The Bradshaw Foundation : Glossary of Terms & Definitions

Glossary of Terms & Definitions | W


Wandjina A style of aboriginal cave paintings exclusive to the Kimberley region of north-western Australia. The  figures are thought to represent mythological beings associated with the creation of the world. The ancient tradition of repainting the images, carried out by the oldest living member, still continues to some degree today. The Wandjinas are anthropomorphic figures drawn in rough outline. Some are very crude and clumsy, but others are executed with a considerable measure of primitive refinement. The natural curves and indentations of the stone are often used to create additional plastic effects. Wandjinas are generally portrayed in a horizontal position, with the face enclosed by a flat-shaped border in red or yellow ochre. Only the eyes and nose are painted, the mouth is missing. Several mythological explanations have been advanced for the lack of a mouth, but the proliferation of competing versions inevitably casts doubts on their plausibility.

Beneath the pictures one often finds skulls, painted in red ochre, with the lower part of the jaw missing. These mark the site of skull burials, at the spot where people found their 'soul-home'. Thus the mouthless faces of the Wandjinas are portraits, as it were, of the buried and painted skulls.

When Dr Lommel was shown the sites by guides in 1938, the men always approached the rock painting sites by an oddly circuitous route. They were obeying the rule that one had to follow the exact path, including all the detours, taken by the ancestor whose image is painted on the rock and which found its last resting place there. Thus the journey to the site was itself a form of commentary on the mythical memories preserved in the paintings.

The Wandjina paintings are found on the undersides of rock ledges, which shelter them against the copious rainfalls during the wet season. The pictures are a vehicle for the transmission of creation myths. According to Aboriginal legend, the world originated in what they call 'Lalai' - the Dreaming, a primordial state which is not confined to the past but stands outside time.

After the Wandjinas were created, they journeyed across the country and shaped it in its present form. It was they who made the rain and dug out the rivers, who built the mountains and levelled the plains. At a time when the stones were still 'soft', they built themselves 'houses' of stone. When they died, they lay down on the soft rocks and left the imprint of their bodies on the surface; these marks are the rock paintings which can be seen today.

At the exact spot where they left their 'shadow', the Wandjinas descended into the earth; since then, they have lived on at the bottom of the water source associated with each of the paintings. There, they continually produce new 'child-seeds', which are regarded as the source of all human life.
Willendorf The Willendorf figurine, 11.5 cm high, is estimated to have been carved between 24,000 BC and 22,000 BC. It was discovered in 1908 by archaeologist Josef Szombathy at a Palaeolithic site near Willendorf in Austria. It was carved from oolitic limestone that is not local to the area, and tinted with red ochre. These figurines are often erroneously referred to a 'venus' figurines.
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