Tiwi people

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
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.

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.

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 not feed themselves. Another person therefore must feed them. Body painting has been practised for thousands of years as a part of ceremonies. Tiwi use natural ochre pigments. Notably, some of the Tiwi have large, continuous brow ridges.

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.

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.

Marriage in the Tiwi[edit]

The Tiwi believe that a female can become pregnant at any time no matter the age. This, along with their belief that no child should be born fatherless, creates a system in which all females have to be married at all times. Newborn girls are engaged to men of at least 60 years of age, although they do not start to live with their husbands until the age of 14. In addition, women whose husbands have died are remarried to someone else, no matter their own age. All marriage contracts are arranged by the "father" of the female (whether it is the first marriage or a remarriage). When a man dies, the woman's new partner takes on the role of father for all of the woman's children from all previous marriages.

A powerful and elderly man can have as many as 100 wives at the time of his death, yet many of these could still be under the age of 14, meaning they do not live with him.[1]

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. ^ The Tiwi of North Australia, Case studies in cultural anthropology, Nicholas Hewett, Arnold R. Pilling, Jane Carter Goodale, Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1988,

External links[edit]