Songman Roy Ashley Waṉapuyŋu was dedicated to maintaining and passing on his people’s language, stories, songs and cultural knowledge.

7 June 2019

Roy, who passed away in early 2017, was from the Wägilak people of the Dhuwa Dhurili clans. He was the senior Waṉapuyŋu Dhukuyuna leader, with the important role of looking after songs, ceremonies and history.

His legacy lives on through the Wägilak project – a collaboration with the SharingStories Foundation, which is an organisation passionate about maintaining language and culture through digital technology and artistic forms.
SharingStories worked with Roy, other senior custodians and young and old community members to record ancient songs and stories.

One of these is the story of how Gaṉdjaḻaḻa, a Wägilak Creation Ancestor, laid down law, language, ceremonies and knowledge in songs – to provide a map for living.

‘That Yolngu (creator) went travelling through the country, empowering the land as he sang and danced. Calling out and giving names to trees and whatever he came across, way back when time began. He sang everything into being, he sang a tree song, a leaf song, a flower song, a river song, a water song, a fish song. He sang everything,’ Roy told SharingStories founder Liz Thompson.

SharingStories took over 30 community members to important cultural sites along the Gaṉdjaḻala Ancestral Dreaming Track where they learnt stories and songs from Roy. 

‘That song is the only way to take the spirit back. Young fellas have to keep that song strong. We’ll be finished up somewhere and we want the next generation to come through so they can sing for our Wägilak spirit,’ Roy said during the project. 
The dances of Gaṉdjaḻaḻa were enacted on Country and captured through video, audio recordings and art work. 

Not only was Roy committed to passing on knowledge to Wägilak young people, he also believed balanda (whitefellas) should understand Wägilak relationship with Country and culture.

‘Your map is bitumen, your map is road, but our map is not the paper. We don’t carry around the rolls and rolls of paper. Our map is our song that will guide us wherever we go. We like to share out that song, share it out to you, to understand black fella way. Aboriginal way,” Roy once said.

Performances of ceremonial songs and dances of Gaṉdjaḻala were set against original artworks, using projection and shadow screens. Vibrant animated interpretations of the story have also been collated in a multi-touch bilingual book. With interactive maps, drone, video footage, photographs and more, this book will soon be available through iTunes.

Roy Ashley Waṉapuyŋu has more than fulfilled his role and dream of caring for and transferring Wägilak language, stories, songs and cultural knowledge for future generations.

Photo credit: Photo of Songman Roy Ashley Waṉapuyŋu sharing his enormous knowledge courtesy of SharingStories’ ©Liz Thompson

Find out more:

Watch the videos, courtesy of the SharingStories Foundation, on the 2019 International Year of Indigenous Languages page
Visit the SharingStories website
Share your story
Find out what’s on in the IY2019 Calendar of Activities