Learn more about Ngalbenbe (The Sun Story)

Ngalbenbe (The Sun Story) is an installation created by Lena Yarinkura and her daughter Yolanda Rostron which depicts an important ancestral activity in the cosmology of the Kune and Rembarrnga people of Arnhem Land. The sculptures within the installation are made from pandanus, paperbark (Melaleuca quinquenervia), feathers, rocks, sand, earth pigments and natural dyes. This work tells the story of Ngalbenbe (the sun) and the journey of three fishermen who head out to fish with their walabi (butterfly fish trap). Many stories like this inform behaviour and define knowledge and values, as Yarinkura explains:

Ngalbenbe is the sun. Beyond Ngalbenbe is another larger star, the mother of Ngalbenbe. Each morning Ngalbenbe rises through the sky and sets at night.

‘I am tired. Can I rest for just one day and you will rise?’ Ngalbenbe asks.

Ngalbenbe is the sun. Beyond Ngalbenbe is another larger star, the mother of Ngalbenbe. Each morning Ngalbenbe rises through the sky and sets at night.

‘I am tired. Can I rest for just one day and you will rise?’ Ngalbenbe asks.

‘No, I am too powerful, I cannot shine: if I rise, everything will die,’ says Ngalbenbe’s mother.[i]

Korokko (long ago), three bininj (men), Kodjok, Bulanj and Kamarrang, went hunting for djenj(fish). Bulanj and Kodjok are custodians for Ngalbenbe, and Kamarrang is djungkay (manager).They had a walabi (butterfly fish trap), but they struggled to hold it in the water because the river was too high. They appealed to Ngalbenbe and made a fire, a really hot fire, which made the sun shine brightly. The water level dropped and the hunters could place the fish trap in the river. They told everyone, ‘The water is dry now, we can go hunting for fish.’

In the past, people made kunkarlewobe (stick fence fish trap) at a place called Kukadjdjerre. There’s a little fish there called ngadjbel (mouth almighty) that would travel far up the river and bring back all the larger fish: bilmu (barramundi), barrhmanj (saratoga) and bikkurr (catfish). When there were no fish, people would do a painting of ngadjbel on a tree behind the fence, leave it overnight, and the next morning there would be plenty of fish. As custodians for Kukadjdjerre, wurum (fish-increasing spirits) look after the area and also call out for fish when people ask.

After a big catch, everyone would celebrate together. People sent mak(message stick) to spread the word. Singers and mako (didgeridoo) men would travel for the celebrations. That’s what they do when they tell people, they share bunggul (dance). Sharing fish and dancing together. We dance Karrh (Spider) and Manwodberr (Cocky apple). The songlines for Karrh and Ngalbenbe are together, they are family.[ii]

[i]Lena Yarinkura, 2018, personal communication to Michelle Culpitt.

[ii]Lena Yarinkura, 2020, personal communication to Chloe Gibbon.

Yolanda Rostron and Lena Yarinkura, Ankabarrbirri outstation, Northern Territory, 2020; image courtesy the artists and Maningrida Arts & Culture.

About the artists

Learn more about Lena Yarinkura and Yolanda Rostron


detail: Lena Yarinkura, Kune people, Northern Territory, born 1960, Buluhkaduru, Northern Territory, Ngalbenbe (sun story), 2018, Ankadbadberri, Northern Territory, pandanus (Pandanus spiralis), kurrajong (Brachychiton populneus), paperbark (Melaleuca quinquenervia), feathers, rocks, sand, earth pigments, natural dyes; Gift of the artist and acquisition through Tarnanthi: Festival of Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art supported by BHP 2019, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide, © Lena Yarinkura/Copyright Agency, photo: Grant Hancock.

Making and Responding

Sculpture, storytelling sounds and a focus on figures

More