At Fremantle Women’s Health Centre, we are committed to learning and increasing our understanding so that we can improve the ways in which we support our clients and community. We have recently purchased a beautiful and informative book called Traditional Healers of Central Australia: Ngangkari, an Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Women’s Council (NPYWC) publication. It is available as an on-site resource for clients when you visit us at the Centre. Traditional Healers of Central Australia: Ngangkari is described as “an absorbing collection of firsthand accounts by ngangkari (traditional healers from the NPY region) which traces personal histories from pre-contact times through to the present. It is a richly illustrated book featuring artworks by ngangkari and striking contemporary and historical photographs.”
According to the NPYWC, their core purpose “is to work with the women and their families of the NPY region in central Australia to increase their capacity to lead safe and healthy lives with improved life choices” (www.npywc.org.au). Part of this work includes their Ngangkari Project and this book is about the ngankari who are involved in this project and ngangkari Tjukurpa or “Aboriginal Law,‘Dreaming.’” Follow this link to watch a fascinating video from the NPYWC website, telling the mural story or history of the ngangkari: https://vimeo.com/57191252
“The Ngangkari Project aims to:
- provide Anangu from the NPY region with ngangkari traditional healing.
- promote the work and skills of ngangkari, as a means of ensuring their work is highly valued and respected within the broader mainstream mental health and public health system.
- educate health and mental health workers about the role and work of ngangkar
- provide direction for the development of culturally appropriate mental health services in the region.
The ngangkari believe that collaboration and mutual respect between western health and human services and ngangkari lead to the best outcomes for Anangu. They say western and Anangu practitioners have different but equally valuable skills and knowledge and both are needed to address the significant problems Anangu face” (www.npywc.org.au). The Anangu are Western Desert language speaking Aboriginal people.
This is part of Ilawanti Ken’s story from the book:
I started working as a nangkari in about 1999, but before then I kept my ngangkari skills hidden. I didn’t heal people in the open, I kept my treatments hidden for a long time. I’ve done a lot of healing work in my life, I’ve done a lot of ngangkari work, I’ve healed men, women and children. The children get well immediately after I’ve healed them. I became a healer because my two brothers are healers, and I used to travel with them in what we call marali. My brothers used to take me travelling on their spiritual journeys. (55)
This is part of Naomi Kantjuriny’s story from the book:
When in Ernabella, my ngangkari powers were awakened within me. Nobody gave me them, they just came to me alone. I’d give treatments and healings and make people well. I would give ngangkari healing treatments and make people well, which is what the work of ngangkari is all about. In later years I based myself in Kaltjiti, where I gave many healing treatments over the years. We call a healing treatment wirunymankupai and I use what is called mara ala, which means open hands. (48)
This is part of Maringka Burton’s story from the book:
My father had been a nangkari his whole life, and his mapanpa had been given to him by his father. When he finally did give me the mapanpa, I became mara ala – meaning, my hands became open, my forehead became open, and I could see everything differently. I was able to travel into the skies with other ngangkari, soaring around in the sky, travelling great distances, and coming back home in time for breakfast. Ngangkari travel around in the sky, just our spirits travelling, while our bodies remain sleeping on earth – our spirits join together and travel. My father taught me that. He taught me everything, carefully and slowly. (68-69)
Mapanpa means “ngangkari sacred tools” (268).
The effectiveness of the Ngangkari Project “in indigenous mental health was acknowledged in 2009 with a prestigious award from the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Psychiatrists, and also with the Dr Margaret Tobin Award for excellence in mental health service delivery” (www.npywc.org.au). Their book, Traditional Healers of Central Australia: Ngangkari, won the 2013 Deadly Awards for Published Book of the Year.
We will be updating our Facebook page and website with more inspiration, excerpts, and wisdom from this fantastic book, so please keep an eye out in the future.