Tunga bark container by Rhonda Kompoo (MMA 2004.34.3)
This bark container (called a tunga), was made by Aboriginal Australian artist Rhondo Kompoo. It is made of folded eucalyptus bark and vegetal fiber, painted with natural pigments in yellow, black, red, and white.
Traditionally, Tiwi people used tunga to carry food. They were also used as part of funerary ceremonies as gifts for the dead. Today, tunga are made as art objects for sale to tourists.
Tunga also have their place in creation stories. In one Tiwi story, an old woman named Murtankala emerged from the earth on Melville Island, carrying her children in a tunga. To provide for them, she created the animals and clothed the land in vegetation.
This tunga was purchased by Frank and Marilyn Hibben from Tiwi Designs, an Aboriginal art center located on Bathurst Island, Northern Territory, Australia. It was donated to the Maxwell Museum by Marilyn Hibben.
To learn more about the Tiwi people and the continuing tradition of making tunga bark containers, and to see video of a Tiwi elder explaining how tunga are made, visit https://www.nma.gov.au/learn/encounters-education/community-stories/bathurst-melville