Saturday, December 22, 2018

a novice discovers the caterpillar

For the past week I’ve been venturing out before it gets too hot and visiting some of the traditional sites here in Alice Springs or Mparntwe in Arrente language. If you visited me in Alice, then here are some of the places I would take you. This has been part of my own self education. I hasten to add that I’m still a beginner when it comes to the local habitat and cultures.

Casual visitors or tourists will notice the Yeperenye shopping centre in the heart of town and perhaps also Yipirinya School (spellings are not standardised), which is not far from the town centre. Pronounced Yep-ah-rin-ya. Yeperenye is the most important of three caterpillars that play the major role in the local Dreaming stories.
Delving more into that we discover the caterpillar dreaming of the Arrente people. The caterpillars are the major creative ancestors of Mparntwe.

After this introduction, I might take you to the Araluen Cultural Precinct to view the giant caterpillar sculpture.
There are informative plaques inside the caterpillar. One of the caretakers writes:
“My name is Kwementyeye Rice Furber, I am one of the kwetengurles (caretakers) for the Yeperenye Dreaming. The Yeperenye Dreaming is a totem of my mother and my grandfather (that’s my mum’s dad) and her grandfather (her father’s father). In a cultural way they are the owners of the Yeperenye Dreaming.

I am very proud to see the sculpture being built here on Mparntwe land. I feel the Yeperenye story should be known and told to the locals and visitors alike, and I hope Yeperenye Dreaming will be respected in the land of its Dreaming. I am very glad and happy for the youngsters who are involved in building this Yeperenye Sculpture and I am very glad of all who took part in it and I thank you for it.”
A section of another plaque provides us with some information about the caterpillar itself and how strongly it is represented in the Arrernte language:
“The Arrernte language includes a unique name for every stage of development for yeperenye caterpillars, ie. egg, lava, pupa, emerging moth, moth etc. The name yeperenye derives from ayepe (tar vine) and arenye (belonging to).

The yeperenye are the best known of the sacred caterpillars. They encompass at least two different species and a rich diversity of colour forms. Yeperenye caterpillars burrow into soft soil to depths of about 10cm, sometimes forming a small underground chamber. The fully developed intelyaplyape (hawkmoths) emerge with 12-24 days from their pupal cases underground or beneath leaf litter to feed, mate and lay their eggs in the space of a few days.”
Next up we might take a 10 minute drive to Emily Gap (Anthwerrke).
It’s really special down there, well that is, apart from the damn flies. It is the majestic site where the caterpillar beings originated. Photos from inside the gap, where there are rock paintings illustrating the story, are not permitted. So, I guess you’ll have to come to Alice if you want to see it.
After they created Anthwerrke the caterpillars spread out towards the town area and produced the topographical features that we now see.

The Yeperenye was just one of three species of caterpillar involved. The other species were Ntyarlke and Utnerrengatye.

On the East side of the Todd River, there is a small ridge where the Ntyarlke caterpillars crossed the river.

In 1983 the government began to construct Barrett Drive in order to facilitate access to the casino. But, they had a problem: The ridge created by the Ntyarlke registered and protected under the government’s own Aboriginal Sacred Sites Act extended into the desired path of the road. There was some discussion with the Aboriginal custodians about how to protect the site. In the beginning, the government appeared to be listening.

Then at Christmas 1983 one of the custodians walked out on the site and saw that the tail of the caterpillar had been bulldozed. The government, running out of patience, had done this in the quiet of holiday time. The photo shows the ridge which represents the caterpillar, that used to extend to where the road now is. My back is to the Todd River.
Barrett Drive has since been referred to as Broken Promise Drive among the Arrernte people of Mparntwe.

Well, I still don’t know much about the caterpillars but that is a beginning. And there are more than caterpillars to this story. Next up, I’ll tell you about the wild, creator dogs.

A Town Like Mparntwe: a guide to the Dreaming tracks and sites of Alice Springs (first published in 1991) by David Brooks, illustrations by Shawn Dobson

No comments: