Zenadh Kes is our name for the Torres Strait Islands; short for ‘four directional winds’ from which the Straits extend and originate. Mai is the Kala Lagaw Ya word for pearl shell.
Ceremony and song are core to our culture. The image of the man on the left is Zogo Le (holy man). He traditionally wore a large pearl shell around his neck, while warriors wore smaller ones out of respect for the Zogo Le and for practicalities in fighting. A drummer beats out a loud, slow beat on his warup, a curved, tapered drum, warping around the body, resting comfortably on the thigh. At the end of the wet season when the boats were made seaworthy, the community would celebrate with dance and song. Miniature lugging boats were made especially for dancing, seen on the wrist of the dancer.
Sometimes the men would stay out for months at a time. Kulka, one of four legendary brothers who inhabited the central and eastern islands many centuries ago and who voyaged from Papua New Guinea, is depicted holding a string of heads, representing a strong leader and warrior. His ceremonial mask is unique to Iyama (Yam) Island.
The constellation depicts Tagai, a legendary Zenadh Kes hero, is used to navigate by. Its alignment to the horizon indicates the onset of the turtle-mating season and for garden harvesting / planting. Two waterspouts are depicted crossing the dugong, always a danger to mariners at the onset of the monsoon season from January to April, when the boats are harboured or ‘hoved’ on shore.
At the top of the helmet is a Christian cross and women mourning for the loss of fathers, husbands, brothers and relatives. Many divers lost their lives from the ever-present danger of drowning at sea: the ‘bends’ (nitrogen bubbles in the blood), sharks, storms and air hoses tangled and cut from coral in unchartered waters was extremely risky as the luggers travelled slowly under a single fore-sail as the divers walked along the bottom filling baskets on hand lines with valuable pearl and trochus shell, and beche-de-mer (sea slug). The meat of dugong, turtle and fish was caught and dried on board too.