Ganyarra and Dumarri: An Australian aboriginal story

Ganyarra-from toothless to dangerous
illustrations adapted from the 1971 Walt Disney classic movie Bedknobs and Broomsticks

Walbarra Yidinji people of Gimuy are an aboriginal tribe living in tropical Australia. Like most other aboriginal Australian cultures, Walbarra Yidinji people have a rich oral tradition of stories and songs. One of the stories is about Ganyarra (aboriginal word for Crocodile). I would like to narrate the story here. This story, they say is as old as Ganyarra, the crocodile itself.

Once upon a time, Ganyarra had no teeth. It could not hunt any animal because its snout was soft. It used to starve for many days and occasionally drink water and eat small fish. It used to weep for days on end. One day Dumarri (a Yidinji hero) heard somebody weeping in the waters. He went in search of the sound and he found Ganyarra, the crocodile. Dumarri asked Ganyarra why it was crying. Ganyarra told him about its toothless ordeal. Dumarri promised Ganyarra that he will find a solution. Dumarri went to the bush and found white mangrove roots (apogeotropic roots that grow upwards from the soil to air). He chiselled a set of sharp teeth and inserted them into Ganyarra’s mouth. Ganyarra was delighted. Ganyarra wanted to eat something. It asked Dumarri, what it should eat as it was very hungry. Dumarri offered one of his own legs (that is why he is an aboriginal hero). Ganyarra happily accepted his offer and ate his leg. The aboriginal people came to know that Ganyarras have teeth and they were ungrateful. Ganyarras could eat human beings.

Now, let me tell you the moral of the story, if it is not clear already. When you see somebody shedding crocodile tears about some ‘loss’ and you help them, they will likely make you pay a big price. I should clarify that the aboriginal people don’t draw any conclusions the way I am doing here. For them, the story ends with practical advice. “Ganyarras can kill people. Just beware”.


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