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Yothu Yindi

Yothu Yindi

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Mandawuy Yunupingu is the band leader of Yothu Yindi, an Australian band with both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal members. The name Yothu Yindi means ‘mother and child’. Mandawuy’s full name is Mandawuy Djarrtjuntjun Yunupingu. Mandawuy means ‘from clay’. Djarrtjuntjun means ‘roots of the paperbark tree that still burn and throw off heat after a fire has died down’, and Yunupingu is ‘a solid rock that, having travelled from freshwater, stands in salty waters, its base deep in the earth’.

The Aboriginal members of Yothu Yindi belong to the Gumatj and Rirratjingu clans of the Yolŋu people. They come from near Yirrkala, on the Gove Peninsula, in the Northern Territory’s Arnhem Land. The band combines aspects of both Yolŋu and balanda (European) cultures, using traditional Yolŋu instruments such as the yidaki and clapsticks, as well as guitars and drums. Some of their songs are in a traditional style, some are pure rock/pop, but many combine both elements. They also use traditional dance to accompany their music.

Mandawuy was the first Yolŋu person to gain a university degree, earning a Bachelor of Arts in Education from Deakin University in 1988. In 1989 he became assistant principal of the Yirrkala Community School and in 1990 he took over as principal, becoming the first Aboriginal principal in Australia. He held this position until late 1991, when he left to pursue his career with Yothu Yindi. Mandawuy was named Australian of the Year in 1992 and in April 1998 was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Queensland University of Technology: ‘in recognition of his significant contribution to the education of Aboriginal children, and to greater understanding between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians.’

The Yothu Yindi Foundation runs the annual Garma Festival celebrating Yolŋu culture. The Garma ceremony is aimed at sharing knowledge and culture, and opening people’s hearts to the message of the land at Gulkula. The site at Gulkula has profound meaning for Yolŋu. Set in a stringybark forest with views to the Gulf of Carpentaria, Gulkula is where the ancestor Ganbulabula brought the yidaki into being among the Gumatj people. The festival is designed to encourage the practice, preservation and maintenance of traditional dance (bunggul), song (manikay), art and ceremony on Yolŋu lands in north-east Arnhem Land.

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