There are few films like Ten Canoes, and in Australia it is the first of its kind. Filmed entirely in indigenous languages from the Yolŋu Matha language group from Arnham Land in Northern Australia, it only has minimal English voiceover by narrator and acclaimed actor and dancer David Gulpilil. 2006 was an especially strong year for films using indigenous languages with Australian actor and director Mel Gibson’s South American pre-colonisation epic Apocalypto also being released. Directed by Aboriginal actor and director Peter Djigirr and director Rolf de Heer, Ten Canoes is set long before the British occupation of Australia. It is a story within a story within a story, and the different narrative layers are distinguished from one another by the clever contrast between colour and black and white film.
The narrator tells a story about two brothers and eight other men who travel out in canoes to hunt magpie goose eggs. On this journey, the older brother Minyigululu tells his younger brother Dayindi that he knows that he has been looking at his youngest wife. Minyigululu decides to tell Dayindi a story about another pair of brothers long ago: Ridjimiraril and his younger brother Yeeralparil who also had eyes for one of his older brother’s wives. When Ridjimiraril’s second wife goes missing, he becomes obsessed with finding her kidnapper, setting into effect a chain of events that ultimately leaves Yeeralparil with a lot more than he bargained for.
Ten Canoes is a fantastic celebration of Aboriginal language, culture and oral history and is an ideal film to kick off NAIDOC week with. It is like looking through a window into the longest continuing culture in the world without the noise of Western influence. It is an unbiased and beautifully filmed insight into traditional Arnham land life and the family dynamics, cultural practices, laws, language and inventions of the people who live by the Arafura Swamp in the Northern Territory.
For more information about NAIDOC week, visit http://www.naidoc.org.au/