Australian Aboriginal Hollow Log Coffin / Bone Container – Arnhem Land

SKU: OA-202.1003 Category:


Medium: Wood, Natural earth pigments
Dimensions: H. 52.75
Origin: Arnhem Land, Northern Territory, Australia
Provenance: James Pongrass Collection, James Davidson Collection, Melbourne, Australia
Davidson was a well known collector and author on numerous works on Aboriginal and Pacific Island Art.
Exhibited: Pelham von Stoffler Gallery, Houston 1978, Private Museum, Xiamen, China 2011, Katy Contemporary Art Museum, Katy, Texas, Vertical Sculpture 2014 University of Houston Community College 2015

A hollow log coffin is a type of coffin used by the Yolngu people of Arnhem Land, Australia. It consists of a tree trunk hollowed out by termites and painted by a clan member of the deceased, with the bones placed inside. Hollow log coffins are also known as dupun, lorrkkon, djalumbu, badurru, mudukundja, mululu, and larajeje in Aboriginal languages. (Ref. Wikipedia)

Lorrkon or hollow log coffins are central to the funeral ceremony practiced by the Kuninjku people of Western Arnhem Land. The hollow logs, which housed the ochred bones of the deceased person, were painted with clan designs and placed into the ground where they were left to decay naturally. The meaning of this work is restricted and not for public knowledge.
This hollow logs reverberate with the power of ancestral beings who inhabit Western Arnhem Land.

The Lorrkon or bone pole coffin ceremony was the final ceremony in a sequence of mortuary rituals celebrated by the people of Arnhem Land. This ceremony involves the placing of the deceased’s bones into a hollow log which was decorated with painted clan designs and ceremonially placed into the ground where it remained until it slowly decayed over many years. The log is made from a termite hollowed Stringybark tree (Eucalyptus tetrodonta) and is decorated with totemic emblems.

The western Arnhem Land version of the Lorrkon ceremony involves the singing of sacred songs to the accompaniment of karilkarl, a pair of sacred boomerangs used as rhythm instruments.

During the final evening of the ceremony, dancers decorate themselves with kapok down, or today, cotton wool and conduct much of the fi nal segments of the ceremony in the secrecy of a restricted men’s camp. The complete ceremony may stretch over a period of two weeks, but on the last night the bones of the deceased which have been kept in a bark container or today wrapped in cloth and kept in a suitcase are taken out, are painted with red ochre and placed inside the hollow log. This ceremony may take place many years after the person has died.

At first light on the fi nal morning of the Lorrkon ceremony, the men appear, coming out of their secret bush camp carrying the pole towards the women’s camp. The two groups call to each other using distinct ceremonial calls. The women have prepared a hole for the pole to be placed into and when it is stood upright, women in particular kinship relationships to the deceased dance around the pole in a jumping/shuffl ing motion. The Lorrkon is then often covered with a tarpaulin and left to slowly decay. (Ref. ArtPhilein Foundation)