Country and its spirits

Walking through country, Warlpiri people shout to signal their presence to the ancestral guardians of country. Among these guardians are the Mirlalypa, spirits who give purlapas (ceremonies) to people in dreams. It is believed that the Mirlalypa protect people as they pass through country – guiding them to food and water, and away from evil influences. They uphold traditional law concerning the treatment of country.

Jerry Jangala tells the story of an uncle who camped by a waterhole while walking home from ceremony. Scooping away the soft earth from the bank, he collected water in his billy. Next morning he continued walking back toward his community – but with every passing kilometre, felt more and more uneasy – as though someone were watching him.

At nightfall Jerry’s uncle built a fire and began to cook a wallaby he’d hunted. As he cooked, at the outer limits of firelight, he glimpsed a ‘sacred person’, a Mirlalypa, moving between the trees. At that moment Jerry’s uncle remembered he had forgotten to put back the soft earth on the edge of the waterhole. He extinguished his fire and returned to the previous campsite, walking all night to get there – with the shadow of the Mirlalypa following behind. Only when the waterhole was restored again did the shadow vanish.

Jerry says the Mirlalypa might have killed his uncle, if he’d thought he’d deliberately damaged the waterhole – but just sent a warning because he knew it’d been accidental. Jerry says the Mirlalypa sometimes announce their arrival by throwing small stones against the window at night. There are attempts to communicate with them but the Warlpiri treat these ‘sacred people’ with great caution and respect.

(Painting of Spirits and Sandhills by Linda Syddick Napaltjarri)

Warlpiri elders are passing on traditional knowledge to young people by creating Kurdiji 1.0 Aboriginal suicide prevention app. They are increasing resilience by reconnecting people with country, culture and community. You can support them by donating at and sharing their campaign.


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