46 x 76 cm: acrylic on canvas
Jila (snake, living water)
“All the jila (snakes) making the Country. Good Country, flash one! Like people, jila, when they get old, they die. Can’t help it. Like Martu die, he dead. No more life.”
– Yunkurra Billy Atkins
The Western Desert term jila is used interchangeably to describe springs considered to be ‘living’ waters and snakes, both of which play a central role in Martu culture and Jukurrpa (Dreaming).
During the pujiman (traditional, desert dwelling) period, knowledge of water sources was critical for survival, and today Martu Country is still defined in terms of the location of water sources. Of the many permanent springs in Martu Country, very few are ‘living waters’; waters inhabited by jila (powerful ancestral beings). Before they became snakes, these beings were men who made rain, formed the land and introduced cultural practices like ceremonies and ritual songs. Some of the men travelled the desert together, visiting one another, but they all ended their journeys at their chosen spring alone, transformed into a snake. These important springs are named after their jila inhabitant, guarding their waters.
Some of the jila snakes are known by Martu as quiet and benevolent, others as dangerous and ‘cheeky’. Regardless of the nature of the inhabitant snake, jila sites must be entered respectfully; particular rituals are practiced, such as lighting fires, sweeping the ground with branches, approaching in single file, and calling out to the site’s jila to announce one’s arrival and introduce people who are new to the jila. Those who do not follow these guidelines are in danger of becoming sick, or even being killed.
Martumili Artists warns visitors that our website includes images and artworks of Artists who have passed away which may cause distress to some Indigenous people.
Martumili Artists acknowledges the Nyiyaparli and Martu people as the Traditional Owners of the land we live and work on. We also acknowledge the Traditional Owners throughout our country and our Elders; past, present and emerging.