Pedro Wonaeamirri was born in 1974. He grew up on Melville Island at Pularumpi (Garden Point), an island at the top of Australia near Darwin, facing the Timor Sea. As a teenager he moved with his family to Milikapiti (Snake Bay), a community on the other side of the island. He was educated at a boarding school in Darwin, and fortuitously in 1989, on his return to Milikapiti, the fledgling arts centre Jilamara Arts and Craft had commenced. Pedro Wonaeamirri’s country is on the eastern side of Melville Island “the land or country where I come from is my father’s father, my grandfather”.
The art of Pedro Wonaeamirri is steeped in Tiwi tradition; he has known no other way of communicating and thus his paintings, based on pwoja- body painting and his carved Pukumani Poles are his link to the tradition and to the future of the Tiwi people.
Tiwi art is derived from ceremonial body painting and the ornate decoration applied to Pukumani funerary poles, Tunga bark baskets, and associated ritual objects made for the Pukumani ceremony. Traditionally the deceased Tiwi people are buried on the day they pass away, but the Pukumani ceremonies are performed six months to several years after the death.
“The Pukumani ceremony is very important to us” Pedro Wonaeamirri states. “It’s a time when we get together and the old people sing and dance. I learnt to carve Pukumani Poles by watching my elders, who are no longer with me today.
The designs are already in my head and I use our traditional wooden comb and ochre to paint. The first mob that dance are of one totem. If the deceased person for example is Magpie Goose, all Magpie Goose totem people dance.
Pedro Wonaeamirri is an active artist and long-established member and the President of Jilamara Arts and Crafts Aboriginal Association at Milikapiti, Melville Island, Northern Territory. Pedro has been exhibiting since 1989 and his artworks are highly sought after.