The Rainbow Serpent is a common motif in the art and mythology of Aboriginal Australia. It is named for the snake-like meandering of water across a landscape and the colour spectrum caused when sunlight strikes water at an appropriate angle relative to the observer.
The Rainbow Serpent is seen as the inhabitant of permanent waterholes and is in control of life's most precious resource, oils and waters. He is the sometimes unpredictable Rainbow Serpent, who vies with the ever-reliable Sun, that replenishes the stores of water, forming gullies and deep channels as he slithered across the landscape, allowing for the collection and distribution of water.
Dreamtime stories tell of the great spirits and totems during creation, in animal and human form they moulded the barren and featureless earth. The Rainbow Serpent came from beneath the ground and created huge ridges, mountains and gorges as it pushed upward. The Rainbow Serpent is known as Ngalyod by the Gunwinggu and Borlung by the Miali. He is a serpent of immense proportions which inhabits deep permanent waterholes.
Serpent stories vary according to environmental differences. Tribes of the monsoonal areas depict an epic interaction of the Sun, Serpent and wind in their Dreamtime stories, whereas tribes of the central desert experience less drastic seasonal shifts and their stories reflect this.
It is known both as a benevolent protector of its people (the groups from the country around) and as a malevolent punisher of law breakers. The Rainbow Serpent's mythology is closely linked to land, water, life, social relationships and fertility.
There are innumerable names and stories associated with the serpent, all of which communicate the significance and power of this being within Aboriginal traditions.
- Explaining Northern Land Council's use of the Rainbow Serpent in its logo Accessed 8 July 2008
- A rainbow serpent myth accompanying Jimmy Njiminjuma bark painting Accessed 8 July 2008
- The Rainbow Serpent Feature Length Documentary
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