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Churinga: sign of ancestors

A new exhibition of “World of one item” is demonstrated in the Peter the Great Museum of Anthropology and Ethnography (Kunstkamera) RAS beginning on February 19, 2008. It is devoted to one of the most interesting phenomena of primeval religion – Australian churinga.

The word churinga came into science from the Aranda (Arrernte) language. Usually this word is understood as flat stone or board with sacred signs carved on it. Churingas used to be an important part of Australians’ ritual life. According to their beliefs, these items belonged to ancestors of mythical Dreamtime. Meaning and substance of carved signs were revealed to youths as they passed mystery rituals.

Exposed churinga from Central Australia was received by MAE in 1908 along with other items from the collection of well-known researcher of culture of indigenous Australians B. Spencer. This is one of the most valuable collections of MAE’s Australian fund, which comprehensively reflects culture and way of everyday life of native inhabitants of Central Australia at the turn of XIX-XX centuries.

Public demonstration of sacred items was strictly limited and regulated in the culture itself. Showing sincere respect to national feelings of creators’ descendants, authors of exhibition seek for the most delicate way of exposing such items.

Author of exhibition – P.L. Belkov
Designers – V.I. Korotkov, N.L. Iltsen

Exhibition will be open until May 30, 2008. 


In the Aranda (Arrernte) peoples language the word “churinga” indicates something sacred, mystical, concealed. It can be any material object or feature of magical character, but most often a flat stone or board with totemic signs are meant by this word.

Aranda believe that in mythical Dreamtime ancestors carried churingas with them. Ancestor’s body died, and his spirit left in churinga. At the place of that event a natural sign like a rock or tree of a queer shape. Ancestors still wait at these places for a chance of next reincarnation by moving into body of a going by woman and new birth as a human creature.

According to one belief, at the moment of “conception” tha ancestor drops his churinga. That’s why there is a custom to seek for a stone with peculiar signs near the place where mother first felt the movement of child. The right to touch churingas and even see them belongs only to men who passed a complicated ritual of initiation. Showing the sacred stone to the youth for the first time teachers tell him: “This is your another body, your ancestor, the one who you were, when you travelled on the Earth in your previous life”. However, the youth is to pass more severe tests before the elders open him all secrets of his own myth.