Yawkyawk dja Wayuk (Young Woman Spirit and Water Lily)

Deborah Wurrkidj is a Kuninjku artist from the Kurulk clan whose country lies around the outstation of Mumeka in central Arnhem Land. This image depicts a female water spirit, or yawkyawk, from a creek in the rock country near Yikkarakal. The Yawkyawk is a story of the Duwa moiety that Deborah learnt to paint from her father.

Yawkyawk are water spirits (mermaids) and also young women. This design is yawkyawk in the billabong near Yikkarakal. Yawkyawk move like women, the one on the left is the old woman and on the right is the young woman. They are mother and daughter.

“Sometimes you can hear yawkyawk talking at night. My grandmother told me a story that they heard those yawkyawk and when they looked out with their torch at night, all the women saw the yawkyawk tails flapping and disappearing in the water. The water is very cold in that billabong and the sand is soft, you might fall down there in the mud. There are also wayuk (water lilies) in this design, and other grasses. Sometimes when they are cold, the yawkyawk get out of the water to lie in the sun, but when they hear our footsteps they quickly jump back in.

when wer were on the outstation our elders would tell us this story of the Yawkyawk. They look after my place. They also give a babay to you.” – Deborah Wurrkidj