Two Snake Brothers
Acrylic on Linen 102 x 152 cm
This is what the artist says:
This painting tells the story of two Snake Brothers and their wives, who are sisters, that lived near Piltati, west of Amata in Central Australia. Every day the women went out hunting, and every evening they brought home meat for cooking for the men, who did not do anything but perform ceremonies. After a while the sisters became annoyed at the men’s laziness and decided to eat all the food they caught, leaving the men to fend for themselves.
The Snake Brothers were angry and decided to punish the women for their insubordination. After lots of talking, the brothers agreed to change themselves into a giant mythical water serpent, which also had the power to travel above and below ground and play a practical joke upon the women that would cause them a great deal of hard useless labour. They went to a marsupial rat hole where the women had been digging and imitated the tracks of a large snake by rubbing the back of a spear thrower on the ground. Then they entered the hole, and one of them left out enough of his tail for the women to see.
The younger sister became very excited when she saw the tracks of such a large snake and its tail popping out. She begun to pull the snake from its burrow, but the tail kept slipping from her grasp. The Wanampi teased the younger sister by allowing himself to be dragged out a few feet before wriggling himself free. Again and again, he let himself be caught before wriggling free once more. Eventually the younger sister became tired, gave up and returned to her sister.
In the evening, when they were eating dinner, the younger sister told her elder sister how she had almost caught a carpet snake as big as a Wanampi but couldn’t pull it out of its burrow as it was too strong. The big sister said she would help her to catch it the next day. The next morning the women set off with their digging sticks and large wooden bowl. They dug all day long, then the next day and the next, occasionally glimpsing the snake. Sometimes they caught a small carpet snake enough for their evening meal.
The small carpet snakes were created by the Snake men so the women wouldn’t lose heart or grow hungry. They continued to dig after the Wanampi, but they never caught him. In their pursuit the women dug a trench from Aparatjara to Piltati, now a watercourse, approximately 25 km long. Their burrow became deeper, and the women dug many subsidiary branches in their pursuit, creating the George at Piltati, with its creeks and piles of rock that clutter the valley floor. Finally, the elder sister changed her tactics. She dug a pit ahead of the entrance to the burrow (now the largest rock hole at Piltati), uncovering the Wanampi before he could get away. She was so frightened by his huge coils slithering around her feet that she threw her digging stick, piercing the side of the Wanampi.
The younger Wanampi left the burrow, chased, and swallowed his wife, the younger sister. The injured snake (big brother) was angry and in great pain, so he caught, killed and ate the elder sister at the mouth of Piltati George.
The big brother Wanampi is now a bloodwood tree with a dry limb sticking out at one side, and the trunk is covered with lumps and excrescences. The dead limb is the digging stick with which the snake is speared, the lumps and excrescences are the body of the woman still showing through the skin of the snake.
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