'The Mimi Spirits'
Long ago in the Dreaming a young boy wanted to be a great hunter but he never had any success. Every day he watched enviously as the other tribesmen returned in triumph with their prey. One day he decided to leave camp and hunt for an Echidna, but no matter how hard he tried his efforts always came to nothing. As evening fell he sank wearily to his knees, disheartened by his lack of hunting skills. Just at that moment when the sun went down, the Mimi spirits began to emerge from the shadows and cracks in the rocks. Every night they were busily engaged looking after the land and the animals of the bush.
When the boy first noticed the Mimi spirits he was worried, but he soon realised that they meant him no harm. In fact they were full of merriment and mischief and charmed him into following them back to their magical world among the rocks and shadows. The boy grew to love the life of the fun-filled Mimi and in return they made him one of their own people.
However, back at his camp, the boy's father was sorely missing his son and set out to search for him. He was an experienced hunter who was able to follow the boys tracks but was mystified when they came to a dead end. So, without any other option, he sat down to pray for help from the spirits. He began to chant and chant, hour after hour, day after day, week after week until he was able to hear the Mimi spirits singing inside the rocks. The more he chanted the better he could hear them and what's more, he began to hear the voice of his son among them. With rising hope, he chanted louder and louder and for such a long time that his hair and beard grew and grew, over his shoulders, down his chest, around his ankles, across the ground, and into the rocks where it wrapped tightly around his sons waist. With a mighty tug the father whipped him out of the Mimi's world like a fish on a line.
Although the boy had enjoyed life with the Mimi, he was so happy to be reunited with his own people. He recognised the great love that his father had shown by tracking him down and now understood that he was loved unconditionally for who he was and not for his skills at hunting or any other activity.
ANCHOR BARRBUWA WURRKIDJ (c.1924-1977)
Mimi hunter and ceremony, 1961 (natural earth pigments on eucalyptus bark)
Mimi Spirits are shy, sprightly creatures who have lived in the shady cracks and chasms of the rocks of Arnhem Land since the beginning of time. In the bark painting above by Anchor Barrbuwa Wurrkidj, a painter from Western Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory, the white area represents the rock, while the red area represents a chamber inside the rock where the Mimi live.
Although the Mimi are spirits, they have a human form with matchstick thin bodies, a big head and long spindly arms and legs. They are usually portrayed carrying their weapons and tools, and accompanied by their pets: kangaroos, crocodiles, rock pythons, goannas, echidnas,fish, turtles, butterflies, birds and too many more to mention. They are very friendly spirits but can become angry if an outsider threatens one of their pets.
The Mimi only come out at night to hunt, fish, cultivate the land and hold their ceremonies. Once the Aboriginal people were born, the Mimi taught them their hunting skills and how to manage fire for cooking and protection against the elements. They also taught them how to dance, sing and paint on rocks or bark. Much of the Aboriginal culture in Northern Australia respects the good example of the Mimi.
Many of the topics in our Aboriginal Art pages are illustrated with a painting that was inspired by the theme of that page. For each of these we have created a step by step slide show that deconstructs the image to reveal the painting process and inspire possibilities for your own ideas. The images and symbols used to create our illustrations can be found in our menu at the foot of the page. They are available for you to download to help with creating your own artworks.
Key Stages of the Painting
A rough texture was painted using a dark brown ochre on a black ground.
The outline of a Mimi spirit was drawn with a white color pencil.
The figure was traced and transferred to form a mirror image.
One of the Mimi pets (a rock python) was drawn to fill out the composition.
Some stars were added for atmospheric effect.
The Mimi spirits were painted with an ochre flesh color.
Their weapons, the stars, and various sections of the image were painted with a yellow tint.
Their garments and the remaining sections were painted with a light brown ochre.
The surface of the image was distressed to evoke the rocky habitat of the Mimi.
The entire image was outlined in white to unify the design.