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Tiwi Yam Ceremony
Tiwi Yam Ceremony, 1912

Late in the afternoon the Watjinyerti and the men left the ceremonial ground, and, followed by the women and children, walked to a stream where the yams earlier collected were soaking in a water pool. On the way the party collected the three younger boys who had been ritually hidden under boughs for the men to find. At the pool the Watjinyerti was plunged into the water and dragged back and forth by the old men. The three younger boys also had to enter the water and were made at lie down with their heads covered with pitchis containing yams.1)

After being taken from the water, the boys' chins were rubbed with yams. Spencer believed this was to enocurage the growth of hair on their faces, a parallel being drawn between the hair-like roots of the yams and the whiskers of a man. 2)

Following this rite the men and boys returned to the ceremonial ground, where the boys sat in the bark shelters watching the men dance through the night.
Spencer recorded these scenes with difficulty:

'It was rather a strenuous time, because one thing succeeded another in rapid succession, while, balancing a bent sheet of bark over my head, to try to keep the rain off my note-book and camera, I had both to watch what was happening, take occasional snapsots and at the same time note down as much as I could. All the time we were drenched through, but as the day was hot and steamy this did not matter.' 3)
1)'Wanderings in Wild Australia', p 665
3)Ibid. pp 663-4.
Keywords: aborigines, anthropology, Baldwin Spencer, Walter, culture, Northern Territory, Tiwi, yams, 1912

Photograph: Tiwi man and youths in the water pool during the yam ceremony. Photograph Baldwin Spencer. Reproduced courtesy Museum Victoria.
© Museum Victoria
Author: Rowse, Tim and Graham, Trevor