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Anmatyerr Shields, Songs and Ceremonies: A Heritage Project for Community and Nation

Anmatyerr Shields, Songs and Ceremonies: A Heritage Project for Community and Nation

Dr Jason Gibson has been awarded funding through the 2021-22 Indigenous Languages and Arts Open Competitive Grant, for the project Anmatyerr Shields, Songs and Ceremonies: A Heritage Project for Community and Nation.

This project will document vulnerable ceremonial and artistic traditions of the Anmatyerr people in central Australia. Senior men will instruct younger generations in the production of unique shield designs and revive the performance of associated songs and dances. An immersive online resource, featuring films, maps and illustrations will demonstrate critical links between design, place and performance.

The objectives of this project are best explained by the project’s co-designer, Martin Hagan (pictured).

“We want to bring together all the old Anmatyerr ceremonial men — there are only three or four who actually know deep Anmatyerr law — and record them explaining our different shield designs. We will film them teaching us as they paint and explain the shield designs, sing the connected songs and teach us old althart (public) dances that have not been performed for decades… The shield designs tell us what skin-groups we belong to. As a young man I have been involved in a lot of ceremonies and I see every year a decline of culture, particularly the knowledge of our designs and althart (public) dances. That’s why it is urgent to record these designs, songs and stories as soon as possible.”

The project will be delivered through intensive workshops delivered at the Laramba community and involving up to 30 participants. The project will be co-led by Anmatyerr man Martin Hagan and Dr Jason Gibson. In the workshops, senior artists will instruct younger men in the manufacture of ceremonial shields from bean-tree wood, and then instruct them in painting distinctive shield designs and learning associated songs and dances. An innovative website will be developed that features a map of the different skin-group areas that each shield represents, subtitled films about the meaning of each shield, and recordings of related ceremonial performances. The project will enable intergenerational learning, result in increased community engagement in these artistic and performative practices and help sustain threatened traditions.


Dr Jason Gibson is Alfred Deakin Postdoctoral Research Fellow at ADI. Jason has worked extensively with Aboriginal custodians throughout Australia on history, museum, and heritage related projects and conducted detailed fieldwork in central Australia for the past 15 years. His award winning book is Ceremony Men: Making Ethnography and the Return of the Strehlow Collection (2020), examining the making of one of Australia’s most important anthropological collections and its relevance to Anmatyerr and Arrernte people.


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