The Yolngu or Yolŋu (IPA:
All Yolngu clans are affiliated with either the Dhuwa (also spelt Dua) or the Yirritja moiety. Prominent Dhuwa clans include the Rirratjiŋu and Gälpu clans of the Dangu people, while the Gumatj clan is the most prominent in the Yirritja moiety.
For Tindale, following recent linguistic studies, the eastern Arnhem Land tribes constituting the Yolngu lacked the standard tribal structures evidenced elsewhere in Aboriginal Australia, in comprising several distinct socio-linguistic realities in an otherwise integral cultural continuum.
Warner had deployed the term "Murngin" to denote a group of peoples who shared, in his analysis, a distinctive form of kinship organisation, describing their marriage rules, subsection system and kinship terminology. Other researchers in the field quickly contested his early findings. T. Theodor Webb argued that Warner's Murngin actually referred to one moiety, and could only denote a Yiritcha mala, and dismissed Warner's terminology as misleading. A. P. Elkin, comparing the work of Warner and Webb, endorsed the latter's analysis as more congruent with the known facts.
Wilbur Chaseling used the term "Yulengor" in the title of his 1957 work.
Since the 1960s, the term Yolŋu has been widely used by linguists, anthropologists and the Yolŋu people themselves. The term applies to both the sociocultural unit and the language dialects within it.
Yolngu comprise several distinct groups, differentiated by the languages and dialects they speak, but generally sharing overall similarities in the ritual life and hunter-gathering economic and cultural lifestyles in the territory of eastern Arnhem land. Early ethnographers studying the Yolngu applied the nineteenth-century concepts of tribe, horde and phratry to classify and sort into separate identities the units forming the Yolngu ethnocultural mosaic. After the work of Ian Keen in particular, such taxonomic terminology is increasingly seen as problematical, and inadequate because of its eurocentric assumptions. Specialists are undecided, for example, whether the languages spoken by the Yolngu amount to five or eight, and one survey arrived at eleven distinct "dialect" groups.
Yolŋu speak a dozen languages classified under the general heading of
Yolŋu groups are connected by a complex
Yolŋu societies are generally[b] described in terms of a division of two exogamous patrimoieties: Dhuwa and Yirritja. Each of these is represented by people of a number of different groups, each of which have their own lands, languages, totems and philosophies.
|Yirritja||Gumatj, Gupapuyŋu, Waŋurri, Ritharrngu, Maŋalili, Munyuku, Maḏarrpa,
Warramiri, Dhalwaŋu, Liyalanmirri, Mäḻarra, Gamalaŋa, Gorryindi.
|Dhuwa||Rirratjiŋu and Gälpu (both of the Dangu sub-group); Golumala, Marrakulu, Marraŋu, Djapu, Ḏatiwuy,
Ŋaymil, Djarrwark, Djambarrpuyŋu.
A Yirritja person must always marry a Dhuwa person (and vice versa). Children take their father's moiety, meaning that if a man or woman is Dhuwa, their mother will be Yirritja (and vice versa).
Kinship relations are also mapped onto the lands owned by the Yolŋu through their
The term yothu-yindi (after which the band takes its name) literally means child-big (one), and describes the special relationship between a person and their mother's moiety (the opposite to their own). Because of yothu-yindi, Yirritja have a special interest in and duty towards Dhuwa (and vice versa). For example, a Gumatj man may craft the varieties of yiḏaki associated with his own (Yirritja) clan group and the varieties associated with his mother's (Dhuwa) clan group.
The word for "selfish" or "self-centred" in the Yolŋu languages is gurrutumiriw, literally "kin lacking" or "acting as if one has no kin".
The moiety-based kinship of the Yolngu does not map in a straightforward way to the notion of the nuclear family, which makes accurate standardised reporting of households and relationships difficult, for example in the census. Polygamy is a normal part of Yolngu life: one man was known to have 29 wives, a record exceed only by polygamous arrangements among the Tiwi.
As with nearly all Aboriginal groups,
- son-in-law – mother-in-law
- brother – sister
Brother–sister avoidance, called mirriri, normally begins after initiation. In avoidance relationships, people do not speak directly or look at one another, and try to avoid being in too close proximity with each other.
Prominent family names
- Gurruwiwi – Gälpu clan (Dhuwa moiety, Dangu people)
- Marika – Rirratjingu clan (Dhuwa moiety, Dangu people)
- Yunupingu – Gumatj clan (Yirritja moiety)
Yolŋu culture, law and mythology
The word for "law" in Yolngu is rom,
Yolŋu believe that living out their life according to Maḏayin is right and civilised. The Maḏayin creates a state of Magaya, which is a state of peace, freedom from hostilities and true justice for all.
The story of
Raŋga is a name for sacred objects or emblems used in
The concept of Wangarr (also spelt Wanja or Waŋa
In 2022 Rirratjŋu lore man
Yolŋu identify six distinct seasons: Miḏawarr, Dharratharramirri, Rärranhdharr, Bärra'mirri, Dhuluḏur, Mayaltha and Guṉmul.
Yolŋu engaged in extensive trade annually with
Yolŋu oral histories and the
Yolŋu also had well-established trade routes within Australia, extending to
Yolŋu had known about Europeans before the arrival of
In 1883, the explorer David Lindsay was the first colonial white to penetrate Yolngu lands for the purposes of making a survey of its resources and prospects. He trekked along the Goyder River to reach the Arafura Swamp on the western fringe of Wagilak land. In 1884, 10,000 square miles (26,000 km2) of Arnhem Land was sold by the colonial British government to cattle grazier, John Arthur Macartney. The property was called Florida Station and Macartney stocked it with cattle overlanded from Queensland. The first manager of the property, Jim Randell, bolted a swivel cannon to the verandah of the homestead to keep the Indigenous people away, while Jack Watson, the last manager of the property, reportedly "wiped out a lot" of "the blacks" living on the coast at Blue Mud Bay. During the period of Watson's management, another large massacre is recorded to have happened at Mirki on the north coast of Florida Station. The Yolngu people today remember this massacre where many people including children were shot dead. The battles between the graziers and the local population resulted in a severe depopulation of Yolngu, but the stiffness of resistance temporarily ended efforts by the intruding balanda to take over further territory, and efforts at settlement ground to a halt. Monsoonal flooding, disease and the strong resistance from the local Aboriginal population resulted in Florida Station being abandoned by Macartney in 1893.
In the early 20th century, Yolngu oral history relates, punitive expeditions were launched into their territories. From 1903 to 1908, the property rights of much of Arnhem Land were held by the Eastern and African Cold Storage Supply Company. This Anglo-Australian consortium leased the region under the name of Arafura cattle station and attempted to construct a massive cattle raising and meat production industry. The company employed roving gangs of armed men to shoot the resident Aboriginal population. The first mission to Yolngu country was set up at Milingimbi Island in 1922. The island is the traditional home of the Yan-nhaŋu. Beginning in 1932, over two years, three incidents of killing outsiders caused problems for the Yolngu.
In 1932 five Japanese trepangers were speared by Yolŋu men, in what became known as the Caledon Bay crisis. Yolngu men testified that their actions arose in response to the abuse of their women and to thrashings and firing on them by the Japanese crew. Two whites, Fagan and Traynor, were killed near Woodah Island the following year, and soon afterwards, in July, Constable McColl, who was investigating the incidents, was speared on that island.[c] The Aboriginal evidence was ignored in the trials which led to their conviction and the imprisonment of five Yolŋu in Fannie Bay Gaol in present-day Darwin. Only the intervention of missionaries, who had a foothold on the fringes of this area, and of the anthropologist Donald Thomson, who led a groundswell of indignation at the travesty of justice, averted an official reprisal designed to "teach the wild blacks a lesson." One sentence was quashed, three sons of a local leader were released as was Dagiar, who had received a death sentence. It was widely believed that the latter, who disappeared, had been lynched by local policemen.
Thomson lived with the Yolŋu for several years (1935-1937) and made some photographic and written records of their way of life at that time. These have become important historical documents for both Yolŋu and European Australians.
In 1935 a
In 1941, during World War II, Thomson persuaded the Australian Army to establish a Special Reconnaissance Unit (NTSRU) of Yolŋu men to help repel Japanese raids on Australia's northern coastline (classified as top secret at the time). Yolŋu made contact with Australian and US servicemen, although Thomson was keen to prevent this. Thomson relates how the soldiers would often try to obtain Yolŋu spears as mementos. These spears were vital to Yolŋu livelihood, and took several days to make and forge.
More recently, Yolngu have seen the imposition of large mines on their tribal lands at Nhulunbuy.
Yolngu in politics
Since the 1960s Yolngu leaders have been conspicuous in the struggle for
In 1963, provoked by a unilateral government decision to excise a part of their land for a
When the politicians demonstrated they would not change their minds, the Yolngu of Yirrkala took their grievances to the courts in 1971, in the case of
The song "Treaty", by Yothu Yindi, which became an international hit in 1989, arose as a remonstration over the tardiness of the Hawke government in enacting promises to deal with Aboriginal land rights, and made a powerful pleas for respect for Yolngu culture, territory and Law.
Yolngu artists and performers have been at the forefront of global recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Yolngu traditional dancers and musicians have performed widely throughout the world and retain a germinal influence, through the patronage of the Munyarryun and Marika families in particular, on contemporary performance troupes such as Bangarra Dance Theatre.
Yolngu visual art
Before the emergence of the
Yolngu are also
The Yothu Yindi band, especially after its song "Treaty", performed the most popular indigenous music since Jimmy Little's Royal Telephone (1963) became Australia's most successful contemporary indigenous music group, and performed throughout the world. Their work has elicited serious musicological analysis.
Arnhem Land is the home of the yiḏaki, which Europeans have named the didgeridoo. Yolngu are both players and craftsmen of the yiḏaki. It can only be played by certain men, and traditionally there are strict protocols around its use.[clarification needed]
Dr G. Yunupingu (1971–2017) was a famous Yolngu singer.
Prominent Yolngu people
- Baker Boy (Danzal Baker)
- Laurie Baymarrwangga
- George Rrurrambu Burarrwanga
- Gary Dhurrkay
- Gatjil Djerrkura
- Nathan Djerrkura
- David Gulpilil
- Djalu Gurruwiwi
- Leila Gurruwiwi
- Rarriwuy Hick
- David Malangi
- Djambawa Marawili
- Banduk Marika
- Raymattja Marika
- Roy Marika
- Wandjuk Marika
- Janet Munyarryun
- Galarrwuy Yunupingu
- Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu
- Mandawuy Yunupingu
- Yingiya Mark Guyula, Independent member for Nhulunbuy in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.
Films about Yolngu
- Ten Canoes
- Westwind: Djalu’s Legacy, about Djalu Gurruwiwi (there are also other films about him)
- Yolngu Boy
- High Ground
Every year, Yolngu come together to celebrate their culture at the
Sources: Keen 2005, p. 80 AIATSIS: N230;
- Gove land rights case
- Indigenous Australian food groups
- Yirrkala bark petitions
- Taboo against naming the dead
- Australian Aboriginal astronomy
- exonym by other tribes, referred to Arnhem Land tribes that had a reputation for aggressive behavior because they had managed to manufacture iron-bladed spears from metal cut from abandoned Caledon Bay water tanks (Tindale 1974, pp. 141–142).
- ^ There are complications in the schematic models often adopted in ethnography to analyse kinship. The reader may consult two papers by Ian Keen for details (Keen 1995, pp. 502–527; Keen 2000, pp. 419–436).
- ^ 'Police, delayed by the wet season, pursued the men at Blue Mud Bay, where Constable Stewart McColl was speared in July. The police were later accused of handcuffing four women who were left under McColl's watch with two Aboriginal trackers while their party went after the suspects. McColl is believed to have released all but one woman, Japarri, who called out for help (just before her death she told Ted Egan intercourse did not take place). McColl then fired on her husband Dagiar, who speared him' (Conor 2013, p. 61).
- ^ Tindale 1974, p. 141.
- ^ Sharp 1939, p. 150.
- ^ Tindale 1974, p. 224.
- ^ Tindale 1974, pp. 141, 157.
- ^ Webb 1933, p. 410.
- ^ Elkin 1933, pp. 415–416.
- ^ Chaseling 1957.
- ^ a b Bauer 2014a, p. 38.
- ^ Keen 1995, pp. 502–527.
- ^ Bauer 2014b, pp. 43–44.
- ^ a b c d e Morphy 2008b.
- ^ Morphy 2008b, pp. 1–13.
- ^ Dhuwa and Yirritja Yiḏaki.
- ^ Yothu-Yindi and Yiḏaki Crafting.
- ^ Keen 1982, p. 620.
- ^ Christie 2007, p. 157, n.1.
- ^ Caruana 2014.
- ^ Gaymarani 2011, p. 285.
- ^ Kelly 2014, p. 33.
- ^ Mortimer 2019, p. 76.
- ^ a b Lewis 2007.
- ^ Yunupingu 2016.
- ^ Gaymarani 2011, pp. 286–287.
- ^ Williams 1986, pp. ?.
- ^ Hughes 2000.
- ^ Rothwell 2008.
- ^ Art Gallery of New South Wales.
- ^ a b James 2022.
- ^ Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation.
- ^ Berndt 2005, p. 55.
- ^ Swain 1993, p. 170.
- ^ Needham, Wang & Lu 1971, p. 538.
- ^ Thomson & Peterson 2005, p. ?.
- ^ Walker & Zorc 1981, pp. 109–134.
- ^ White 2016, p. 323.
- ^ Macartney 1909.
- ^ Gaunt 1934, p. 3.
- ^ Battler 1926, p. 4.
- ^ Ryan 2019.
- ^ Read 2002, pp. 29–35.
- ^ Morphy 2008a, p. 117.
- ^ a b Morphy 2008a, p. 118.
- ^ Roberts 2005, pp. 169–170.
- ^ a b c Conor 2013, p. 61.
- ^ Thomson 1992, p. 21.
- ^ Thomson 1992, pp. 1–2.
- ^ a b MoAD.
- ^ Corn 2009, p. 42.
- ^ Verghis 2014.
- ^ Evans 2016.
- ^ Stubington & Dunbar-Hall 1994, pp. 243–259.
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- ISBN 978-0-522-85205-9.
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a series of twelve beautifully animated Dreamtime stories from Central Arnhem Land...− 12 Episodes, each with accompanying Study Guide: Whirlpool, Mermaid, Brolga, Morning Star, Namorrodor, Curse, Moon Man, Be, Spear, Wawalag (or Wagalak) sisters, Bat and the Butterfly, and Mimis.
- Twelve Canoes – video (made in collaboration with the people of Ramingining)
- Lewis, Robert. Twelve Canoes: A Study Guide (PDF). Atom, Screen Australia, Australian Government.
- Salvestro, Denise Yvonne (April 2016). Printmaking by Yolngu artists of Northeast Arnhem Land: 'Another way of telling our stories' (PhD thesis). doi:10.25911/5d7636021d35c – via Open Research. PDF
- "Yolngu Culture". Dhimurru Aboriginal Corporation.