New Internationalist

Ten Canoes

Issue 401
Ten Canoes: a story within a story.

The ancestors are setting out to gather goose eggs. It’s young Dayindi’s first expedition and the elder Minygululu, who knows the unmarried Dayindi fancies his youngest wife, is telling a story. It’s long and rambling, will take days to tell, but amongst other things it’s about an unmarried hunter who lusts after his older brother’s youngest wife.

Dayindi’s all attention, but impatient – he only wants to know about the hunter and the young wife. Minygululu enjoys the telling, and it’s a good tale, with lust, deceit, cock-ups, some very bad guesses, and parrots coming home to roost. The old man enjoys too the control he has over his listeners; he’s as worldly-wise as Dayindi is naïve, and his big point is the importance of the bigger story.

This is the first film in Australian aboriginal languages, though most people will see it with English subtitles, and hear narration by David Gulpilil (the rescuer in Walkabout) in English rather than Mandalpingu. It’s rare to have a narrator tell a story within a story, and to see how an audience responds. Ten Canoes shows the importance of ‘stories’ – film and literature are not wish-fulfilment, not just to entertain, but are significant for ‘living right’. It’s subtle, amusing, artful, clever. The best wild goose chase ever.

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