Painting faces with Ochre for #SundayStills

A visit to the ochre pits

Following on from last week’s #SundayStills where I took you for a visit to the Flinders Ranges in South Australia, with the prompt of Dry, this week we are back with the Adnyamathanha people for a cultural experience which involved face painting with ochre.

Ochre is one of the principal foundations of Australian Indigenous art. Ochres are primarily natural pigments and minerals found in the soil, or even in charcoal. These natural pigments (colours) were originally used to depict Dreamtime stories and maps. They were used either in body painting, rock painting, on artefacts and sometimes even on sand. Source

On the way to the ochre pits on our day of cultural experiences, Terry, our guide, stopped at a huge old tree and reiterated the meaning of life as seen by the Adnyamathanha people – connection to Mother Earth, respect, caring, sharing and above all else love.  The branches and leaves supports animals, covers the land, allows replenishment and earth as the giver of life. Values we could all do well to remember in this crazy world we live in.

It was explained to us how ochre was a major trading item for the local people and we enjoyed hearing how they carried the ochre wrapped up in their hair, to enable their hands to be kept free for hunting.  The hair protected the ochre in some ways too. How incredible is that? Had we not been on this Aussie Outback Walk, we would never have known these facts.

The ochre pits were huge and looked like they’d been dug into by a machine but they have been used for thousands of years by the locals and dug by hand. They were used to trade with other nations and were a very important part of their nomadic lifestyle.

Look at the various colours of ochre in these photos.

Terry dug into the ground for the different colours of ochre, telling us their meaning and daubing us all in the process.

White was for the spirit world, yellow was for a renewal, red for the blood of the earth, brown for Mother Earth and breathing, and purple to cleanse and reboot.

Each colour was dotted onto our faces, forehead and neck in an almost spiritual way.  In fact, it was almost like a blessing.

With the addition of each colour he asked us individually if we were ready to connect to the earth, take charge of our lives, reboot, accept the spirit world…and so on.  

Ochre painting in the Flinders Ranges
Ochre painting in the Flinders Ranges

Afterwards we formed a circle around a little fire, holding hands as Terry summed up our experiences, asking each of us in turn what we would be taking away from the visit.  It was emotional, moving and beautiful. Terry is an exceptional storyteller and poet.

The Aboriginal Australian Rules footballer, Adam Goodes, was featured recently coming back to his country to take part in this same ceremony and was very emotional about his experience, as it really affected him, and I can now see why.

We proudly kept the ochre on our faces as long as we could.

Malki Cave Art

Ochre is one of many special ingredients used for Aboriginal rock paintings. Just look at these amazing ancient rock art paintings at Malki Caves in the Flinders Ranges.

On one of our walks took us into the Malki cave art site with our guide Cliff. He set the scene of the paintings as we walked and when we arrived at the site we were asked to sit quietly for a few minutes to get a feel for the place.

It was quite a surreal experience to know we were seeing art work that had been painted thousands of years ago.   Cliff explained that the art work could not be repainted as there are no initiated people left to do so.  

Considering the age of the paintings they were in great condition and a thrill to see.  Cliff had been told the stories and so was able to share them with us, although there were a few he didn’t know the meaning of.  We spent ages looking at them and again felt honoured to be in such a beautiful place, witnessing such amazing history. We were given permission to share these photos.

It’s been great to share these ochre shots with you. Thanks Terri for a great prompt.

I hope you get a sense of the awe we felt by experiencing the Adnyamathanha culture on our special walking tour.

Deb x

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