Tiwi Ceremonies

Ceremonies play an important role in Tiwi culture. Considering the fact that the Tiwi culture is an oral one, difficulties arise when trying to write definitely. Each ceremony had its own form, and can vary depending upon the circumstances of the time. However, the present day situation and its effects on these rites has a precedent in past tradition. There are two main ceremonial events performed, an annual one, the Kulama ceremony and the mortuary or Pukumani ceremony.


The Kulama ceremony occurs towards the end of the wet season and is an annual celebration of life. The ceremony involves three days and three nights of ritual body painting, singing, dancing and eating yams.

Concentric circles often appear as the main element of contemporary Tiwi patterns, representing the Kulama circle or ceremonial dancing ground. Artist, Maria Josette Orsto, describes Kulama as “very important to Tiwi. When the rain finishes, the Tiwi start Kulama. Kulama ceremony is good for health, good hunting, initiation and good marriage.”


The Pukumani ceremony occurs approximately six months after the deceased has been buried. As Jane Goodale states, “The Tiwi regard the Pukumani as the most important ceremony in a person’s life in the world of the living, and even though the Mobuditi (spirit of one dead) has been released, the person’s existence in the living world is not finished until the completion of the ceremony. To the Tiwi the entire focus of the ceremony is on the person now in the grave. This attitude results in the consistent variations in cast and script”. Jane Goodale, ‘Tiwi Wives’, University of Washington Press, C.1971

The performance of this ceremony ensures that the mobiditi goes from the living world into the spirit world. Prior to the ceremony, in laws are commissioned to carve tall totemic poles. These are placed around the burial site during the ceremony. These poles symbolise the status and prestige of the deceased. The Pukumani ceremony allows Tiwi full expression of their grief. It is a public ceremony and provides a forum for artistic expression through song, dance, sculpture and body painting.