Dhakandjali - Dhupundji (Larrakitj)

Djambawa Marawili, Madarrpa / Australian, born 1953
Northeast Arnhem Land
Northern Territory



Ochres on wood

Overall: 90 3/16 in. (229 cm)

Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth: Gift of Will Owen and Harvey Wagner



Place Made: Australia, Oceania


21st century

Object Name


Research Area


Not on view


Larrakitj were once created by the Yolŋu people to house the bones of their dead. In the final stages of the mortuary ritual, when the flesh has decayed and the skin has disappeared, the bones are collected and placed inside a hollow log. The log itself is stripped of its skin, and painted with the sacred clan designs of the deceased. At this point, the spirit of the dead person is said to have returned to its home, becoming part of the ancestral Waŋarr (Dreaming). The bones are said to have ceased belonging to the deceased, and are now called “the bones of the clan.” The memorial pole is said to be an embodiment of the loved person, to be hugged and talked to. Over decades, the deceased’s last physical presence returns to the land.

For these traditional burial poles, Yolŋu would search for a perfectly symmetrical eucalyptus tree that had been naturally hollowed out by termites. Many hours would be spent searching for an appropriate tree, tapping on the trunks to find one that had been suitably hollowed. Once stripped of bark, the arboreal surface would be decorated with detailed paintings intended to guide the deceased to his or her spiritual home. These designs would be painted using natural pigments, ground from locally sourced ochres, pipe clay, and charcoals. Traditionally, these would have been mixed with a natural binder such as tree resin, orchid gum, egg yolk, blood, or saliva. Today, artists generally use the commercial binder polyvinyl acetate (wood glue). Larrakitj still play an important role in Yolŋu mortuary rites and memorial practices, but they no longer function as ossuaries. In the 1980s artists began making Larrakitj for the art market, departing from the strict conventions of ceremonial design. They became less concerned with symmetry, and in the 2000s began exploring the surface features of the trunk, utilizing its imperfections as integral parts of its expressive form.

From the 2019 exhibition A World of Relations, guest curated by Henry Skerritt, Mellon Curator of Indigenous Arts of Australia at the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection of the University of Virginia

Course History

WRIT 5, Indigenous Knowledge and Development, Kenneth Bauer, Winter 2013

ARTH 16, ANTH 50, Australian Aborigional Art, Howard Morphy, Fall 2012

ARTH 16, ANTH 50, Australian Aborigional Art, Howard Morphy, Fall 2012

ARTH 16, ANTH 50, Australian Aborigional Art, Howard Morphy, Fall 2012

ARTH 16, ANTH 50, Australian Aborigional Art, Howard Morphy, Fall 2012

WRIT 5, Nature and Imagination: The Meanings of Place, William Nichols, Fall 2012

SART 29, Photography I, Brian Miller, Fall 2012

SART 30, Photography II, Brian Miller, Fall 2012

SART 25, Painting I, Esme Thompson, Fall 2012

SART 25, Painting I, Enrico Riley, Fall 2012

ANTH 30, Hunters and Gatherers, Nathaniel Dominy, Fall 2012

THEA 28, Dance Composition, Ford Evans, Fall 2012

SART 15, Drawing I, Gerald Auten, Fall 2012

SART 20, SART 71, Drawing II, Drawing III, Colleen Randall, Fall 2012

NAS 42, Gender Issues in Native American Life, Vera Palmer, Fall 2012

ANTH 15, Political Anthropology, Elena Turevon, Fall 2019

Exhibition History

A World of Relations, Evelyn A. Jaffe Hall Gallery, Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, January 26-December 8, 2019.

Crossing Cultures: The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Australian Art at the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College, Hanover, New Hampshire, September 15, 2012-March 10, 2013; Toledo Museum of Art, April 11-July 14, 2013.

Everywhen: The Eternal Present in Indigenous Art from Australia, Harvard Art Museums, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachussetts, February 5-September 18, 2016.

Publication History

Stephen Gilchrist, editor, Crossing Cultures, The Owen and Wagner Collection of Contemporary Aboriginal Art at the Hood Museum of Art, Hanover: Trustees of Dartmouth College, 2012, p. 124, no. 10.


Buku Larrngay Mulka, Yirrkala, Northern Territory, Australia; Annandale Galleries, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia; sold to Will Owen (1952-2015) and Harvey Wagner (1931-2017), Chapel Hill, North Carolina, June 29, 2006; given to present collection, 2011.

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