For the sake of a song

Tjinbarambara (Seagull)

TRACK 5 (Moy68-02-s2) Song 2: Tjinbarambara

Sung text  Free translation 
aa karra tjinbarambara kala-nö dirr  Ah, seagull is closing its beak [going to die] 
nganggu-ga kaya yawa-ndha  Our [seagull] is truly always there 

Alice Moyle recorded Jimmy Muluk singing ‘Tjinbarambara’ (Seagull) in 1968, at the same tourist corroborree as ‘Puliki’. Like ‘Puliki,’ this song survives to the present day. As recently as 2006, Marett heard it sung in a tourist corroborree by Colin Worumbu Ferguson and Robert Gordon, both of whom were recorded singing Jimmy Muluk songs as boys in the 1960s (see track 3). The Emmi-Mendhe word tjinbarambara ‘seagull’ appears to be cognate with the Marri Tjavin word tjinmel (chapter 8, track 39), and here refers to the Seagull totemic ancestor. Our consultants explained the significance of ‘closing the beak’ as an image of death. [72] ‘Tjinbarambara’ has a through-composed couplet text whose linguistic form remains identical throughout the song. In this track, however, Muluk presents part of the text in an unusual musical form: there is a strong vocal diminuendo throughout text phrase 2, to the point where it is almost inaudible by the end. Nobody today is able to explain why Muluk sang text phrase 2 in this way. The same phrase is presented at a normal volume in Colin Worumbu Ferguson’s performance of the same song (track 6). When Muluk spoke this text for Alice Moyle (Moy68-07), he clearly enunciated both text phrases, with no corresponding diminuendo.

It is perhaps significant that text phrase 2 is the element of the song that makes it clear that Seagull is a totemic ancestor. We may speculate that Muluk uses diminuendo here in order to obscure the totemic significance of the song, just as the Buffalo dance performed for tourists suppresses the interpretation of ‘Puliki’ as totemic Buffalo ancestor. Alice Moyle did not elicit a Seagull story to explain this song, and we have not been able to either. Perhaps the story is no longer known, or perhaps there is some sensitivity about it.

Song structure summary


Rhythmic mode 5c (fast uneven quadruple)

Melodic section 1

Text phrase 1

aa  karra  tjinbarambara  kala  -nö  dirr 
ah  SW  seagull  3MIN.A.R bite  PURP  tooth 

Ah, seagull is closing its beak [going to die]

Text phrase 2 (practically inaudible)

nganggu  -ga  kaya  yawa  -ndha 
1/2PRO  TOP  3MIN.S.R lie  3MIN.ANAPH.DEIC  really 

Our [seagull] is truly always there


Rhythmic mode 5c (fast uneven quadruple)