Karndayh stencils

I spent last week working with people of the Marrirn clan in Western Arnhem Land recording rock art images made anytime from tens of thousands of years ago to the mid-twentieth century. At one site (top) we came across a line of symbols made by an artist blowing a slurry of white pigment from his mouth past a hand with a bent finger to create stencilled images. The symbol on rock and hand signal signifies karndayh, the female antilopine kangaroo (Macropus antilopinus). When out hunting, someone spotting karndayh would not (for obvious reasons) speak to communicate but rather perhaps touch their companion’s arm and use the bent-fingered hand symbol to say “game on” and gesture “karndayh over there”. The symbol can be made with right or left hand — the rock stencil is with a left hand, my example with my right. The act of making a symbol on rock in this way is called bid-kuykmerren. Hands of adults and children are often stencilled and sometimes the feet of infants. Boomerangs and other material culture objects are also stencilled. We have no idea or way of knowing when the row of karndayh stencils was made and we can only guess that perhaps the group indicates a hunter creating a record of his prowess. The central element of the rock painting below is karndayh and off to the left at shoulder height is the crooked finger symbol. This painting was made mid-twentieth century by the famed artist Lofty Bardayal Nadjamerrek AO. This is the only example I know of a rock painting with a caption.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>