Manyitjanu was born on the 9th December 1940 in the desert when her family were walking around, living a traditional nomadic life. She is a Pitjantjatjara speaker originally from the north of Watarru around Aralya and Kunytjanu. She married and moved to Fregon when it was established in 1961 and was involved in the Fregon Choir, helped set up the Fregon Craft room, as well as the Fregon School with Nancy Sheppard. She has five children and four grandchildren. As an early school age girl after ceremony time, Manyitjanu’s aunties took her from Watarru to Ernabella. She later returned to Pipalyatjara with Winifred Hilliard many years later when they were helping people out west, taking them clothes and food. She also learnt numerous arts and crafts such as making moccasins and cushions out of kangaroo skins, spinning and dyeing wool, batik, tie-dyeing and wood carving (punu) at the Ernabella Arts Centre. Her weaving style is quite unique, characterised by bold and energetic use of colour.
Tjanpi (meaning ‘dry grass’) evolved from a series of basket weaving workshops held on remote communities in the Western Desert by the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunyjatjara Women’s Council in 1995. Building on traditions of using fibre for medicinal, ceremonial and daily purposes, women took easily to making coiled baskets. These new-found skills were shared with relations on neighbouring communities and weaving quickly spread. Today over 400 women across 28 communities are making baskets and sculptures out of grass and working with fibre in this way is firmly embedded in Western and Central desert culture. While out collecting desert grasses for their fibre art, women visit sacred sites and traditional homelands, hunt and gather food for their families and teach their children about country. Tjanpi Desert Weavers is Aboriginal owned and is directed by an Aboriginal executive. It is an arts business but also a social enterprise that provides numerous social and cultural benefits and services to weavers and their families. Tjanpi’s philosophy is to keep culture strong, maintain links with country and provide meaningful employment to the keepers and teachers of the desert weaving business. Anangu women of the Central and Western Desert have for a very long time worked with natural fibres to create items such as bush sandals (wipiya tjina), feather pouches (yakulta), hair string skirts (mowillari), and head-rings (manguri) for daily and ceremonial use. Adding a contemporary spin to the traditional, women now create baskets, vessels and an astonishing array of vibrant sculptures from locally collected desert grasses bound with string, wool or raffia and often incorporating feathers, seeds and found materials.