents of the article were suitable for publication and accurately represented Martin's words. While Treloyn (the primary author) has attempted to ensure accurate representation of Martin's knowledge, any shortcomings or inaccuracies, arising from the process of research, interpretation and representation should they exist, remain the responsibility of Treloyn.

6'Country' refers to places with which people have ancestral, hereditary bonds and that are inextricably linked to personal and family identities.

7 Pansy Nulgit, quoted on slide 12 in "Moving People and Places: The Sustaining Junba Project," a conference presentation by Matthew Martin, Pansy Nulgit, Sherika Nulgit, and Sally Treloyn, National Recording Project for Indigenous Performance in Australia, 10th Annual Symposium on Indigenous Music and Dance, Australian National University (Darwin, Northern Territory), August 14, 2011. Video by Madeleine Macfarlane,

8 Each repertory of dance-songs typically consists of dance-songs in one of two tempi, measured according to the rate of the beating accompaniment: banngun-ngarri, 'slow ones,' and manamana-ngarri, 'quick ones.' With some exceptions, slow and quick dance-songs alternate throughout the course of a performance.

9 Scotty Martin with Maisie Jodba, speaking to Sally Treloyn, Derby WA, February 20, 2002.

10 The General Assembly of the International Council for Traditional Music (ICTM) has formally recognized that there has been attrition of some 98 percent of Australia's Aboriginal music and dance traditions since colonization (ICTM-ANZ 2011; Marett 2010).

11 The research presented in the article was funded by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies for the project 'Sustaining Junba: Recording and Documenting Endangered Songs and Dances in the Northern Kimberley' (G2009/7458) and by the Australia Research Council for the project 'Strategies for Preserving and Sustaining Australian Aboriginal Song and Dance in the Modern World: The Mowanjum and Fitzroy River Valley Communities of WA' (LP0990650), investigators Sally Treloyn and Allan Marett, in partnership with the Kimberley Aboriginal Law and Culture Centre and the Mowanjum Art and Culture Centre.

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