61cm x 46cm
Historically and still today, Aboriginal people from desert regions use wild tobacco plants that are known by different names including Pituri and Mingkulpa. Pituri is a natural plant that grows from Queensland right across the desert to Western Australia. In Central Australia the leaves from this plant are used for chewing. The scientific name of the family of Pituri plants is Nicotiana spp. Scientific names for the different types of pituri that are most popular in Central Australia are Mingkulpa N. excelsior and N. gossei. The leaves and stems from the pituri bush are dried and then mixed with burnt ash from specific trees. The mix is then chewed and held in the mouth for long periods of time. Pituri is shared among the group and traded widely. Because pituri isn’t burnt it doesn’t contain all the poisonous chemicals that cigarettes do, but it still has high levels of nicotine that make it addictive and it may also cause health problems. In the deserts of the Red Centre, bush tobacco is still very much at the heart of traditional indigenous life. The Pintupi-Luritja, and Pitjantjatjara communities that lie west and southwest of Alice Springs, as well as the Warlpiri and Anmetyarre to the North, are the undisputed bush tobacco homeland. The plant of choice there is mingkulpa, known to science as Nicotiana gossei or suaveolens— a species of classical nicotine, lush, strongly scented, so strongly, in fact, that coming on a ravine full of fresh-growing plants can set the head awhirl. Finding your tobacco is just the first step. The alkaline white ash, or tjunpa mixed in with the leaf to help release its nicotine must come from the burnt wood of certain trees: arkinki (desert bloodwood), termite-bored mantala (black gidgee) and utjanypa (branched spearbush) are among the best: if all else fails, there’s always plain old mulga, wanari. How to make good ash, and blend it with the dried leaf, how best to moisten the quid of tobacco in your mouth — these are skills that were once taught with great care to the young, and are still passed on. There are rules and protocols. It is wrong to ask for or accept mingkulpa from senior men or women at the apex of the traditional law, who might use it to cast a spell on you. It is important to share your mingkulpa with your family and pass it willingly from into their hands.