Tiwi people

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Tiwi people
Total population
Regions with significant populations
Australia (Northern Territory)
Related ethnic groups
see List of Indigenous Australian group names

The Tiwi people are one of the many Indigenous groups of Australia. Nearly 2,500 Tiwi live in the Bathurst and Melville Islands, which make up the Tiwi Islands. The Tiwi Islanders are known for music, art and athletics. Notable Tiwi people include David Kantilla, Austin Wonaeamirri and Adam Kerinaua. The stolen generation saw many indigenous people brought to the Tiwi Islands but not of direct Tiwi descent.

Art and language[edit]

Tiwi art and language are markedly distinct from those of nearby Arnhem Land. Compared with Arnhem Land art, Tiwi art often appears to be abstract and geometric. With its strong patterns and use of colour, Tiwi art is considered very attractive and highly collectible. Tiwi art is used to tell stories, and the hatch patterns represent friendships within the community. Many art experts worldwide have studied Tiwi art and have analysed the meaning of Tiwi symbols. Tiwi art forms an integral part of the oral tradition passing on history and wisdom through generations.

English is taught at schools as a second language, and the Tiwi communicate principally in their own language. When in mourning, it is part of their beliefs to paint their body and express their love for who has passed through music, art and dance.Painting has been practised for thousands of years as a part of ceremonies and the Tiwi totem poles are famous and have been sold all over the world. Tiwi use natural ochre pigments. They make these colours from natural pigment in the earth.When a person dies their name becomes taboo. For many years as the spirit returns to the land,you cannot say the name of the person.When the Tiwis are using their remarkable knowledge to find food in the bush, they never take the mothers or the baby animals.This proves their incredible respect for the land and knowledge of how to conserve the environment.

Ceiling of a Tiwi Island art gallery and studio, 2011.

Hunting for food is still an important part of Tiwi life. On land, they hunt for wallaby, lizards, possums, carpet snakes, pig, buffalo, flying foxes, bandicoot, turtle and seagull eggs and magpie geese. From the sea they hunt for turtle, crocodiles, dugong and fish.

Dancing or yoi as they call it, is a part of everyday life. Tiwi inherit their totemic dance from their mother. Narrative dances are performed to depict everyday life or historical events. The land on both islands is heavily forested.

Music and ritual[edit]

Music forms an integral part,of all aspects of life on the Tiwi islands.[1]

The Tiwi people sing songs about the land which have been handed down through the generations.They sing about many aspects of their lives, including hunting, cooking, family, animals, plants and the Australian outback. Some of these songs have been recorded and archived. There was a performance of Tiwi women singing recently in different important venues in Australia. The Tiwi "strong women's group" are currently working on a collaborative project to conserve their music. Research has led to a revival of some of the old songs. As these songs have been sung for thousands of years, it is with the strictest sensitivity that this research must be carried out.

The music of the Tiwi women "strong women's group" is being preserved and revived currently on Bathurst and Melville island. Some old anthropological investigations of relationships on the Tiwi islands are referenced below. The Tiwi of North Australia, Case studies in cultural anthropology, Nicholas Hewett, Arnold R. Pilling, Jane Carter Goodale, Holt, Rineh

Anthropologist Jane C. Goodale conducted life history interviews with Tiwi women, publishing Tiwi Wives in 1971 in which she examined how social change was reflected in ritual.


  1. ^ Campbell, Genevieve. "Ngarukuruwala – we sing: the songs of the Tiwi Islands, northern Australia.". PhD Thesis, University of Sydney, Australia. 

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