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Róheim, G. (1951). Mythology of Arnhem Land. Am. Imago, 8(2):181-187.

(1951). American Imago, 8(2):181-187

Mythology of Arnhem Land

Géza Róheim

An extremely insteresting book has been published lately by Professor A. P. Elkin and Catherine and Ronald Berndt.1 Notwithstanding the fact that further publications by these authors are to be expected in the near future, the data contained in this book are such that I find it impossible to resist the temptation to interpret them.

There are three important mythological cycles in Arnhem Land. The first is the Djanggewul myth. It relates to the wanderings of two men and two women who in the “Dreaming time” (i.e., the mythological past) journeyed from the Island of the Dead to North East Arnhem Land. The leader's name was Djanggewul. There were two sisters, an older and a younger one, and a subordinate companion. They brought with them in their canoe a conical shaped mat called ngainmara and life-giving sticks, rangga objects, that represented the iguana's2 tail. The mat symbolized the womb while the sticks were the penis and were hidden in the mat when not being used in ritual. However, some of the rangga were considered not iguana tails but trees. The iguana tail ranggas were used in the increase of the natural species, while the others were placed upright in the ground and grew into trees.

Djanggewul had an especially sacred rangga which he pushed in to the earth at intervals. As it was withdrawn water gushed forth from waterholes or wells and thus these wells and waterholes were created. From time to time Djanggewul assisted his sisters with the actual births of children of both sexes. These became the ancestors of the present natives. The continuous pregnancy of the two sisters is a dominant feature in the songs of the cycle. The people removed or born from their wombs are the rangga, the ancestors of the present natives.

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