Books & Literature

Book Review: Tangki Tjuta – Donkeys, by Tjanpi Desert Weavers

CHILDREN’S BOOK: Fresh, funny and highly original, Tangki Tjuta – Donkeys is an endearing dual language story about how donkeys came to be a rich part of life for one Aboriginal community. Told in Pitjantjatjara and English.

Tangki Tjuta – Donkeys takes readers on a playful ride through a unique part of life in the Aboriginal community of Pukatja.

Big donkeys and little donkeys—long eared and wide eyed—clip-clop through the bush, having fun and helping their child and adult friends.

Tangki Tjuta – Donkeys is a slice-of-life story depicted using sculptures by Tjanpi Desert Weavers, a social enterprise of the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Women’s Council. The Council works with women who earn an income by creating contemporary fibre art. Tjanpi (the Pitjantjatjara word for desert grass) represents over 400 Anangu/Yarnangu women artists from 26 remote communities on the NPY Lands in Australia’s remote Central and Western desert regions.

Tangki Tjuta – Donkeys is a dual-language publication: the story is presented first in Pitjantjatjara with an English version following below. The Pitjantjatjara text is by Tjunkaya Tapaya OAM and Imuna Kenta based on stories by Akitiya Angkuna Tjitayi, Imuna Kenta and Anne Karatjari Ward. The English translation is by Linda Rive. A QR code inside the book’s front cover links to a reading of the story in both languages.

The text and pictures tell the story of how donkeys came to join the community many years ago at Pukatja (Ernabella). Before long, the donkeys began breeding, and soon they were much-loved participants in everyday life. During work and play, the animals were put to use, helping transport people and possessions on food-gathering expeditions, picnics and journeys far and wide. Times have changed and the donkeys are no longer in service. They’re free to roam but still welcomed when they come to visit.

Fibre art sculptures featured in the book were created from desert grasses (minarri, wangunu and intiyanu) collected from the Lands of the artists. The intricately crafted figures were placed in miniature scenic landscapes then photographed to create images that illustrate the narrative. Information about the storytellers, artists and bookmaking team is a welcome addition: photos of the creators are featured inside the covers and the story of Tjanpi Desert Weavers is presented at the back of the book. Teachers’ notes are available online. The 32-page hard-cover book was developed alongside a stop-motion animated short that has since been named as a finalist for the Yoram Gross Award for Best Animation at the 2022 Sydney Film Festival (you can watch the trailer on the Tjanpi Desert Weavers Facebook page).

The personalities of the animals and community members shine through on each page in scenes that are rich in humour and whimsical detail. In one sequence, Older Brother learns the hard way that pushing a cranky donkey beyond its limits is not a good idea! Tangki Tjuta – Donkeys is a warm and extremely appealing glimpse into an aspect of life in South Australia’s APY Lands from years gone by.

Reviewed by Jo Vabolis
Twitter: @JoVabolis

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: Allen & Unwin
Released: July 2022
RRP: $24.99

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