Rest in Peace amala, my old Mummy, who always told me that I didn’t treat my husband right, whose company I adored. (If one could explain the art of witty, acerbic conversation in Yolŋu-matha, and the skilful play on words, switching across and back between languages.) Countless hours together in company under the mango tree, weaving, talking, smoking and drinking tea (and amala would often break into song, so quietly, half facing away). She taught my dhuway what it meant to be a son-in-law and he duly avoided her as his mokul, sending gifts and care through his galay, my brothers and sisters. She was my amala and I was her waku.
It was amala’s Mother’s country that I came to call my own. It was her father’s country that we footwalked to, to scour the rocks for oysters. To stop in the dry and rest. I was never the most adept hunter, or gatherer, for that matter, and so often stayed behind to look after amala (her brain already slightly gapu-mirri). Chattering away even when I dozed off. Sometimes amala mistook the shower for a toilet and sometimes I’d wake up just in time to catch her trying to light a fire inside to keep the sandflies from biting me as I slept. One could only half sleep, but I so loved this time that we spent together.
Amala was a Gälpu woman, daughter of GuliGuli and Gunanu (a Warramiri woman), sixth wife of Gaṯiri, mother of Banambuŋa, Yethun, and Djirarrwuy. She was also mother to the children of her sister Gulanu (same mother same father), her co-wife, Gatiri’s second wife: Dhonbu, Wäṉba, Galitju and Buwana, Wamuwandi, Maṯi-Maṯi, Wuthaŋi and Dhatmula. She was mother, too, to the children of her sister Dhupi (same mother same father), also her co-wife, Gaṯiri’s fourth wife: Waluŋba and Barmula, Mirara, Yäku-miriw (marrkap’), Batumbil and Ŋalala. Gaṯiri’s first, third and fifth, seventh and eighth wives were also their close kin. Close kin and co-wives, they had thirty two children among and between them, and each and all helped to raise the other, to grow them up. All the sisters, all mothers to their waku. Amala was the last surviving wife of (the late) Gaṯiri.
Among the many things that I learned from amala was the fact that there is no legitimate power without responsibility and nurturance in equal measure, and conversely, when there is no power there is an absolute responsibility (on the part of others), to carry and hold, to care for and look after. Ama’ was old and weak in her later years, and sometimes confused, but she was always in the breast of kin and ever enmeshed within the networks of relatedness that she herself, in part, had woven.
Amala was born and died on country. She passed away peacefully on her Mother’s country on Thursday afternoon, surrounded by kin who were singing her home as she left.
Back to the collective womb, the water of the eye.
Goodnight amala. I love you, and I will be there to help carry you home.