Posted on 30 May, 2018

Smoke Free Spaces – Stories from Gapuwiyak

Smoke Free Spaces – Stories from Gapuwiyak

ARDS recently finished up almost a year of conversations with Yolŋu in Gapuwiyak about smoke free spaces.

Gapuwiyak is the second community in the Top End Smoke Free Spaces project, after Ramingining last year. Between June 2017 - April 2018, ARDS facilitators had about 200 conversations with Yolŋu about ŋarali' (tobacco) and passive smoking.

We believe these dialogues were, for many Gapuwiyak residents, the first time they have received meaningful information about ŋarali’ and passive smoking in their own language. After these dialogues, many householders tried to start a barrku buny'tjurr (‘smoke away, in the distance’) rule for their house.

In Gapuwiyak, we know of 39 households who attempted to create a ‘smoke free home’ rule for the first time, and another 17 households who strengthened an existing rules.

Of the 48 of these 56 rules that we were able to evaluate, we were confident that over half of them (58%) were active during our last visit in April. This is a great result, which suggests that this approach can really provide the support Yolŋu need to make changes to their smoking habits.

During this project – which ARDS has also taken to Ramingining and Minjilang – we weren’t just sharing information one-way. We also heard hundreds of amazing stories and insights from Yolŋu about ŋarali’: stories about smoking in Macassans and Mission times, stories about traditional rom (law) for smoking, many stories about people wanting to quit, stories about the challenges of smoking today, and stories about the loss of control felt by many Yolŋu.

Smoke Free Spaces – Stories from Gapuwiyak

Photo: A ḻuŋiny (traditional smoking pipe) – photo courtesy of the The Donald Thomson Collection (Donated by Mrs. Dorita Thomson to the University of Melbourne and on loan to Museums Victoria.) 

Here are just a few of them:

"These signs are working! I point to them and tell my grandchildren to smoke outside. Before, I used to tell them to smoke outside and they ignored me.

At my own house, we have three teenagers who smoke inside, they are buthuru-dumuk (deaf). Every time I smell smoke in their rooms I tell them to smoke outside, but they ignore me. I think they don't understand about passive smoking, or they don't care because they are teenagers. It's very hard. Sometimes teenagers, they just don’t listen to anybody, you can’t tell them anything.

My new granddaughter will be arriving here in two weeks! Please give me some signs. We'll start this rule, telling people to smoke outside. Even I will smoke outside, because we've got to protect her.

We put those signs up, but bäyŋu (nothing). The smokers don't listen to us. We tell them to go outside to smoke, for the sake of my health and my grandchildren's health, but they are deaf. Sometimes they get angry at me, and destroy the house, if I don't give them money to buy ŋarali'.

I've tried to quit a few times, but nothing works. I smell that ŋarali' and then I'm back into smoking again.

Macassans brought these chemicals to Yolŋu – before, our bodies didn't have any chemicals in them, we were strong and healthy. They traded ŋarali' for dharripa (trepang). The designs on the ḻuŋiny are for men only – I know that because the designs are without meaning for women and children, we see them but we can't understand what they mean. They are dhuyu (sacred). If women or children would smoke, there would be a severe punishment (dhägirr).

I tell them, please don't smoke inside, care for our kids and me and my sister because we are non-smokers. Smoke on the verandah or in the yard.

I remember seeing my father smoking a ḻuŋiny with dhuyu miny'tji (sacred designs). We knew only old men could smoke it – not children or women. He would wrap that ḻuŋiny in cloth so no-one could see it. I remember that during men's business, they would buy Log Cabin from the store, and smoke it with the ḻuŋiny in the wäŋa (shelter) they had made for that secret business. These days, everybody is smoking. Young people don't listen to their elders anymore – they have overcome us.

I was sick a few years ago but I'm feeling better because I gave up a lot of things, including being near my family's cigarette smoke and sitting near smoke from the fire. I tell my family to smoke outside.

I used to pack my father's ḻuŋiny as a child, and he'd say to me, 'Don't ever smoke, this is no good'. I saw there was a rom there. That's why I don't smoke. I tell other people, too: ‘You've got to take care of your kids. You are a role model for them, and if you are smoking, they'll grow up to smoke too’.

I saw my father smoking rowu (beach morning glory – Ipomoea pes-caprae). In Mission times, when Yolŋu were starving for ŋarali', they would dry the leaves (not the stem), crush them up, and smoke them in a ḻuŋiny, or in those long white shells or crab claws.

I'm the only smoker in this house. I usually smoke a pack of rollies a day. Sometimes I see that sign and go outside to smoke. It's helping me. I try not to smoke inside because there's a child living here with heart problems. I received some story about ŋarali' before, I know about nicotine and there being thousands of poisons in cigarettes. I usually come out here and smoke under the mango tree. Sometimes I try not to smoke for a few days, especially over the weekend.

Old people never used to get sick from smoking. Today, lots of people are getting sick. Before, only old people smoked, not young people. They smoked it with a ḻuŋiny, and only smoked in the morning, and at the end of the day, after coming back from hunting or collecting ŋatha (food). Now people smoke all day, and everyone smokes.

Yolŋu law for ŋarali’ was very strong. I think the old people knew they had to protect young people from it. The Balanda law for ŋarali’ is marr yalŋgi (not so strong), so now people aren’t following Yolŋu law – they are just following their djäl (desire).

Old people used to smoke that black ŋarali' received from Missionaries, in exchange for crocodile skins (along with clothes, flour, etc.). It was ṉuŋgaṯ (restricted) – only old people smoked. Young people knew it was not for us, you could only smoke when you were mature enough, like if you had gone through ŋärra. There were sacred designs painted on the ḻuŋginy that told us it was ṉuŋgaṯ. Ṉuŋgaṯ is like something you really value, that you forbid anyone from touching. Young people need to hear this story – they need to hear their history.

Me and my husband both smoke – me just a little, but he smokes a lot. But we both smoke outside. My mother is sick and gets sick when people smoke gupa wata (in her face). So we tell people to smoke outside as well.

I stopped smoking two months ago, because I'm playing football. I've been smoking since I was 10 or 11, I'm 34 now. I want to live a long life.

That story really helped me. I've started cutting down how much I smoke – now it's only one or two per day. I'm feeling good, and able to work harder at work.

I'm the only smoker in a house full of non-smokers. I quit once, after a small heart attack, then started smoking again after a few weeks. It's hard – sometimes I think about quitting, but then people come and ask for ŋarali', and I want to smoke. We've got the stickers up at home, and sometimes I smoke outside, but sometimes I feel lazy. Thank you for coming here, it's good to keep hearing this story and get encouragement."

The Top End Smoke Free Spaces project is still under way in Minjilang, the third and final community for the project which wraps up in June. ARDS is working with James Cook University (JCU) to evaluate the project outcomes in the three communities.

The Top End Smoke Free Spaces project is sponsored by the Federal Department of Health’s Tackling Indigenous Smoking Innovation Grants, and is a partnership between ARDS, JCU and the Arnhem Land Progress Association (ALPA).

Photo: Phylis Wunuŋmurra and Glenda Garrawurra (pictured here with Sylvester Guyula and Joshua Waṉambi) made a Barrku Buny’tjurr rule for their house. 

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