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Creation Stories

As told by Maryanne Mungatopi (1998)

Palaneri - The  Creation Period

The Tiwi Islands of Bathurst and Melville were created at the beginning of time during the dreaming or Palaneri. Before this time there was only darkness and the earth was flat.

Mudungkala, an old blind woman, rose from the ground at Murupianga in the south east of Melville Island. Clasping her three infants to her breast and crawling on her knees, she travelled slowly north. The fresh water that bubbled up in the track she made became the tideways of the Clarence and Dundas Straits, dividing the two islands from the mainland.

She made her way slowly around the land mass and then, deciding it was too large, created the Aspley Strait, which divides the islands. Mudungkala then decreed that the bare islands be covered with vegetation and inhabited with animals so that her three children left behind would have food. After the Islands were made habitable she vanished. Nobody knows from where she came or, having completed her work, where she disappeared to. 

Purrukapali and Bima

Purrukapali was Mudungkala's only son. Every day his wife Bima went out gathering food for him, accompanied by their young son Jinani. In the same camp lived an unmarried man, Japara, who used to persuade Bima to leave her child under the shade of a tree and go into the bush with him.

On one very hot day Bima neglected her son for too long and he died in the hot sun. On hearing of the child's death, Purrukapali became so enraged that he struck his wife on the head with a throwing stick and hounded her into the bush. In an effort to help the anguished father, Japara promised to restore the dead child to life within three days, but Purrukapali was inconsolable and the two men soon became locked in a deadly struggle.

Purrukapali picked up the dead body of his son and, walking backwards into the sea, he decreed that death should come to the whole world. As his son had died, the whole of creation would die and, once dead, never again would come to life. There was not death before this time.

The place where Purrukapali died, on the east coast of Melville Island, became a whirlpool so strong that anybody who approached it in a canoe would be drowned. When Japara saw what happened he changed himself into the moon. But he did not escape the decree of Purrukapali, for even though his is eternally reincarnated, he has to die for three days every month.

One can see on the face of the moon man the wounds that he received in his fight with Purrukapali. Bima, still bearing scars on her head, became Wayai, the curlew that still roams the bush at night, wailing in remorse for her misdeeds and for the child that she lost.


The death of Jinani brought the creation period to a close. This event was marked by the first Pukumani burial ceremony. Tokampini, the father of Bima called all the original creators, men and women, to the ceremony. These mythical beings were taught the rules of behaviour and the laws of marriage and tribal relationships that had always to be obeyed. Then the periods of light and darkness were established, determining the cycle of daily events. The creators transformed themselves into various creatures, plants, animals, natural forces or heavenly bodies - and spread across the islands. They are the Tiwi totems or skin groups