Mowanjum Aboriginal Arts and Culture Festival will return in 2019, extending an invitation to those near and far, to come together and experience the vibrant wealth of culture held by the Ngarinyin, Worrorra and Wunambi people.

The festival, taking place ten kilometres outside of Derby WA, will celebrate traditional dance, song and visual art in the heart the iconic Kimberley region.

A series of workshops will kick off the celebration, in which both First Nations and non-First Nations people can learn ancient practices, such as ochre painting, boab carving and bush medicine.

Various traditional dances will also be performed to celebrate the unity between many First Nations communities of Australia.

Each year, the festival hosts a dance group from another part of the Kimberley to display this unity. This year, dancers from Warmun in the East Kimberley will make the journey to Mowanjum.

Mowanjum Festival Coordinator, Phaedra Watts, said showcasing living culture is the most vital element of the event.

“Every year it becomes clearer how important Mowanjum Festival is. It provides the opportunity to show that traditional Indigenous culture is still alive and well and is completely accessible to anyone who is open to the experience.”

“It has so many important benefits for us all. Reconciliation is a hot topic and having people immersed in something that is real is very special. You are with real people, doing the real thing, the real way.”

The festival not only celebrates the culture of many nations, it also creates digital records to enable the passing on of knowledge.

“The festival provides the opportunity for Indigenous men and women to reconnect with their cultural history. We’ve faced the reality in the past of these practices being lost, but thanks to initiatives started at Mowanjum Festival, we’re starting to see those problems reversed.”

Less than a decade ago, Wilinggin, Worrorra and Wunambal traditions were considered endangered. This threat to culture was addressed by the Junba Project.

The project—named after traditional storytelling that is essential for social and emotional well-being—aims to increase opportunities for people to engage and learn ancient traditions.

Ngarinyin singer Pansy Gududa Nulgit said the Junba project strengthens pride and involvement in culture.

“Singers are crucial to the dance. There are not many coming up, and there is a concern about what happens if they don’t emerge.”

Ms Watts said the festival instils pride into First Nations people and is an avenue for visitors to engage.

“This stuff goes on all year round. The practicing and learning and revisiting sites where ceremony and dance would take place. Then the big event is where everyone comes together,” she said.

“The excitement of everybody, from the little kids right up to the elders, all people are excited to be part of something. The pride that is there is so special, the knowledge you are part of something more.”

The Mowanjum Festival will open on Friday July 12.

By Rachael Knowles