celebrating Milpirri

The Milpirri festival was conceived by the Warlpiri educator Steven Wanta Jampijinpa Patrick and produced by Tracks Dance Company in Darwin.  Milpirri is structured around a selection of endangered Warlpiri rituals, many of which have not been performed in their traditional contexts for decades and are largely unknown by the youths in the community.It cannot simply be described as a ‘festival’ in the Anglophone sense, since younger Warlpiri are learning Jukurrpa (Dreaming) and their own obligatory relationships to country and community, in both Warlpiri and English. The story is told in segments that feature both traditional and contemporary elements which use the  core concepts of  of culture and apply them to contemporary community living.

The 2016 Milpirri performance  draws on themes and values from the Jarda-Warnpa ceremony and  is associated with atonement and reconciliation. The performance was very colourful and joyous.One side of  the stage was surrounded  by 27   banners  designed by variety of  Warlpiri people. These are kuruwarri (customary designs) and  their visual representation on bodies and the  banners is a direct link to the most powerful and sacred aspect of culture and country.  They symbolise ancestors, country, ceremony and law.

banner, Milpirri Festival, 2016
banner, Milpirri Festival, 2016

The banners, which   act as a kind of backdrop for the Milpirri performers, are images that are a representation of Lajamanu, and so belong to, and are a part of,  the community. This  festival is a very specific community-based event that is a contemporary notion of traditional in that

One of the unique things about the Milpirri Festival is the large  amount of participation rates in it. In a community of under five hundred people, that we can end up with over two hundred people performing in the show on the Saturday night.People are divided into four strong colours that represent different kinship groups. These colours place each and every Warlpiri in relation to all other Warlpiri, as skin names are a shorthand for kinship terms. Literalising these relationships in colour groupings, as Milpirri has by developing wristbands and T-shirts in skin-group colour—as well as in the Milpirri Jukurrpa-skin group banners that form the backlit theatrics of the annual Milpirri stage—has created a way to visualise these relationships in new ways, both materially and physically.

girl, green group, Milpirri
girl, green group, Milpirri

The Festival  also taps into the whole history of Warlpiri culture. Milpirri refers to thunder and lightning  that brings rain and the wet season. The formation of the Milpirri cloud is a time of intense turmoil when the hot air is rising and clashing with the cool air to form a thunderhead cloud.The rains bring relief and refreshment to the country.  After the rains  there’s grass and a lot of food.  That’s when the Warlpiri  do their ceremony–around February.  That’s the celebration time.

fire, Milpirri
fire, Milpirri

Mipirri ends with  fire. The map of Warlpiri culture  with its 5 elements Land (also called Country), Law, Language, Ceremony, and Skin (also called Kinship) is set fire to. It is the smoke from the fire  that forms ‘milpirri’ (cumulonimbus clouds) and then it begins to rain. The rain brings life.


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