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The Jawoyn are a group of Indigenous Australians living in the Northern Territory of Australia.


Jawoyn, known as Kumertuo, is a non-Pama–Nyungan language and belongs to the Macro-Gunwinyguan group of languages of Arnhem land.[1] Recently both the Gunwinyguan and Pama-Nyungan languages have been grouped as branches of a proto-Macro-Pama–Nyungan languages. It was spoken in several dialect forms, but after resettlement in the post-war period these dialects have tended to confluesce into a standard language.[1]


The traditional lands of the Jawoyn were located in the Katherine Gorge area in the Northern Territory, which they call Nitmiluk, which derives its name from nitmi meaning the 'cicada song' Nabilil the crocodile heard when he set up camp at the entrance to the gorge (luk signifying 'place').[2] Nitmiluk denotes specifically to a 12 kilometre stretch there consisting of a spectacular chain of chasms and ravines.[3] It has been suggested that Jawoyn people are not only those who speak that language, but also those who are associated with the landscapes inscribed in the Jawoyn language according to their foundational mythology of the Dreamtime.[4][a] The language itself, in several varieties was spoken along the Katherine River system as far as the Mainoru River (de).[1]


A widespread belief in Aboriginal thought holds that each language emerged during the formative time of creation when a demiurgic totem figure moved through the landscape crafting it and, simultaneously, endowing each topological feature with its proper word.[6] The creative being changed the language at certain transit points which then were taken as boundary markers between tribes speaking different languages.[7] Thus in Jawoyn thinking, the landscape of the Katherine Gorge, were created in the primordial time (Burr) by Nabilil (Crocodile) who named all of the area's distinctive features in the Jawonn language.[5] He came from the sea, furnished with his firestick (meya) and moved through what became Dagoman and Nangiomeri lands before reaching the gorge.[8]

The Burr dreamtime also contasins other key figures of myth such as Boolong (The Rainbow Serpent) and Barraya(the kookaburra).[2]


Jawoyn seasonal calendar[9]
Jiorrk Bungarung Jungalk Malaparr Worrwopmi Wakaringding
January February March April May June July August September October November December
Main part of wet rains Last rains Early hot dry Middle dry Early build-up The build-up
Drying out Cooler Hot and sticky First rains
Burning time

Some words[edit]

  • Yowoyn. 'Yes', 'alright'.
  • Bobo. 'Goodbye.'[10]

Other spellings[edit]

  • Djauan, Adowen, Jawan, Jawony, Kumertuo.[11]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 'Jawoyn people are Jawoyn not because they speak Jawoyn. But bercause they are linked to places to which the Jawoyn language is also linked'.[5]
  1. ^ a b c Merlan 2016, p. 201.
  2. ^ a b Dunbar-Hall & Gibson 2004, p. 212.
  3. ^ Dunbar-Hall & Gibson 2004, p. 211.
  4. ^ Dixon 2004, p. 3.
  5. ^ a b Rumsey 2005, p. 200.
  6. ^ Tsunoda 2006, p. 136.
  7. ^ Merlan 1998, p. 126.
  8. ^ Merlan 1998, p. 125.
  9. ^ Reid 1995.
  10. ^ Language 2016.
  11. ^ Djauan 2016.