Aboriginal people in the rocky environments of western and south-western Arnhem Land tell of the existence of tall slender spirits which they call Mimih. The name Mimih is well known throughout the top end of the Northern Territory. The people of western Arnhem Land believe that Mimih spirits live in a social organisation similar to Aboriginal people, and that Mimih society existed before humans. Mimih are credited with instructing the first people with knowledge relating to survival in the rocky environment of the Arnhem Land plateau. Mimih are said to have taught the first humans how to hunt and butcher game and also how to dance, sing and paint. The song and dance style of western Arnhem Land Aboriginal people is still known today as Mimih style.
Despite the usual descriptions of Mimih as being benign towards humans, sometimes however they are attributed with mischievous and dangerous qualities, capable of kidnapping and even killing humans. 'Clever' men, or Aboriginal men with supernatural powers, sometimes befriend the Mimih and are taught their songs and dances and shown their secret places. The Mimih are like people, using the same kinship terms and speaking the same language as the local Aboriginal group and live in families like humans. Mimih are however, terribly thin, having necks so slender that a stiff breeze would be fatal. For this reason they emerge only on windless days and nights to hunt. As soon as a breeze develops, the Mimih are said to run back to their rocky caverns and disappear inside.
Now a familiar and broadly depicted figure of iconography, it is important to acknowledge the development of this quite recent sculptural tradition. The depiction of this particular spirit being, once used as an addition to the sharing of song cycles and ceremony, has since been elevated to a prominent form and subject of contemporary sculpture. The sculptures are frequently carved from the thin trunks of softwoods such as kapok (bombax ceiba or cottonwood) kurrajong, beach hibiscus or leichardt and are painted with earth pigments for their colouring and design. Variation in the creation of mimih acts as an indication of the individualism of each artist and their stylistic marks. Additionally significant to note is that in the space of the past thirty years, the mimih has begun being produced by multiple language groups residing in the Maningrida area including the traditional owners of Maningrida, the Ndjébbana, speaking Kunibidji as well as Gurrgoni people who have strong ties to Kuninjku.