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In the Western Torres Strait our ontological beliefs are not only expressed orally but also through dance through movement and song. Mawan Wasal, the Mawa Ceremony, was once performed widely throughout the Western Torres Strait. It was a celebration of the arrival of native fruits and yams such as Ubar or Wongai (native plum), Kowai (bush apple), Mergai (bush berry), Gabau (wild yams) and others. It was our ancestors’ beliefs that Mawa providedthese fruits and the Mawan Wasal was a dance expression for seasonal timeframe, celebration and tkanksgiving to him for these gifts of nature and to ensure that they will be plentiful in seasons to come. But it was more than a simple dance, it was a transcendence of the physical, a way to connect with the life forces that flow through our trees, out seas and ourselves. The Mawan Wasal was performed cross the Western Torres Strait extending into the Central Torres Strait yet each island had its own unique way of expressing and performing it (see A.C. Haddon 1904:347-349)
The man in the Mawa mask in the centre orchestrates the movement of the dance. He is anonymous. A line of dancers in the background frame the figure of Mawa and express their joyfulness of the riches of the crops.
The basket in the bottom centre of the print represents a good season for Gabu (wild yams). Kaisi (the onlookers) carefully observe the strong and fit dancers as the ceremony progresses. My uncle once told me that it was during these ceremonies that marriages were arranged. The members of the tribe who produced who produced the biggest harvest were the most favoured. The patterns and lines that run between the human figures, the harvesting basket and the fruits represent the spiritual bond between them that makes them one with nature.
Practicing these ceremonies every year was so important to hold the bonding and relationship between the tribes. Dancing was also a means of keeping healthy, fit and strong to enable our people to survive in this wilderness. Source: Alfred Cort Haddon. 1904 Reports of the Cambridge Anthropological Expeditions to Torres Straits: Sociology, Magic and religion of the Western Islanders. Vol. 5. Cambridge University Press.