Organized by the Kluge-Ruhe Aboriginal Art Collection

Bol’ŋu | The Thunderman

Bol’ŋu (Thunder Man) embodies the rising clouds of the monsoon season. Bol’ŋu is often depicted with a spear overhead, which refers to the rising clouds. During the Waŋarr (ancestral times), Bol’ŋu travelled south from the Wessel Islands, through various Dhuwa moiety clans’ Country. He was both man and cloud, the heavy cloud wolma which brings the first rains of the wet season. He traveled in the clouds, and rain fell when he urinated.

We hold up the ḻarrpan (spear/cloud) at the place called Garŋga (Waṉḏawuy), performing the ceremony for Bol’ŋu, the Thunderman. We sing the songline to make the clouds gather and turn into rain. And when it rains, the water flows. The name of that water is Gurryalayala. And when the water flows, we sing the songlines of the inland area, such as the song of the anthills that build up when it rains, and that of the tree called Guḻuwu, also known as Biṯpit and Dhämulŋu. And we sing of the bird called Beyiwiyik and of the praying mantis that climbs upon that tree. And then we sing of the brown pigeon that lands on the tree and watches the water called Gurryalayala. Yes, he will hear the rushing of the river as it comes down from the place called Djätjiwuy. And our water will change and float out. These waters are known as Gapu-Marawiyin, Gapu-Yuḻku, Gapu- Dhawuṉwuṉu and Gapu-Dhawaḻpanḏi, and they run down in a current through Gandji, Ḏambutjthun, Rarrawanga and Djumbililŋu. From that point on, the water flows straight.


As Bol’ŋu travelled through the country, the Dhuwa clouds and the rain followed him. Rivers and creeks and springs with freshwater for the dry season formed. And he said to himself, “Let it be like this, always.” As he passed by Bol’ŋu named the rivers and springs at the sites he visited. He named trees and antbeds, and these are still the names for all these things at these places.

In each clan’s Country, Bol’ŋu gave ceremony and law to the people. He taught songs and dances and the designs that belong to each of the clans, and he taught initiation ceremony to make the young boys men. The song cycle describing his travels is sung at these ceremonies.

The Dhuwa clans that sing Bol’ŋu all have a special piece of rainforest belonging to Bol’ŋu. From this rainforest, small thunder clouds rise from each territory. They also belong to Bol’ŋu. He has brought them all together. When curved lines are painted these are representative of his spear but also the clouds from the territory of the following clans: Rirratjiŋu; Ḏäṯiwuy; Ŋaymil; Djapu’; Djambarrpuyŋu; Bararrŋu and Dhudi Djapu’.