Noi6 means "the 6 of us" in Romanian.

We are five, you are the sixth one.

We thank you for joining us in our trip around the world...

Friday, April 27, 2012


Uluru? Where’s that? What would we do there? Why would we want to see a rock in the middle of the desert?

Sunrise at Uluru, with the Kata Tjuta in the left background
Aborigine is the name of one tribe of native Australians, the only one that stayed, though there are numerous tribes. The ones who live in this area call themselves Anangu and speak two languages. Their hair, black and curly at birth, becomes blond when they are 5 of 6 years old, and slowly turns black toward adulthood.

We visit the cultural center first thing, so we understand what are we going to see. We are not allowed to take pictures inside, not even of the explanatory panels, and if we want to get an idea, we have to read them, then and there. Tom Tjamiwa said: “The tourist comes here with camera and takes pictures. What does he have? Another picture to take home, to keep a part of Uluru. Let him take a different lens–to see inside. He won’t see a big rock. He will see Kuniya living inside, from the beginning. He could throw his camera then ...”
Tjukurpa (pronounced Tchoo-koor-pah) or Knowledge, teaches us that in the beginning the land was flat, without any formations, and the ancestors, in their sleep, started dreaming, and singing, and while moving, they created the mountains, the waters, the vegetation. This Creation is present today, it takes place now. Then, in time, came other events, that changed a little bit their new face. Every place, where the ancestors stepped, is a holy place, and men, just some of them, know the songs. They sing them in short sequences of 20-30 seconds, a crescent one, punctuated by a few staccato notes. They repeat the process several times. A short break, like they don’t know what comes next, they look at each other, exchange two words, and then restart, moving with the rhythm. The men accompany themselves with two sticks, while others paint the song on the stone, with ochre (tutu is red ochre, untanu is yellow ochre). Women draw the story in the sand with their fingers and then they dance it back in the Earth. Through song, dance, drawings and stories people participate in the Creation, they become Creation.
The documentaries from the Cultural Center show some incomplete dances, the story about Liru (Lee-ruh) and Kuniya (Kooneeya) or about the Mala (Mahlah) people. We can’t receive all the information, because we are not prepared. The ones who are interested in it have to spend many years in the community, they have to be invited to participate in the ceremonies, and even after this, they still don’t have access to all of it. Tjukurpa has to be carried in your heart and in your mind, these are the best places for the immense quantity of information about the world and people, how to take care of it, how to behave with our brothers. There is a huge responsibility in sharing the information how much, to whom, when, because it can be lost, or the one receiving it is not sufficiently prepared, or he can share it and the consequences... words can’t prepare us for them.
Wild fig, they will be red when ripe

Uluru (Oo-loo-rooh) is much too circulated to do the usual ceremonies. They do the vast majority at Kata Tjuta (Kha-tah Tchoo-tah), some rocks almost as big and from the same material, but 40 km from Uluru. If you walk, on a slightly winding road, toward some waterholes, it would take you two or three days, gathering food from the bush: here some purple fruits high in vitamin C, or some wild figs, there some tubers, maybe later you will find some honey ants (their body gets swollen with a sweet liquid and becomes transparent; the aborigines hold their head and feet and eat their body), men hunt birds and animals, and so they walk during the day, burn the grass (and so the earth will regenerate, the cones will open and seeds will get out), pick up some dried eucalyptus branch to make a didgeridoo, tell a story around the fire, and they arrive where they intended. The name of the rocks can not be told, it is holy, but they have a generic name: Kata Tjuta, Many Heads. The white man named them Olgas, and I, as I was in a hurry and couldn’t remember it, named them Katiushas.
The many heads of Kata Tjuta

They are isolated, the tourists come by bus to see the sunset and take a short walk to a belvedere point. But there is a circuit of 6 miles (8.4 km) the Valley of the Winds that goes around and in between the rocks. It is the only track that we are allowed to walk on, following the blue triangle mark. From afar they look like some rounded, orange-red rocks. 

As we come closer their surface becomes rough, freckled with black and we can see the smaller round rocks held together by a red cement. From place to place they fall out of their place, leaving behind an orbit, like they were looking at you.

We’re almost alone on this circuit, if you don’t count the Chinese couple and two other guys. Theoretically, we could walk wherever we want, but I feel like we’re under a crow’s surveillance. We were in a high pass between two Kata Tjutas, eating our lunch, when the crow signaled to one of her sisters that she is coming closer.

Lunch view

 She landed on a high rock. I thought she was hungry and she came for alms, as in India, but I was mistaken; she looked at us for a while, came closer still, through a bush, she talked some more, and then took flight, ignoring the bread crumbs. If we take a different road, she will tell on us, and we will lose our way, we will be bewitched by the spirits, and the ancestors who live there, will send their descendants, maybe a poisonous snake, or a different living being, to punish us for our affront. Better on the good track, between grasses and eucalyptuses.

Back in the parking lot we grab the foldable chairs from the car and find a good spot to watch the daily show of the sunset. Next to us are some tourists who eat an appetizer and drink wine. Maria is reading on her iPod, Ileana is listening to music, Ioan is filming and talks with his father, and I am taking pictures. The light changes, the rocks become redder, then a glowing ember, that fades slowly away.

On our way back we stop to see the light turned off under a new moon.

A brand new day is announced by numerous winged creatures, each in its own language. This is the day that we walk around Uluru. We hurry up to be at 8 o’clock at Mala Point, where a ranger will explain things about Uluru and the Anangu, while we walk toward a gorge. We are a little bit late, the discussion already started and I can’t ask why there is a fence on the rock. Martha, that’s the ranger’s name, tells us about the medicinal properties of some bushes, how aboriginals are preparing them stewed, dried, burned. She is telling about the unique ecosystem found here in the middle of the desert, but with plenty of water, because of the rock, how it was affected by whites (they came with their ideas, cutting trees left and right, hunting whatever was in front of the barrel, making roads as they saw fit, without asking the Anangu, the traditional owners); how they are trying now to redress it (they replant bushes and plants, but still need 30 years or more to reintroduce the possums). She told us how some species of eucalyptus auto-amputate big branches in times of draught, to save the trunk. In time those branches hollow up, making a good house for a possum or a bird.

As we follow her as a herd, we stop to admire some designs on the rock, a place with a masculine significance. Here they used to bring the boys, nyiinka, who were ready to become a man, wati. Not age, but the interest in Tjukurpa, selected them. And while they were painting on the rock with different tones of ochre, the grandparents explained them the meaning. Education continued years on end, through the desert, what to hunt and when, to survive, how to read a place, how to take care of it, how to insure that he will have food in the years to come. The girls, kungkas, learn all the time, since they are little girls, which bushes are good for food, how to cook them, to prepare them and as they grow, how to behave, what to look for in their future husband. The adults are responsible for gathering the food and they share, so there is no waste of food or work. The one who receives gets in moral debt, the one who gives is rich! The elders are respected for their age, knowledge and wisdom. They are the ones who take care of the little ones, observing them in their play, “reading” their interests, teaching them what they need to know.
We walk a little bit more and arrive at an oval cave, full of feminine energy and men should do better than look, or they’re going to lose their powers. Something terrible happened here. The Mala men came from North and wanted to have a ceremony. Some of their old people climbed Uluru and started, while their women prepared the food. In the meantime, the Wintalka men came from the West and invited the Mala people to one of their feast, but the Mala could not interrupt their ceremony without losing it, so they had to refuse. Hearing this, the Wintalka wanted to punish them and created a monster, Kurpany, who could transform in any animal. Close by this cave, lived Luunpa, a bird woman, and she saw Kurpany as a dingo. She cried out and the Mala women heard her and run, but not all of them. Their footsteps remained on Uluru. And that’s how the Mala men where pushed South and they didn’t finish their ceremony.

On the wall you can see a Mala footprint
Now we are close to a waterhole. Everything is green around us, many trees, grasses, all taking their drink from the water dripping from Uluru. It is a holy place, like any water hole from this red desert. 

That’s why we stop and talk before entering it. She shows us a 500 years old tree that was cut 30 years ago by a white man because he thought it blocked the view. Now we sit on benches made from dead wood, placed after Anangu recommendations. Martha shows us different objects that Anangu use in their everyday life: a panel made of bark, dried around the fire to curb in a special way. This panel has at one end a hook or a sharpened rock glued with resin, a vegetal glue. With it they can carry, or dig, or cut. Another thing was a ring made of dried grass, covered by soft feathers that women put on their heads to carry objects. She told us about an 80-year-old woman who needed a walker, but carried three eggs on her head!

Martha holding the everyday tool
The tour stops here, but we continue clockwise around the rock at a distance of a few hundred yards. From time to time we stop to take pictures and drink water.  Though is 9 o’clock, the sun is hot and our sweat transforms in salt. The straight road is boring compared with the one from the Valley of the Winds, but Uluru’s face changes all the time.

 I have cramps in my neck as I look over my right shoulder to watch its metamorphosis. There are entire sections where we are asked to respect the Anangus’ wish not to take pictures. There are holy places that we admire in silence. I don’t know what are the stories about, but the cracks and the shadows create a man at the end of a road or a severe bird. This wish extends to the circular road, where there are signs for no stopping.

And we arrive where Kuniya, the woman-serpent, fought with Liru, the poisonous snake. Kuniya came from the East, carrying her eggs around her neck and she takes good care of them, so the children will hatch. From the southwest came Liru, and he attacked a nephew of Kuniya, and killed him. Then Kuniya had to gather all her power to revenge her nephew. Look at her how quick she comes.

In the upper right corner she's coming and on the left side she is transforming into a woman.
She transforms into a woman and she makes a ceremony, to produce poison to punish Liru, because he didn’t follow the customs, to take care of her nephew. She drops on her knees and plunges her fighting stick in the ground then she pours sand over her body to protect her from her poison. When she found Liru, weakened by the poison, she approached him dancing akuta (women’s dance of those who want to fight). She struck him with her stick and he fell down, but he was able to revive. Then she struck him a second time, and this time, he died. After that, she turned herself back into a snake and she’s surveying all the visitors.

On the left side, the short diagonal is the first strike, the long vertical one is the second. At the base, next to tree is her head.
In the end I got my answer for the fence: it is the marked trail upward Uluru. At the base, in a visible place there are memorial plaques for the people who climbed, fell and found their death. There is a long-time controversy: the Australian authorities allow climbing on  Uluru, the Anangu ask us to respect the holiness of the place and not climb. Besides that the track is very difficult, steep, in the wind’s way, without water, but there is no toilet facilities (it takes 4-5 hours to climb up and almost the same to climb down). The tourists who choose climbing Uluru pollute the waterholes, beside profaning the place.

In the Cultural Center there is a Sorry Book, put together from letters sent by people who climbed Uluru or that had taken rocks. After years of feeling followed by an adverse destiny, they sent back the stones and their apologies, asking the Anangu placate the spirits on their behalf. One guy sent back the shoes that he climbed with to be buried close by. Martha told us that Anangu gather these objects for 3-4 years, after which they take some unknown place and do a ceremony. They don’t curse their holy places, to punish others for their disobedience, but they do try to dispel the bad feelings in the rocks.

After a short break at the camp we return to see the sunset. The long parking lot is almost full. Some people are installed comfortably with tables and chairs with some food and wine, some are standing behind their tripod mounted cameras, some are looking for a better angle. I follow someone’s example and climb on top of the car.
I look at the rock and give myself the answers to the beginning’s questions: 

Uluru is close to Australia’s heart... 

it belongs to a special world...

it enriches us...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comment form message here