Heide Smith's Tiwi Collection - Tiwi Culture



Pukamani  Ceremony

The image above shows a Pukamani Mortuary Ceremony. The description below is taken from The Tiwi College Brochure.

"Performance of this ceremony ensures that the spirit of the dead person goes from the living world into the spirit world. The Pukamani is a public ceremony and provides a forum for artistic expression through song, dance, sculpture and body painting. The ceremony occurs months after the deceased has been buried. The Tiwi believe that the dead person's existence in the living world is not finished until the completion of the ceremony. The final Pukamani is the climax of a series of ceremonies that traditionally continued for many months after the burial of the dead. There is usually one iliana (funeral ceremony) at the time of death and then many months later the final Pukamani."

It is said that the language spoken by two different aboriginal "tribes", can be as different as French and Russian. So it is when the customs, and resulting attitudes and beliefs of the Tiwi, are compared to those of white Australians. It is difficult to understand Tiwi behavour without some knowledge of Tiwi culture. For the same reason, it is equally easy to unintentionally behave badly in their eyes.


boy painted for ceremony

preparing for ceremony

barney warns the spirits of our arrival


If you would like to see more images, or learn more about Tiwi customs and culture, have a look at my website or, there are still a few copies of my second Tiwi Book in my online shop


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heide smith's photographs of Tiwi culture

About Photographs of Tiwi Culture: Anthropologists believe that the Tiwi, and other Aborigines, arrived in Australia from Africa at least 50,000 years ago. The bible tells us that the Earth was created in seven days, and that we are descended from Adam and Eve. The Tiwi have their own creation stories. They believe that the Tiwi Islands were created in the beginning of time, during the Parlinari, or Tiwi Creation time. The culture of the Tiwi is so dramatically different from European customs that it is impossible to describe it in just a few sentences. There is a chapter "Tiwi Culture" in my book "Portrait of a People - the Tiwi Northern Australia" which contains traditional Tiwi stories, and describes the most significant customs and beliefs. "Portrait of a People" is still available in my bookshop.

To see an enlargement, and/or to purchase an image, click on a thumbnail


Viewers should be aware this site contains references to, and images of deceased people


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