We see evidence for this in numerous depictions of Makassan pras (boat) in paintings. For example, at Djulirri in the Wellington Range of North Western Arnhem, a rock painting shows a yellow Makassan prau (boat) under a beeswax ‘snake’. The snake has been shown to have been laid down circa 1664. Additionally, a rare and expansive set of stone arrangements at Wurrwurrwuy near Ḏaliwuy Bay depict praus and the internal arrangements of vessels. The creators of the stone pictures would have acquired their knowledge of the internal arrangement of praus during visits to, or voyages on, such vessels.
Until the turn of the last century the annual visitations of the Makassanese to the Top End shores of Australia were a lynchpin of the Yolŋu economy and society.These visits were banned by the newly formed Australian Government from 1901.
These sailors, gatherers of trepang from coastal waters, had for up to six centuries caught the seasonal winds back and forth from what is now known as Sulawesi.
Yolŋu know this place as Maŋgatharra. In the course of the trade Yolŋu would visit Sulawesi and sometimes stay there. Makassan sailors would sometimes chose to remain in the Top End which they knew as Marege.
The relationship they had with the Yolŋu was amiable and productive. Around 900 tons of processed trepang was sourced annually from Australia in the mid-1800s. The trade was not just sourcing the product but a complicated processing technique of gutting, boiling, burying in the sand for a period and then drying in racks or smoking in small huts. Yolŋu were involved in all aspects of this industry as well as supplying the camps with firewood, food and water. The relationship extended to shared spiritual expression.
Inevitably families were established between the two groups. Particular captains would visit particular places and deal with particular families returning year after year and their descendants continued these relationships. Sheltered harbours which were rich in trepang and provided access to fresh water and hospitable Yolŋu were known as Marŋarr in Yolŋu language. There were quite a few such places in East Arnhem. Places such as Gunyuŋara, Galupa (Melville Bay), Bawaka, Dhanaya (Port Bradshaw), Ḏaliwuy, Garrthalala, Birany Birany (Caledon Bay), Yarrinya (Blue Mud Bay) and Gurrumurru (Arnhem Bay) have long histories of such interaction.
Dhopiya's father Muŋgurrawuy was familiar with Makassan culture and drew a crayon representation of Makassar City for the anthropologist Ronald Berndt in 1947.
Many Gumatj places are connected to the trade including Maṯamata, Bawaka, Gunyuŋara,Galupa andDhanaya. He worked with European and Japanese trepangers who came to fill the void caused by the forced end of the Makassan visits. The Gumatj epic song poems reference Galiku (Cloth), the anchor, the Djiḻawurr (Scrub Fowl - known to frequent jungle beachside areas common to these Marŋarr) and the Tamarind, steel knives, märrayaŋ (guns), pillows, tobacco, flags, sail, cards, money, Djambaŋ (tamarind trees), Djolin (musical instruments) and Ŋanitji (alcohol).
The Gumatj homeland on Port Bradshaw is Bawaka but also known by its Makassan name Gambu Djegi which it is now understood is a transliteration of ‘Kampong Zikir’, Bugis for ‘a sacred village’. Even today some local Gumatj men have the name Danygutjiŋ. This is a Yolŋu version of Daeng (or Mister) Yusing. Yusing is the Bugis version of Hussein. So on the Northern shores of Australia are Indigenous men with the ancestral name of Mr. Hussein. Not just a connection to near Northern neighbours but to the global. And all before being discovered by James Cook.
This place is an ongoing source of fragments of pot buried in the sand which come to the surface after the Wet Season. There seems to be a limitless supply of these shards of pot. The pots originated with the Torajan ethnicity rice and corn farmers who use the clay from making their rice paddies and then fire them with the husks at the end of the harvest. They were traded to the Bugis seaman in their praus who used them to carry their supplies of water and rice.
The pots at Bawaka are the result the end of harvest ritual to smash the pots enshrined in songlines. The Makassans would hold a big feast and share all of their spare supplies prior to loading the ship with dried and processed trepang. The songlines end with the revellers 'butulu badaw!'- (smashing the pots) at the end of the party. Bawaka is also associated with the female spirit Bayini who still inhabits this place. She may have been murdered here. She is a trickster who targets single men and covets gold.
Several of Dhopiya’s nieces visited Makassar in 1988 and met the elderly daughter of a Yolŋu woman who had followed her partner back to Maksassar but been barred from returning home due to the embargo. From 2015 the renewal of the relationship intensified and the pots used in this exhibition were sourced from Sulawesi from the same Torajan artisanal tradition as those on the beaches.
As the seasons of the year ran the same ageless cycles so did the Makassan visits. Yolŋu sacred songs tell of the first rising clouds on the horizons - the first sightings for the year of the Makassan praus’ sails.
The grief felt at the time of Makassan trepangers returning to Sulawesi with Bulunu (the S.E winds of the early Dry season) is correlated with the sunset. Djapana means ‘sunset’ in Yolŋu matha and ‘farewell’ in Bugis. The red sails of the Praus mirror the pink sunset clouds. The death of the Sun at day’s end equated in song with the grief at the passing from life of a member of the clan.
The return of the Makassans with Luŋgurrma (the Northerly Monsoon winds of the approaching Wet) is an analogue for the rebirth of the spirit following appropriate mortuary ritual. This also correlates in the songs with the reborn morning Sun as it rises.