Ancestral Beings

Ngurunderi contemplates Pondi, the Murray Cod

Ngurunderi contemplates Pondi, the Murray Cod © Jacob Stengle 1970

Stories of Ancestral Beings and their adventures show Tanganekald people how to understand the world and our place in it. Tanganekald placenames, songs, and stories are an ancient treasure that records how people lived in the Riverine region over millennia. Importantly, as well as being our history, Ancestral Beings show us the way to live now and into the future. We believe that Ancestral Beings shaped the land around us and put intelligible language into the mouths of our ancestors. For us, like many other Aboriginal people, land and language are inseparable. We believe that language provides us with guidance on how to survive and flourish in our local environments. Ancestral Beings teach us how to behave, how to treat others, how to hunt and gather food for our nourishment, and how to lawfully interact with the country.

Listen to Verna Koolmatrie on the creation of Thukkeri, the Bony Bream, by Ngurunderi.

The powerful Ngurunderi is the most significant Ancestral Being for Tanganekald people. One episode of the story of Ngurunderi tells of him chasing Pondi, the Murray Cod, down the River Murray, creating the twists and turns of the waters as they travelled. Ngurunderi's brother-in-law Nepeli spears Pondi at Raukkan and Ngurunderi joins him there. Ngurunderi cuts Pondi into pieces. He then throws pieces of Pondi's flesh back into the water where each piece becomes a different type of Coorong fish. The diversity of fish in the Coorong channel link back to these Ancestral Beings. Another of Ngurunderi's many adventures has him chasing his wives along the coast through Ramindjeri country (where Victor Harbour stands today) and eventually over to Kangaroo Island. In doing so he creates a pathway to the land of the dead. He then throws his canoe into the sky and creates the Milky Way.
Ngurunderi and Pondi

Ngurunderi and Pondi © Jacob Stengle 2021

Ngurunderi's Journey

Legend: 1 – Ngurunderi and the Murray Cod, 2 – Ngurunderi chases the Murray Cod, 3 – The Cod is speared, 4 – Ngurunderi makes camp by the lake, 5 – Ngurunderi chases his wives who escape by raft, 6 – Ngurunderi fights a sorcerer, 7 – Ngurunderi camps by the Coorong, 8 – Ngurunderi continues the chase, 9 – Ngurunderi enters the spirit world.

Prupe and Koromarange were sisters of the same ngaitji. Prupe became increasingly evil and blind as she ate up nearly all of the children in the district. Prupe was determined to eat Koromarange's granddaughter, Koakanggi, and to steal her eyes. Prupe lures Koakanggi to her camp, but Koromarange discovers the plot and tricks Prupe into releasing Koakanggi. Prupe ends up burning down her own camp. There is a crater at Magrath Homestead named Prupangawand where the fire happened. 

Koromarange © Jacob Stengle 2021

Peinyali the emu and Porolgi the brolga is a well-documented story from the south of Tanganekald country. Peinyali hides all but two of her eggs as she is jealous of Porolgi. Peinyali claims that she destroyed the others and Porolgi is tricked into also destroying all but two of her eggs. When Porolgi discovers the trickery she is devastated. In revenge, she and her husband lure Peinyali and her family to cross to an island to feast on native currants. The brolga family causes the water to rise, drowning Peinyali's children. The children can still be seen there today as the Granites (17 km north of Kingston).

Emu and Brolga © Jacob Stengle 2021

The Granites © Christina Skujins 2021

A fragment of this story was recorded by Norman Tindale in the 1930s. The story of the Dog and Seal gives an insight into how Tanganekald people see the world around us and story is used to communicate this knowledge and experience. It also shows how we come to see kinds of animals as interrelated rather than separate.
The Fur Seal Wentwingarrakuangi used to live on the land and the Wild Dog lived in the sea. The Fur Seal barked like a dog, as it does now. Once they met and made a bargain. 'You can get along better in the water' the Dog said to Seal. 'I could get along better on the shore; give me your teeth, I'll give you mine'. They exchanged teeth and the seal took to the sea while the dog now always lives on the land.

Dog and Seal © Jacob Stengle 2022