This story was told to Nick Evans and Murray Garde at Weemol Spring in 1992 by Jackie Chadum and Don Buninjawa, with some prompting and further commentary by Maggie Tukumba. It has been transcribed by myself, Murray Garde, and Sarah Cutfield, with assistance at various points from Maggie Tukumba, Alice Ngalkandjara, Peter Mandeberru and Dudley Lawrence at transcription sessions in 1992 (Maningrida), 1995 (Bulman) and 2017 (Weemol). It is a complex performance, partly in medley style and partly with long lively stretches of parallel talk by Chadum and Buninjawa, interspersed with laughter and singing. The speed, complexity and overlapping voices have held us back from having a complete transcription of the text, but about 95% is transcribed and translated to a reasonable level of accuracy (work is still in progress).
Thes story of Emu, originally a greedy old woman who sent off her children to hunt for her and then ate all the food they brought back, is widespread in Western Arnhem Land – see Evans, Gangele and Karlarriya (2017) which contains transcriptions of two more versions, told in Bininj Kunwok.
The story begins by linking the sore foot of one of the characters (without naming the character suffering from it) to the plant known as wayakwayak (Ipomoea sp.), said to have poked him in the foot. Later on this plant is linked back to characteristics of the emu, namely its feathers. Two pairs of birds – two crested pigeons (lumbuk) and two crows (wakwak) lance his sore and get spattered with blood and pus. The kangaroo hunted by the hero is characterised as a kurdubu, a large male antilopine kangaroo. The kangaroo-hunt is described in lengthy and graphic detail, including the slotting of the spear into the hook of the woomera, and the involvment of weleyh, the red-winged parrot, which carries some of the half-cooked kangaroo meat on its shoulder and burns itself there, giving it its characteristic red shoulder-patch.
There are likewise some graphic descriptions of greed, selfishness, hunger, ways of staving it off with small food items, and the disappointment of turning up to find no food left. The verb for ‘denying’ or ‘withholding’ is used to describe Emu’s behaviour: mey-ngong bulkah-darahminj ‘she withheld all sorts of food from them’, and they were reduced to chewing sugarcane (Heteropogon triticeus): kurndjilk-yah bûlah-babanginj ‘they were just chewing bush sugarcane’. Once the kangaroo is speared, they deal with their most immediate hunger pangs in this way: they singe off the fur so as to half-cook the meat prior to carrying, then eat the madjarnghno or small delicacies (offal) that can be cooked quickly in the ashes as the first part of the meal. And when Emu gets her comeuppance by arriving back after all the meat has been consumed, kenbo kah-naninj morlom ‘all she could see was the flies (buzzing around the remnants of the food)’.
Confronted with Emu’s greed, the children use a trick to get food for themselves. When the children turn up at Emu’s camp with the kangaroo, she shamelessly and egotistically says bulahmarneyiburlhminj kunj-ngan ‘you’ve brought it for me, my kangaroo’, in a long line that terminates with the term bunkurdidjbunkurduy, Emu’s dreamtime name in the Dalabon version of the story. The children send Emu far away so they can prepare the kangaroo to eat – here, she is sent to gather munmun, a herb whose leaves are used as flavouring when kangaroo is cooked in ground ovens, as well as paperbark, used to wrap the meat when placing it in the ground oven. They name three places where she can obtain these plants: Yunyun, Borrombod and Yurlwa. Several times she reports on having found enough, but they call out to her to go further, and as in the other versions they butcher, roast and eat the kangaroo. Quail hides himself away to finish eating the tailbone.
At the end of the story, Emu ‘sulks, poor fellow’ (kahlngkodjdadjminjwurd) and sings a song with the words Kamarung Kamarung Djerlbe Djerlbe Borrombod borrombod Yurlwa Yurlwa Yudyud Yudyud. The three last word-pairs recapitulate the three places where Emu was sent off to gather the munmun grass (with slight phonetic differences attributable to song-language distortions in pronunciation).
This version of the Emu story also makes some explicit some intresting links between plants involved in preparing the kangaroo feast, and physical characteristics of the emu: wayakwayak, the Ipomoea root which was cooked with the meal, has hair like the emu’s feathers, and barram, the ‘emu foot hibiscus’, whose leaves have three lobes like the toes of an emu’s foot.
There are two distinct species of munmun (Borduk et al 2012:98-9): Sugarbag Grass, Alloteropsis semialata, and Kangaroo Grass, Chrysopogon fallax. >br>
In other versions of the myth to those presented here, other names are given (Murray Garde, p.c.), e.g. in the Jawoyn version recorded by Francesca Merlan, Emu gets sent off to a place called Gumberriyn. The places to which Emu is sent do not appear to be the same, from version to version. Rather, the logic seems to be that she is always sent off a long way from the home base.
Bordulk, Daisy, Nikipini Dalak, Maggie Tukumba, Lily Bennett, Rita Tingey, Margaret Katherine, Sarah Cutfield, Manuel Pamkal & Glenn Wightman. 2012. Dalabon Plants and Animals. Darwin: Department of Land Resource Management.
Evans, Nicholas, with Toby Gangali and Jimmy Karlarriya Namarnyilk. 2017. Three Greedy Emu Myths. In Murray Garde (ed.), Something About Emus. Aboriginal Studies Press. Pp. 115-128.
Maddock, Kenneth. 1975. The Emu anomaly. In Les R. Hiatt (ed.) Australian Aboriginal Mythology. Canberra: Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies. Pp. 102-122.
This recording was made during a fieldtrip to Yayminji and surrounding areas in 1995 with Nick Evans, George Chaloupka, Pina Giuliani and Murray Garde, to record rock art, knowledge of traditional plants, and Dalabon and Kune language
Recorded by Maïa Ponsonnet on 18th May 2011, near Dordluk creek, just before Beswick on the highway, with Lily Bennett and Nikibini Daluk, working on Dalabon. Lily Bennett tells a 'funny story' that took place close to Manyallaluk, probably around 1980. Final transcript and translation by Maïa Ponsonnet, December 2016. Some slight retranscriptions added to this file by Nick Evans, March 2017
This story was recorded from the late Jack Chadum at Weemol Springs in the Northern Territory in June 1992 by Nick Evans and Murray Garde. Several other Dalabon speakers were also present, including Don Buninjawa, Maggie Tukumba (Chikappa) and Flora (surname unknown).
A masterpiece of dramatic, humorous story-telling, it recounts the meeting between a character called Naworneng, who is on his way back from a successful hunting trip, and a “Mimih” spirit – Mimihs are slender spirits that d...
This story was told to Nick Evans and Murray Garde at Weemol Spring in 1992 by Jackie Chadum and Don Buninjawa, with some prompting and further commentary by Maggie Tukumba. It has been transcribed by myself, Murray Garde, and Sarah Cutfield, with assistance at various points from Maggie Tukumba, Alice Ngalkandjara, Peter Mandeberru and Dudley Lawrence at transcription sessions in 1992 (Maningrida), 1995 (Bulman) and 2017 (Weemol). It is a complex performance, partly in medley style and partly ...