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This rare and exceptionally large painted tjurunga, or sacred board, has its front covered with an incised geometric décor, painted over with a long sinuous line representing the journey of a great mythological hero dating from the time of creation. The circle and dot motifs placed symmetrically on either side of the line are mnemotechnical devices indicating places and times during the journey at which the deity slept, gave battle to occult forces, dug for water, encountered strange beings and witnessed magical or religious events. The rear of this tjurunga is beautifully adzed. A natural split at the top of the board shows a native repair with two drilled holes for strapping. The board was carved with non-metal tools.

The size and paintwork of this tjurunga place it amongst the greatest of the Aboriginal sacred art works. Personal tjurunga are usually rather small, not more than 50 or 60 centimetres long. The largest examples only very rarely exceed 2 meters in length, they are clan tjurunga and are presented to the young initiates during the manhood ceremonies. In essence the tjurunga is the story of the clan's genesis. Tjurunga of this size, age, and religious importance are extremely rare in collections outside of Australia.

A similar example sold by Galerie Meyer in 1994 belonged to a group of important clan tjurunga that were field-catalogued by the ethnologist N.B. Tindale of the South Australian Museum in 1934. The group of tjurunga was delivered to the museum by the clan elders around 1950 for safe-keeping, but a small part was not inventoried into the museum's collection and ended up in private hands.

Tjurunga are sacred aboriginal objects in stone or wood that are possessed by private or group owners, together with the legends, chants, and ceremonies associated with them. These items are generally oblong pieces of polished stone or wood. Some of them have hair or string strung through them, and hence some Europeans named them "bull roarers." Upon each tjurunga is a totem of the group to which it belongs. Tjurunga are highly sacred, in fact, they are considered so sacred that traditionally only a few people were able to see them and aboriginals believe it sacrilegious to post a picture of them. The name "churinga" is normally a noun, but can also be used as an adjective meaning "sacred."

The term Tjurunga can be translated to mean something similar to secret and personal. With "tju" meaning "hidden", "secret", and "runga" meaning "that which is personal to me". Another translation suggests that "tju" means "great", "powerful", or "sacred" and that "runga" does not translate into personal ownership.

Before and during the early 20th century only initiated males were able to see or touch these sacred objects. Women and uninitiated males were not allowed to touch them or even see them, except from a far distance. The tjuringa were kept in a sacred location that was forbidden to the rest of the clan. Such myths emphasize the life-holding magical properties of these tjurunga. The ancestor regarded his tjurunga as portions of his own being; and was always anxious that strangers might come and rob him of the very essence of his life.


- BERNDT R.M. (ed.), Australian Aboriginal Art, London 1964.

- MCCARTHY F.D., Australian Aboriginal Decorative Art, Sydney 1956.

Object information

Hardwood, natural ochre and white pigments, with a crusty patina
Date and place:
Ooldea Area, South Australia, 18th - 19th century
Private collection J.B.D.G., Belgium, acquired from Anthony JP Meyer; Collection Anthony JP Meyer, Paris, before 2000; Private collection, New York.
2017: INTUITION, Palazzo Fortuny, Venice, Italy (May 13 - November 26).

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