YOLNGU ABORIGINAL WEEPING SONGS

In the traditional belief system of the Yolngu Aboriginals of Arnhem Land Northern Australia, the people see the landscape as sentient. The ancestors are said to inhabit the land and the people come from it at birth, live through it in life, and return to it upon death.

 

In life and death, members of the community are intimately associated with animals and features of landscape, and these animals and landscapes in turn have music that is intimately associated with them. For the Yolngu, music can conjure a person, animal or landscape into being.

 

When a member of their community dies, women spontaneously break into weeping songs. These weeping songs are initially full of raw emotion and sound closer to crying than music. But over the two week funeral proceedings, this emotion is funnelled into ever more complex songs closely tied to their cultural and spiritual conceptions.

 

As the songs develop, personalised melodies and narratives of the deceased emerging and are woven into the song. The singers will sing of landscape, kinship and animal associations and connected which have tied that person to the community and sentient landscape in life.

 

​The funeral proceedings usually take two weeks and on the last day there is the final rite and burial. On this day, the now fully formed songs sing the spirit of the deceased on a final spiritual journey through the ancestral landscape to their resting place in a particular feature of land. Here they become separated from the living and join the ancestors.

 

The Yolngu don’t traditionally speak the name of the deceased for some time, but they can connect to and remember them through the landscape and through the music that connects the lost to their environment.

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Music is a fantastic tool, but it does not hold all the answers. If you are struggling with grief, please contact a bereavement charity or therapeutic professional who can help you through.

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