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Baijini are a race of people mentioned in the Djanggawul song cycle of the aboriginal Yolngu people of Arnhem Land in Australia's Northern Territory.

According to Ronald M. Berndt, who studied the mythology of the indigenous people of Arnhem Land in Yirrkala and Milingimbi Island in the late 1940s,[1] "the Baijini, although partially mythological are, rather, historical; for they are said to have been pre-Macassans, primarily traders and aliens to the coast, and not in any way creative as were the Djanggawul. They are, however, treated in the myth as if contemporary with these Ancestral Beings".[2]

Similar to the Makassan trepang fishermen in Australia known to the historians, the Baijini of the Djanggawul myth are said to be "cooking trepang, where the tamarind trees stand to-day".[3] (Tamarind trees are thought to have been introduced to Australia by the Makassans).

The Baijini are also said to have grown rice and built stone houses.[4] The word "Baijini" itself is said to have been derived from a Makassarese root with the meaning "women", which would fit with the fact that the Baijini of the myths have women among them, unlike the historical Makassan trepang fishermen.[5]

While the exact origin and timing of the Asian visitors to Australia who served as the prototype for the mythological Baijini is uncertain,[6] it has been suggested that they may be identified with the Bajau, or Sea Gypsies, the fishing folk of South East Asia who traveled with their families.[7] Other scholars suggested that the account of the Baijini in the Aboriginal folklore are in fact a mythological reflection of the experiences of some Aboriginals who have traveled to Sulawesi with the Macassans and came back.[5]

Some historians have hypothesized that the Baijini may have been visitors from China.[8] Joseph Needham even wondered if the word Baijini could have been derived from Chinese bai ren (白人, "white people" (i.e., those with lighter skin than the Australian natives), bei ren (北人, "northern people"), or even Beijing ren (北京人, "people from Beijing").[9] The Chinese origin hypothesis for the Baijini has been recently popularized by the American journalist Louise Levathes.[10]


  1. ^ Berndt 2005, p. xix
  2. ^ Berndt 2005, p. 55
  3. ^ Berndt 2005, p. 28
  4. ^ Swain 1993, pp. 170, 183
  5. ^ a b Swain 1993, p. 170
  6. ^ "The Western history and prehistory can discover nothing of them", according to: Swain, Tony; Trompf, G. W. (1995), Swain, Tony; Trompf, G. W., eds., The religions of Oceania, Library of religious beliefs and practices, Routledge, ISBN 0-415-06019-2 
  7. ^ Berndt, Ronald Murray; Berndt, Catherine Helen (1954), Arnhem Land: its history and its people, Volume 8 of Human relations area files: Murngin, F. W. Cheshire, p. 34 
  8. ^ Ying-yai Sheng-lan, The Overall Survey of the Ocean's Shores 1433 by Ma Huan, translated by J.V.G. Mills, with foreword and preface, Hakluty Society, London 1970, p. 22. Reprinted by the White Lotus Press 1997 ISBN 974-8496-78-3 (restricted online copy at Google Books
  9. ^ Needham, Joseph (1971), Science and civilisation in China, 4, Cambridge University Press, p. 538, ISBN 0-521-07060-0 
  10. ^ Levathes, Louise (1997), When China Ruled the Seas: The Treasure Fleet of the Dragon Throne, 1405–1433, Oxford University Press, pp. 195–196, ISBN 0-19-511207-5