This website was developed for the exhibition Irriṯitja Kuwarri Tjungu | Past & Present Together: Fifty Years of Papunya Tula Artists that was on view at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia from 2021-23 and the Embassy of Australia in Washington, DC in 2024. It was made possible by our creative partnership with Papunya Tula Artists and the generous support of UVA Arts Council. Site design by Urban Fugitive for V21 Artspace.

What is the Dreaming (Tjukurrpa)?

Tjukurrpa | Dreaming

The success of Aboriginal art has been a powerful force in making Australians and international audiences aware of the unbreakable ties between Aboriginal people and their land, including their ancestral connections or “Dreamings.” For Pintupi speakers, the correct term for this worldview is Tjukurrpa (alternately spelled Jukurrpa for Warlpiri, Tjukurpa for Pitjantjatjara and Altyerr for Anmatyerr people).

Tjukurrpa describes a complex system of beliefs that impacts all aspects of life. It began when powerful ancestral beings shaped the earth, creating its natural features, people, and law. It includes the narratives, songs, and ceremonies about these events that are still practiced today, which acknowledge the continuing presence of ancestors in the land and ensure their essence for the future.

Tjukurrpa exists in its own sense of time: it is neither an eternal present nor an eternal past, but rather a constant state of past and present together: Irriṯitja Kuwarri Tjungu.
Walungurru in May 2021. The two red hills on the left are two Ancestral Women who danced and made rockholes and other natural features. They also tracked a Ngintaka, an ancestral perentie lizard, manifested in the landscape today by the mountain in the center. Photo by John Kean.

As Bobby West Tjupurrula explains, “Tjukurrpa isn’t written, it’s not just drawing or painting, Tjukurrpa is places. . . . Tjukurrpa is everything, Tjukurrpa doesn’t move; we live there all the time.”

What is the Tingarri? Who are the Tingarri?

One set of Tjukurrpa narratives is called Tingarri. The term Tingarri is usually translated as “all the men” or “many men.” While the meaning of Tingarri is very complex, in Pintupi the word refers to groups of ancestral men who performed ceremonies and created Country as they traveled across the earth. They were instructing novices, or young men in the process of learning ceremonial knowledge. There were groups of ancestral women that are also known as Tingarri. The adventures of Tingarri ancestors are expressed in a series of songs and ceremonies that form part of the teachings of punyunyu (novices) today. They provide explanations for why and how contemporary customs and cultural practices came to exist.

Uta Uta Tjangala, Tingarri Men at Warnmanpanya, 1973, Synthetic polymer paint on particle board, Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia, Gift of John W. Kluge, 19971991.0021.008.

A sense of awe and wonder surround everything related to Tingarri.

In shaping the world, Tingarri knowledge explains the most profound aspects of life and death, birth and rebirth, loss and rejuvenation. It is only through the process of ceremonial teaching that the full extent of this wonder is revealed.
There are three distinct groups of traveling Tingarri ancestors. Each group visited and created places that formed a path of named, important sites. These paths and places are also referred to as Tingarri. These three groups included novices who had undergone the basic ceremonies and who traveled under the guidance and discipline of powerful, authoritative “bosses.” Separated from women and uninitiated children, these groups performed and witnessed ceremonies of revelation. They also hunted, prepared food, argued, and fought, just as contemporary people do. Tingarri narratives and ceremonies link Indigenous groups and people who “share” them over large distances and various languages.

Uta Uta Tjangala performing a public ceremony at Yayayi, 1974. Photo by Fred Myers.

Tjukurrpa narratives and ceremonies are part of a complex cultural system that demands cooperation and requires people to come together in sharing, teaching, performing, and revealing the stories.

What exactly is revealed?

Access to this special knowledge is not available to most non-Indigenous people and those who have not been initiated into Pintupi culture. Sometimes this kind of knowledge is referred to as secret, sacred, or secret-sacred. Because of its sacred nature, revealing this knowledge would be considered dangerous or harmful, not only to Pintupi culture but also to the learners, who may not have the prior knowledge, understanding, or spiritual awareness to accept it. This is good practice for those of us who are used to having access to seemingly endless knowledge at our fingertips. Arriving at a closed door of what we are supposed to know humbles us, inspires respect, and creates a sense of mystery.

Shorty Lungkarta performing a public ceremony at Yayayi, 1974. Photo by Fred Myers.