News State Western Australia Festival engaging young people in WA’s West Kimberley

Festival engaging young people in WA’s West Kimberley

A dancer performing at the 2014 Mowanjum Festival.
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Thousands of tourists have flocked to a tiny Aboriginal community in the remote West Kimberley to see traditional song and dance come to life at the annual Mowanjum Festival.

The event is more than a celebration, with local elders hoping that passing on their culture will help address one of the highest youth suicide rates in the country.

Manager of the Mowanjum Aboriginal Art and Culture Centre Jenny Wright said young people who learnt about their culture coped much better than those who did not.

“Children and young people who engage with their culture, who work with their elders, who get a lot of bush trips, who’re strongly grounded in culture do a lot better than kids who don’t….who are floating, are lost, are not grounded in anything,” she said.

“And they’re the ones who suffer and have suffered in the community.”

Vice chair of the arts centre Kirsty Burgu said the festival was as much about healing as it was about fun.

“It’s who we are as Aboriginals,” she said.

“That’s why we get all the kids together so they can learn their culture and they can be strong as individuals.”

The festival celebrates the traditional culture and dances of the Ngarinyin, Worrorra and Wunambal people of Mowanjum.

Ms Wright said while it was the 17th official festival, it was the continuation of a traditional event.

“At this time of the year the young people would show their elders they know their culture, so it’s a really beautiful continuation of a very old tradition,” she said.

The festival provides a rare opportunity to see the stories, or junba, performed by local language groups.

Visitors learn how to paint with ochre, play didgeridoo and carve pictures into boab tree nuts.

“It’s all about us, the community, showing our culture to the outside world because we’ve got a really good culture,” Ms Burgu said.

“We’ve got dancers and good stories and we’d like to share that with other people.”