'This Painting Becomes His Body for Life’: Transforming Relations in Yolŋu Initiation and Funeral Rituals

Abstract : Among the most striking images produced in north-east Arnhem Land today are the paintings given to young boys during their first initiation ceremony (dhapi). Skilfully applied on their chest over several hours, while singing and dancing proceeds on the ceremonial grounds nearby, these body paintings act as relational matrixes which locate the initiands within a socio-cosmic web of connections. At the other end of the male ritual life-cycle, the bodies of the deceased undergo a similar process of transfiguration, as they are made to resemble the groups’ most sacred objects, seen to instantiate the powers of specific ancestral beings. In the context of these rituals, the links between clans, places, and ancestral beings are expressed by being made visible on and around the body. Pragmatically composed and displayed for all to see, I suggest that Yolŋu ritual images appear as ‘matter(s) of relations’ par excellence, materialising various sets of social relationships. This paper examines the material logics behind this transfiguration process which, by turning people into ancestors, transform the relations between individuals and groups, between humans and non-human beings, and between the living and the spirits of the dead.
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Contributor : Jessica de Largy Healy <>
Submitted on : Tuesday, February 21, 2017 - 11:03:52 AM
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Jessica de Largy Healy. 'This Painting Becomes His Body for Life’: Transforming Relations in Yolŋu Initiation and Funeral Rituals. Anthropological Forum: A Journal of Social Anthropology and Comparative Sociology, Taylor & Francis (Routledge), 2017, "Matter(s) of Relations: Transformation and presence in Pacific Life-cycle Rituals", 27 (1), pp.18-33. ⟨http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00664677.2017.1287051⟩. ⟨10.1080/00664677.2017.1287051⟩. ⟨hal-01472701⟩



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