Sarup means stranded out in the sea. That’s what the word Sarup means – stranded out on the island or something happens to you. This particular work is one of the biggest etchings I’ve done – it’s based also on the women of the island and how they have a gift. When the women walk they usually go hunting, mainly gathering fruits and berries along the coast of the island. When they see a footprint they are so gifted that they know everybody’s footprints in the community. They will pinpoint who has been walking last night or the day before yesterday. They’ll know. The artwork is to do with head hunting. When she sees a strange footprint on the island she’ll know that there’s a stranger on the island. He must have got stranded. His canoe tipped over or something happened to him. He’s here on the island somewhere. She will quickly make her way back to the village and she will tell the secret to her husband. When the lady confirms that it is this man from another island and is a stranger by looking at his footprint, in the artwork he has been walking back and forward and all over the place. She says to herself in language ‘Ngalbain Kuik’, which means me and my husband – almost like saying ‘head’.
Head is referring to money – she found money; so she goes back to secretly tell her husband, ‘I found money’. He sits there with his head hunting knife (Upi) and Gaba Gab, bow and arrow (Taiyak) and waits for midnight. When he leaves the house the woman is not allowed to clean up for two days and keep the babies and children quiet at all times. During the hunting for the man, her husband will usually find the man on the point of the island, sitting out on the point looking for canoes from his island. He will club the man down and cut off his head and that head is traded to New Guinea for a hollow canoe valued at $5,000 for the one head. Always sharks are blamed – some of them have ended up on the wrong island and they have a ceremony. I was told that in the early 1900s the government still used the women of Thursday Island to find people. They would get the ladies to identify the footprint. Mr James Eseli told me this. In this etching I have shaped the outline to resemble a traditional etched rock drawing.