Dennis Nona Mutuk 2009
Etching on Lenox paper 188 x 512cm paper size
In past times on Badu, customs and laws were rigorously enforced. All Badu people were obliged to share with each other and support the kwod (a group of highly respected men). Every morning a man named Mutuk left the safety of his tree house to fish from a headland. He often caught an abundance of snapper and other reef fish. Members of the kwod became aware of Mutuk’s bountiful catches and were curious to know why he was not sharing them with his neighbours. To verify their suspicions, the kwod sent one of its members to Mutuk’s home. Below Mutuk’s tree house the kwod’s investigator found a huge pile of fish skeletons that he confiscated as evidence of Mutuk’s greed. Upon viewing the accumulation of bones, the kwod decided to punish Mutuk. Soon after, the puilaig (sorcerers) cast a spell on Mutuk by singing over his fish bones. The next time Mutuk went fishing, a large snapper slipped from his spear and slid down the rocks towards the water. Mutuk jumped into the water to retrieve the fish but was instantly swallowed by a huge alup aw baidam (bailer shell shark). The shark headed north, away from Badu in the direction of Boigu.
Becoming aware of Mutuk’s absence, the puilaig (sorcerers) were satisfied that their spell had worked. Soon after, the kwod began preparations for Mutuk’s funeral which was to be held at his home village Argan. While Mutuk was inside the shark’s belly, he could feel the shark’s depth by the temperature of the water. The currents were cold near the surface but warm down deep. After Mutuk experienced a prolonged period of cold temperature, he realised that the shark must be swimming over a reef. At that moment, Mutuk used the celalel (pipi shell) he had been holding when taken by the shark to cut himself out of the shark’s belly. Upon emerging, Mutuk found himself in waist-high water and within sight of Boigu.
As with all visitors, the Boigu people were initially hostile until Mutuk was recognised by a Badu woman. In fact, the woman was Mutuk’s sister who was married to a Boigu man. Several days after Mutuk’s arrival, the Boigu people decided to take him back to Badu in a canoe manned by warriors. As they set off, Mutuk’s sister observed a large flock of flying foxes heading south-east towards Nagir. In the Torres Strait these bat-like mammals are associated with patcap (very powerful magic). The formation of the flying foxes, the time of day at which they departed and their direction of flight were signs that something bad would soon happen to Mutuk. His siter became distraught with the foresight of this impending fate.
The Argan villagers were surprised and alarmed at Mutuk’s unexpected return, as the preparations for his funeral were in progress. Nevertheless, the kwod decided that he should be decapitated, thus sealing his fate.