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‘Nakarra’ is a familiar, abbreviated, or intimate version of the Kukatja kinship term, “Nakamarra”, a female ‘skin’ (kin) name that is often used as a form of address.
It is also a children’s form of the skin name Nakamarra. (An English equivalent of this usage, would, for example, be calling a girlchild or young woman whose name is Susan, by the shortened form “Susie”).
Plurals in the Kukatja language (and in Warlpiri) are sometimes formed by reduplication, ie simply by doubling the singular version of the noun/nominal. Hence ‘Nakarra Nakarra’ implies more than one girl or woman, who all share the skin-name ‘Nakarra’.
In this particular instance there are seven girls/women with the same skin-name Nakarra. They are sisters. In fact, these young women are the Seven Sisters – the Pleiades. In the Kukatja kinship system (as is the case in the Warlpiri kinship system) there are eight relationship terms which are subsections determined by where one’s mother fits into the kinship system.
Each of the eight subsections have a male and a female iteration. The female form always begins with “N” whereas the male form always begins with “Tj”. Within this kinship structure there exist many regulations including a preferred marriage partner for members of each subsection. Some sexual relationships are considered incestuous regardless of whether or not there is a biological relationship between the two people who make a couple. Whether or not such a relationship is permissible is determined by the kinship system.
The Nakarra Nakarra Dreaming or Seven Sisters narrative exists in many forms and permutations throughout Indigenous Australia. At the core of the narrative are the Seven Sisters, Creator Beings who move around country, creating natural phenomena and involving themselves in ceremonial life, including “young men’s business” or initiation ceremonies.
A man who has ‘got the hots’ for these gorgeous young women is chasing them across the country, meaning that the girls are endlessly on the run, trying to escape his unwanted amorous advances. This man is in the “wrong skin” relationship to the sisters and therefore is not a suitable marriage partner for them under Kukatja law.
In fact such a union would be considered incestuous and therefore very wrong. The man’s pursuit of these nubile young women is permanently “engraved” onto the night sky itself in the form of the cluster of stars known in English as The Seven Sisters. The Seven Sisters (the Nakarra Nakarra) are forever destined to flee this lustful, immoral man, a kind of bogeyman figure who seeks physical gratification for his uncontrolled, transgressive sexual love.
While he never catches them and never fulfils his illicit desires by having his way with them, the sisters can never rest. There are many interesting things about this Tjukurrpa or Dreaming narrative. For instance, in terms of cross-cultural crossovers, interestingly enough in Greek mythology this cluster of brilliant stars is also thought to comprise seven sisters, believed to be the seven mythical daughters of Pleione and the legendary Atlas.
Another is the fact that it reveals Indigenous people’s detailed knowledge of astronomy as well as the strict moral codes within which they operate. There are many different versions of this Seven Sisters Dreaming narrative throughout Aboriginal Australia that are sung and painted – for example, the story and artistic representations of it extend as far south as the Ngarrindjeri people of the River Murray in South Australia.
This particular Kukatja version encapsulates classic Yilpinji elements wherein people derive a kind of guilty pleasure at the “wrong skin union” but only as a kind of spectator sport that is ultimately condemned and socially outlawed in no uncertain terms. Furthermore, in the case of the Nakarra Nakarra Dreaming based near Wirrimanu (Balgo) Western Australia, women have particular rights and responsibilities in relation to the narrative and paintings whereas in some other Australian Indigenous societies others may have greater custodial rights. Balgo-based ceremonial leader Eubena Nampitjin provides a fine example of the Nakarra Nakarra Tjukurrpa in her work.
Nakarra Nakarra I is available individually or as part of the Yilpinji Portfolio collection.