5 Things To Know About The Garma Festival

Garma Highlights (2022) by Butter Media Pty LtdYothu Yindi Foundation

Nhämirri nhe? Hi, how are you?

The Garma Festival is Australia’s leading indigenous cultural exchange event, an annual celebration of Yolŋu culture held in the in the country’s remote north.

Here are five things you should know about the gathering:

Garma Festival cultural talk panel (2022) by Teagan GlenaneYothu Yindi Foundation

1. The Garma Festival is a place for learning

The word 'Garma' is Yolŋu matha (language) for "two-way learning process". It is a place where the freshwater and the saltwater meet, where old and young, Yolŋu and balanda (non-Indigenous people) come together as one. Garma is an important meeting point for the clans and families of the region.

Spear making workshop (2022) by Peter EveYothu Yindi Foundation

Hosted by the Yothu Yindi Foundation, the event is a 4-day celebration of Yolŋu life and culture, showcasing traditional miny'tji (art), manikay (song), buŋgul (dance) and story-telling.

Gumatj dancers performing buŋgul (2022) by Melanie Faith DoveYothu Yindi Foundation

2. Garma is held on sacred ground

Garma is held at a significant Gumatj ceremonial site, Gulkula, about 40km from the township of Gove in Australia’s Northern Territory. 

Gulkula is the home of the mighty Yolngu ancestor Ganbulapula, a master of the ceremonies who brought the yiḏaki (didgeridoo) into existence, and named all the places and trees and animals in the area.

Yolŋu kids (2022) by Melanie Faith DoveYothu Yindi Foundation

The site has a storied modern history, too, having been used as a rocket-tracking station in the 1960’s, and – more recently – as a commercial rocket-launching facility.

Gumatj kids getting ready for buŋgul (2022) by Melanie Faith DoveYothu Yindi Foundation

3. Who are the Yolŋu ?

The Yolŋu are First Nations people of north-eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia. Yolŋu means "person" in the Yolŋu language.

The Yolŋu world is all about balance. A world in harmony. It is a world governed by the complex kinship system of gurrutu, and one guided by Yolŋu rom (law) and song-cycles.

Knowledge Centre stars (2022) by Peter EveYothu Yindi Foundation

As the late Gumatj leader Yunupingu explained:

“A song cycle tells a person’s life: it relates to the past, to the present and to the future. Yolŋu balance our lives through the song cycles that are laid out on the ceremony grounds. It is through the song cycles that we acknowledge our allegiance to the land, to our laws, to our life, to our ancestors and to each other.”

Painting for the evening buŋgul (2022) by Butter Media Pty LtdYothu Yindi Foundation

4. Get ready to dance

The evening buŋgul (traditional dance) is undoubtedly one of Garma’s highlights.

Each sunset, together with the call of the yidaki (didjeridoo), and the rhythm of the bilma (clapsticks), the voices of the Yolŋu songmen can be heard throughout Gulkula, summoning all to the dance grounds.

Gumatj buŋgul ceremony (2022) by Teagan GlenaneYothu Yindi Foundation

This is a ceremonial tradition as old as any in the world. The music, the songs, the dances and stories, contain a vast database of cultural knowledge, carefully preserved, maintained and passed down from one generation to the next.

Women's buŋgul (2019)Yothu Yindi Foundation

On occasions, Garma guests are invited to take part in the action, and Yolŋu and balanda (non-Indigenous) dance together as one. 

Galpu girl taking part in buŋgul (2022) by Teagan GlenaneYothu Yindi Foundation

5. Leave your expectations at home

Many guests describe Garma as a life-changing experience. 

Life-long friendships are formed at Garma (2022) by Teagan GlenaneYothu Yindi Foundation

As senior Djapu woman Yananymul Mununggurr explains, the event is one that challenges pre-conceived ideas and notions:
"When you come to Garma, you should bring the expectation that you will be changed. You should bring a willingness to change."

Young yolngu enjoying the Garma Festival (2022) by Leicolhn McKellarYothu Yindi Foundation

"You should bring new ears, ready to hear, and new hearts, ready to feel. Bring your lives and energies, and be ready to respond.”

Garma Festival draws in clans from across northeast Arnhem Land (2022) by Teagan GlenaneYothu Yindi Foundation

Are you ready for the Garma Festival? 
Look for the sacred Gumatj ceremonial site at Gulkula that is home to this incredible event.

The Gulkula
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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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