The Death Letter Project
Cart 0


Jennifer Kemarre Martiniello | Independent Artist

28th June 2017

In my Grandmother’s country, Southern Arrernte Nation, Grandmother’s Law means the responsibility to pass on our knowledge and ways to our children and grandchildren. So as a granddaughter and a daughter who has inherited, and as a mother, grandmother and great-grandmother, Elder and keeper, I write this for my children and grandchildren.

My Grandmother Mini used to say never mind about what whitefellas have and do, because all that makes its own trouble that’s got to be dealt with in its own time. She was right. It’s not just material things that applies to, but perceptions and ideas too.  And that includes all that dominant culture business about death.

Whitefella way death is something to be feared, hidden, exploited or blown up out of proportion, and the cause of psychoses. But our way, Old Way, death has its proper place in all of life. The spirit inside us determines life, initiation, change, transition – all of which manifest in cycles of life, growth, death, rebirth. There’s a certainty, and a profound inner peace that comes from understanding this. And because of this there is no irretrievable loss, no real death. There’s just the journey of the spirit through different stages and ways of being.

Old Way, when someone dies, ceremony is done to help the spirit move along on its journey. It passes through different stages and ceremony accompanies each transition – at 1 year, 3 years, even up to 7 years or more. And when that spirit is ready to be born again it will pass into human form again through the land. We know that when someone passes they still talk to those left behind, watch over, protect, see that right things happen, because spirit and consciousness continue.

Just like the rest of nature, nothing is ever lost or wasted, everything is recycled, transmuted into other forms that sustain life, visible and invisible. This is Law – part of the natural laws and principles that we are part of, that are part of us. Nothing is ever wasted. So why would nature ever waste spirit, consciousness, learning? This too is transmuted into new forms, new energies.

Whitefella way, when someone hears voices they’re diagnosed with a mental illness. But for us mobs, there’s something wrong if you don’t hear that one who’s passed telling you things, feel their presence, accept their guidance.

Our Clever Ones, highly initiated ones, always told us about how they could enter that state of being both awake and asleep, how they went there to talk to the Ancestors, how the Old Ones gave them advice, warnings, new songs and ceremonies to pass on.

In all our First Nations our Ancestors are ever-present, just as the Dreaming is the always-there, one big interconnected continuing being, past, present, future. And we, our physical and spirit being, are part of that too, not separate, but all together. When you know this, death is just a part of that ongoingness, as is life. All together, nothing to be afraid of, nothing to hide. Nothing and no-one is ever lost, just kept in a multitude of different ways – in thought, memory, place, environment, cosmos – all that is, always there.

Jennifer Kemarre Martiniello

Canberra, ACT

Editor's note: Jenni Kemarre Martiniello is an award winning poet, writer, visual artist and academic of Arrernte, Chinese and Anglo-Celtic descent. Her Internationally acclaimed glass works combine the traditional Aboriginal practice of weaving with the European practice of glass making. Further reading...

The Death Letter Project welcomes your comments and feedback. Please feel free to leave a comment on our Facebook page or alternatively submit a message below.

  • Fantastic - the.departure (Instagram)
  • Love this letter. Beautiful stevieross72 (Instagram)
  • So true Jennifer Kemarre Martiniello's - 'one big interconnected continuing being, past, present, future' First Nations differing understandings on death resonate with me. - Fern Smith (email)
  • Love it Teens - what a perfect first letter. - Alix Fiveash (Facebook)
  • Congrats Tina... an amazing project ... brilliant first letter...👏 - Colleen Pettiford (Facebook)
  • What a powerful way to start, what a letter! - Stein Alia (Facebook)
  • Great first letter, very thought provoking and spiritual, can't wait to read some more. What a great project xxoo - Robyn Tantau (Facebook)
  • It was beautiful thank you so much - Jo Darbyshire (Facebook)
  • What a beautiful first letter to start such a wonderful project. The photo of Jenni Kemarre Martiniello is stunning and it captures her essence perfectly. I hope you are planning to show all 50 photographs with their letters all together in a gallery some day. Well done Tina FiveAsh - what an amazing project you have conceived. I have no doubt that this work will inspire many conversations. Kind regards, Benita Tunks❤️ - (Facebook)
  • Great opening letter, inspiring ways off viewing death, great photo too! - Rohan Rajapatirana Madison (Facebook)
  • Wow that was beautiful i love that its an indigenous woman's story great work teens ! - Wolf Ifritah (Facebook)
  • Beautiful letter, extraordinary really. Took me to a peaceful place which I know and believe. Thanks you Jennifer and Tina. - Susan Marie (Facebook)
  • Nice. Made me calm reading it - Ismanah Hayes (Facebook)
  • Great writing xx - Jack Draper (Facebook)
  • Great project! Great first letter! Wow!!! - Kerry Martin (Facebook)
  • You're wonderful Teensky 5 ! Such a beautiful way to start an amazing project. I will be reading these - I have an almost irrational fear of dying ! - Louise Herrick (Facebook)
  • Looking forward to more of these stories. Love the week by week. - SE Rosenberg (Facebook)
  • Wow, what a beautiful start to your project Tina. That letter really touched me. X - Charmaine Dalli (Facebook)
  • This letter is so beautiful and so deeply comforting. Thank you. - Csilla Rose (Facebook)
  • What BEAUTY in ALL of this Miss T. Bless you and all you name and all you help us all name. So graceful and grounded. - Kate Raffin (Facebook)