Bark armlets

Tiwi people, Melville Island, Northern Territory, Australia

Collected and donated by Henry Kenneth Fry in 1917; 1917.6.30 and 1915.10.21Collected and donated by Henry Kenneth Fry in 1917; 1917.6.30 and 1915.10.21Among many Australian aboriginal peoples, puberty is a time for initiation into secret rituals of society. The novice leaves childhood and prepares to become a spiritual being. The initiation varies but includes separation from the group, bodily operations, the learning of secret rituals and eventual return to the tribe.

For the Tiwi of Melville and Bathurst Islands off the northern coast of Australia, puberty is the start of a process of learning about the sacred information that lasts throughout adulthood. These armbands, made of stringy bark with cane seams, are traditionally worn in dances performed during Tiwi death and mourning ceremonies (known as Pukumani). However, mothers also wear them at the end of the puberty rituals as they mourn the 'death' of their child, who now returns to society as an adult.

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