10 October 2008


The Kuku Yalanji (speakers of the Yalanji language) are the indigenous inhabitants of the land which stretches from around Cooktown in the north to near Chillagoe in the west and Port Douglas in the South. They welcome people to Mossman Gorge, and share their cultural traditions on a terrific rainforest walk. Come walk with our guide Cameron.

Below: The Kuku Yalanji lived in family groups, making camp sites with perhaps 18 to 20 shelters. Palm leaves, bark and the Yibuy (lawyer vine), which is very bendable, were used to make the shelter. In the dry times, people moved around a lot and the shelters would be light and temporary. Grass would form a mattres son the floor, and big sheets of bark for a door. They were also used to store equipment like shields, swords, tools, baskets, water containers and bark blankets. The bark would be the soft bark of the Buyku (Paperbark tree).

Below: A nutcracking stone, for opening Bikarrakul (candle nut), which are roasted and eaten. They are very oily, and the oil was used to pre-oil the body before painting with ochre before ceremonies. A nut hollowed out by an animal can be made into a whistle to attract forest birds. The oil was used for lighting fire.

Below: Women's swimming and washing place, where women would go for women's business. "The ancestors said that water is like rainbow water. It's fresh and cool. They said it has healing powers." - Aspects and Images of Kuku Yalanji Life at Mossman Gorge.

Below: Cameron is demonstrating the use of the Karrandal (soap tree). There is a branch on the ground beside him. The leaves are crushed and rubbed to form a lather. It is also antiseptic, smelling of linament.

Below: A strangler fig tree. Cameron explained that this tree is said to house the spirits of the old men. A boy would have to spend the night out and come face to face with the spirits in order to pass the test for initiation. These plants begin life as epiphytes, when their seeds, usually spread by birds, germinate in crevices atop other trees. These seedlings grow their roots downward and envelope the host tree while also growing upward to reach into the sunlight zone above the canopy. The original support tree dies, leaving the central core empty.

Below: Rock art. Painted with ochre, this is a copy from a cave in the area. The original is very faded, so this copy was made to demonstrate what was painted. It includes people, stingray, cassowary, animal tracks, dingo, turtle. It also shows sailing ships. The ancestors saw them sailing up the coast. Captain Cook sailed close to the area. The Endeavour was damaged on a reef at Kulki (called Cape Tribulation by Cook) and he had to stop at what is now Cooktown (which he named after himself) to repair it.

Caves like this were used for shelter in rain times, and boys would be brought to a cave such as this for initiation rites.

Below: A pretty grouping of Bird's Nest ferns.

Below: Can you see the portion cut from the buttress root of this Wuymbariji (Red tulip oak) ? That is from where the timber to fashion a boomerang has been cut.

Below: Cameron demonstrates the use of ochre in body painting. The ochre is ground to powder and mixed with water.

Below: Jidu (Scott's Hornstedtia - Native Ginger). This is a very sweet fruit, especially loved by children. These aren't quite ready to eat yet.

Below: At the end of the tour, we were treated to damper and tea, and Cameron demonstarted the didgeridoo - not a local instrument, but didj culture has spread from contact with the groups of the Northern Territory. According to this article, it had reached this part of Queensland by the early 1800s. (PS Didgeridoo appears not to be an Aboriginal word, but a European one. Aboriginal groups have about 40 different names for the instrument)

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