For the sake of a song

Rak Badjalarr

TRACK 1 (Mar86-04-s07) Song 1: Rak Badjalarr

Sung text   Free Translation  
rak badjalarr-maka bangany-nyung(repeated)ii winmedje ngan-dji-nyene  [I am singing] for the sake of a song for my ancestral country, North Peron IslandI am [sitting] eating oysters 

Badjalarr is North Peron Island, the ancestral country (rak) to which Lambudju inherited rights through his father. It lies to the north of the mouth of the Daly River. It is regarded as dangerous to all but senior traditional owners and those properly introduced to the country by them, for it is the land of the dead for the Wadjiginy and others living at Belyuen. It is inhabited by Wunymalang ghosts, who can come from Badjalarr to Belyuen to give songs to songmen. This dangerous aspect of the song is reflected in the rhythmic setting of its text (see below).

The opening text phrase, rak badjalarr-maka bangany-nyung (‘for the sake of a song for my ancestral country, North Peron Island’) contains an ellipsis, which was clarified by Lambudju when he spoke the text and added the words, nga-bindjan-ng (‘I am singing,’) to provide the meaning, ‘I am singing for the sake of a song for my ancestral country, North Peron Island’). And yet the meaning is still not clear until one understands that we are hearing the words of a Wunymalang, and that ‘for the sake of’ means, ‘for the sake of [giving you] a song for my ancestral country, North Peron Island.’ Sung in ceremony, however, we hear the voice of the living singer declaring that he is singing for the sake of providing the participants with a song about his country, North Peron Island. Badjalarr is one of several sites in the Daly region mentioned by name in Lambudju’s songs. The dangerous aspect of Badjalarr is reflected in the fact that the rhythmic setting disguises the word by setting it as if the words were, ‘Rakba djala.’ When sung, rakba sounds like rak-pe, which has been glossed elsewhere as ‘eternal country.’ So dangerous is Badjalarr that its name cannot be spoken for fear of calling down the wrath of the ancestral ghosts on the head of the speaker. Even Lambudju himself disguised the name when he spoke about it: ‘Rak badjalarr bangany, bangany-nyung nga-bindja-ng, which means that’s the name of the place, djalarr …’

The text phrase about eating oysters refers to the fact that Badjalarr provides food for its children, and oysters are abundant there. Oysters also abound around the Cox Peninsula where Lambudju and most other Wadjiginy live, thus providing a link between their ancestral country and their current place of residence. This text phrase also contains an ellipsis: the final word ngami (‘I sit’) is supplied in the spoken version, but is not sung. This song and its significance are discussed in greater detail in Marett’s book Songs, dreamings and ghosts (2005).

This chapter includes six versions of ‘Rak Badjalarr’, two sung by Lambudju himself (from 1986 and 1962), one by his adoptive brother, Rusty Benmele Moreen (from 1961), one by Lawrence Wurrpen (1961) and two by Colin Worumbu Ferguson, the singer who has inherited Lambudju’s songs (from 1997 and 2008). These provide insights into how a song can develop over time and as it is passed from songman to songman. Note that all of these singers apart from Wurrpen—who was not a central member of the lineage—use the conspicuous vocalisations in the instrumental section so typical of Lambudju’s own performances. See table 7.3 in the music analysis section of this chapter for detailed discussion of the musical changes in these six versions.

Song structure summary


Melodic section 1

Text phrases 1-5

Rhythmic mode 5d (fast uneven triple)

rak  badjalarr  -maka  bangany  -nyung 
father’s country  place name  for  song  DAT 

[I am singing] for the sake of a song for my ancestral country, North Peron Island

Melodic section 2

Text phrase 6

Rhythmic mode 5d (fast uneven triple)

ii  winmedje  ngan  -dji  -nyene 
SW  oyster  1MIN.A/3AUG.O   eat 

I am [sitting] eating oysters


Rhythmic mode 5d (fast uneven triple)