Plants, animals, minerals, insects and marine organisms are all used as medicines by the Tiwi people. Apart from these physical treatments of disease, there are a variety of spiritual and metaphysical treatments that can be used. The use of ceremonies, songs, special healing artefacts and the expertise of healers can all play a role in the physical and mental health of a person. While the chemical healing properties of plant medicines are highly respected, the spiritual healing properties of plants are considered to be equally important in the healing process.
Miyaringa (Pandanus spiralis) is used to relieve abdominal pain by wrapping strips of leaves or sections of stems around the end of a stick. This is warmed on a fire and is then rubbed onto painful areas of the stomach and is a powerful pain reliever. The white, soft inner portion of the growing point at the base of the new leaves may be eaten to relieve abdominal pain and diarrhoea. Another treatment for diarrhoea is Jimijinga (Persoonia falcata). The leaves may be chewed or boiled in water and the liquid drunk.
Eating Wupwarna (Amorphophallus paeoniifolius) is good medicine for chest infections and the fleshy roots of Aruwuinni (Protasparagus racemosus) are boiled in water and the liquid used as a wash and drink to treat chest infections. Wupwunga (Cymbopogon procerus) leaves are boiled in water and the lemon-scented liquid is drunk like cough mixture to treat colds and coughing. Murinyini (Acacia oncinocarpa) leaves are boiled in water and the liquid drunk or used as a wash to treat chest infections. Alternatively, the leaves may be crushed and inhaled as a general medicine. Pirlamunga (Terminalia ferdinandiana) fruits are considered to be a good medicine for colds and congestion.
One of the most favoured medicines for the treatment of skin ailments is Wurakinni (Ipomoea pes-caprae). The leaves may be boiled in water and the liquid used as an external wash, alternatively the pink flowers may be rubbed directly onto mosquito and sand fly bites. Wurakinni is an extremely effective treatment for relieving the bites and promoting the healing of the affected area. The liquid made from boiling the inner reddish bark of Marrakali (Ceriops tagal) and Kartukuni (Erythrophleum chlorostachys) is also excellent medicine for the treatment of any skin disorders, including scabies and skin sores. The hypocotyl tudapulima or karampalinga of Pukulijupa (Rhizophora stylosa) is boiled in water and the liquid used as a wash to treat skin sores. Leaves of Mirima (Pleomele angustifolia) and the inner bark of Kanuli (Planchonia careya) are also boiled in water and the liquid used to treat skin sores and infections. The inner red bark of is Kartukini or Ironwood (Erythrophleum chlorostachys) is sun dried and then boiled in water and used as a medicine for skin sores. The skin of Wupwarna (Amorphophallus paeoniifolius) may be boiled in water and the water used as a wash for sickness and skin disorders.
Other Medicinal Plants
The flesh of the Kurlama yam (Dioscorea bulbifera) can be used to rub directly onto swollen and misshapen limbs. Sharp hard new stems of Pitarika (Imperata cylindrica and Mnesithea rottboellioides) are poked into the back of the knees of overweight people and this causes them to begin to lose weight. This treatment may need to be repeated several to many times to be effective. The ripe white fruit of Wuraka (Scaevola taccada) are squeezed so that the juice falls into the eye like eye drops. This has a healing effect on any eye problems. Majatama (Tephrosia remotiflora), a highly respected plant for its healing qualities, is used to treat kidney disorders, tuberculosis and other chest problems. The tuber is dug up, pounded, boiled and the liquid used as an external wash. The wash makes the patient feel hot all over for a short time accompanied by a feeling of lightness and subsequent improved health.
Yirrimunukamini (Tephrosia oblongata) leaves are chewed by the mother of a young baby and then placed in the mouth of a baby. The baby sucks and licks the leaves, which heal any illness. The leaves of Jimijinga (Persoonia falcata) are crushed and boiled in water or alternatively, fresh leaves are chewed and the juice swallowed to treat thrush of the mouth, chest infections, diarrhoea and sore throat. The juice from the leaves may be placed on the breast-feeding mothers to treat babies’ sore mouths.
Animals used for Medicine
The cooked flesh of Tarnikini (Black and Little-red Flying-foxes) is good medicine for treating asthma and chest congestion caused by colds and flu. Soup made from boiled Wakatapa (Cheeky Mangrove Worm) is excellent medicine for the same symptoms. Yuwurli (Mangrove Worm) are given to people who are sick or unhealthy. They are especially good for pregnant women and nursing mothers, and as a hangover cure. Kawarri or Muwani (Sand Goanna), Pakitiroti (Water Monitor) and Yingwuti (sugarbag) are also used medicinally.