I first noticed RAIMUNDO MACKENNA sitting on the floor of the National Gallery in Federation Square. He was sketching in his notepad. He was focussed, his scribbling was deliberate; maybe professional I thought. So I asked him if he would enter the 2017 Sampari Art Exhibition for West Papua. He had flown in from Chile the day before, didn’t know where West Papua was, but wanted to. Like many, he said he’d call; unlike most, he did.
Raimundo graduated from Universidad Diego Portales in Santiago with a graphic arts degree. He worked in the industry for a few years, but was then drawn to the precarious life of free-range artist. He doesn’t know why. None of his family are artists (but do have artistic sensibilities), and none of his Spanish or Irish ancestors left any records of artistic endeavour.
The journeyman from Chile constructs his art with cardboard. When he visited the West Papua office in Docklands I showed him the rubbish room and learned much about the ubiquitous product that we all spend hours flattening to fit in the recycling bin. Raimundo doesn’t recycle, he upcycles, which means transforming by-products and waste materials into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value (see Upcycling becomes a treasure trove for Green Business Ideas, at https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/219310).
For Sampari, Raimundo has entered three portraits of animals from West Papua, which he describes as “manifestations of nature chosen for their colour, beauty or expression”. Dendrolagus is of a tree-kangaroo; Kokomo is a Papuan hornbill; Varanus is a monitor lizard.
Dendrolagus (tree-kangaroo) derives from two Greek words, dendro meaning ‘tree’ and lagus meaning ‘hare’. The shy marsupials were first observed by western scientists in West Papua in 1826, when the Netherlands’ Natural History Commission visited Lobo on the north-west coast. The villagers called them ‘wangoerie’ and told the Dutchmen they lived in trees. In Australia half a century later (in 1872) an Aboriginal guide, Jerry, pointed out tree-kangaroos to the leader of a mining survey along the Bloomfield River in North Queensland. Jerry’s people, from further south around Cardwell, had always called them ‘boongary’. Expedition leader, William Hann, a pioneer pastoralist immortalised in a monument in the outback town of Charters Towers, wrote in his diary “the idea that any kangaroo known to us could climb a tree would be ridiculous!” (Roger Martin, 2005).
There are twelve known species of tree-kangoo in the world, two in the rainforests of North Queensland, and the others in West Papua and Papua New Guinea. The ‘wangoerie’ of West Papua,’Vogelkopt Tree-kangaroo’ in English, is called Dendrolagus ursinus by scientists. The ‘wakera’, also seen in Lobo in 1826, is the ‘Grizzled Tree-kangaroo’ in English, and listed by scientists as Dendrolagus inustus. In the 1990’s, Australian biologist and conservationist Tim Flannery observed and named four others, including the black-and-white Dendrolagus mbaiso in the high altitude mossy forests of the Sudirman Range in West Papua. (Mbaiso means ‘forbidden animal’ in the local Moni language). Tree-kangaroos never learned to fear West Papuans–in 1974 ecologist Jared Diamond watched them calmly observing him in the Foja Mountains. However, all species are now threatened by habitat loss.
The Papuan Hornbill (Rhyticeros plicatus, Blyth’s Hornbill) is a true ‘Melanesian’ bird, with habitat ranging from the Maluku ‘spice’ Islands shadowing the west coast of West Papua, through New Guinea and the Bismarck Archipelago, out to the Solomon Islands of East Melanesia. It is a uniquely shaped avian with an inquisitive character and a range of far-reaching, guttural grunting and laughing calls. A bony growth (casque) exacerbates the size and shape of its very large, bill, and its heavy black body sports a short, white tail. Adults have reddish-brown eyes fringed with long delicate eyelashes (that are actually modified feathers) encircled by a patch of naked (featherless) bluish-white skin. In flight the sound of its wings has been compared to the sound of steam escaping from a steam locomotive.
Like numerous birds and fish, and even some humans, the Papuan Hornbill is a geophagine (eats soil). Scientists debate the function of this habit, Jared Diamond in his 1999 study of New Guinea birds finding it ‘bound poisonous and/or bitter-tasting secondary compounds in ingested fruits and seeds’:
To test hypotheses … we carried out chemical and physical analyses of soil samples from the site. The ingested soil was much too fine-grained to be useful as grit; it contained only modest levels of all 14 minerals analysed; it lacked buffering capacity; and there was no evidence that it protected against diarrhoea (‘Geophagy in New Guinea birds’ J Diamond, D Bishop, J Gilardi, IBIS International Journal of Avian Science, Volume 141, April 1999: pp181–193).
Jacob Rumbiak from West Papua says you can tell the age of a hornbill by the number of bone growths on the upper and lower beaks (suggesting Raimundo’s cardboard bird is two years old). Jacob, who was born in Yabon village in the Birdshead, claims his younger brother trained his hornbill pet to protect the family’s chickens from preying eagles. Film buffs might recall that it was a (red-billed) hornbill called Zazu, who in the animated film The Lion King (1994) saves King Musafa’s girlfriend from a committee of vultures.
Papua Monitor Lizard (also called Varanus salvadorii, Salvadori’s monitor, Crocodile monitor, Artellia)
Varanus derives from the Arabic waral (ورل), meaning ‘lizard’; Salvadori from the Italian zoologist and taxonomist Count Adelardo Tommaso Salvadori Paleotti whose four-volume study of the birds of Papua and the Moluccas (‘Ornithologia delle Papuasia e della Molucche’) was published in 1880.
(Note to freedom fighters: Salvadori was also a medical officer in Giuseppe Garibaldi’s 1860 battle against the Bourbons for Sicily, which concluded with a plebiscite and the formation of the Kingdom of Italy in 1861).
The Papua Monitor is a tree-climbing lizard endemic to New Guinea and is the territory’s top predator. It inhabits the canopies of lowland rainforests and coastal mangrove swamps from sea level to 2000 ft (600 m).
Indigenous folklore has the Papuan Monitor as an evil spirit that climbs trees, walks upright, breathes fire, and kills men. It has long straight teeth, long forked tongue, blunt bulbous snout, and a bite which like the Komodo Dragon’s is capable of causing a fatal infection. Its long tail is 2/3 of its total length and is used like a whip to break the leg bones of Papuan hunting dogs, or rolled up to warn of marauding crocodiles.
In a 2007 study of three Varanus species by West Papuans at Papua State University in Manokwari, the three villages surveyed in the Arfak Mountain Nature Reserve did not use monitor skin on their drums (tifa) because they did not own the rights to the skin tanning process. The meat of Varanus indicus and Varanus salvadorii was a source of animal protein (but not Varanus prasinus), but all avoided hunting salvadorii because of its aggressive attitude and behaviour to both man and dog (Pattiselanno F, Rahayu E, Wanggai J Varanus Species at the Arfak Mountain Nature Reserve, at http://papuaweb.org/dlib/jr/pattiselanno/2007a.pdf).
Raimondo’s portraits of West Papua fauna can be seen and bought at
Sampari Art Exhibition for West Papua, 8-17 December 2017
ACU Art Gallery
26 Brunswick St
Updates about Sampari Art and Events on FACEBOOK at Sampari Exhibition
More of Raimundo Mackenna’s art at www.naiveanimals.tumblr.com
Australian Catholic University
115 Victoria Parade, Fitzroy VICTORIA 3065