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The Yawuru are an Indigenous Australian people of Western Australia. The Yawuru people are the native title holders of the Western Australian town of Broome, including pockets of land in and around the townsite and two pastoral stations.[1] Their territory encompasses the area south of Roebuck Plains through to the southern end of Thangoo Station.[2]

Yawuru language[edit]

A Japanese linguist, Hosokawa Kōmei (細川弘明), compiled the first basic dictionary of the Yawuru language in 1988,[3] and followed it up with a comprehensive descriptive grammar in 2011.[4]

Social structure and beliefs[edit]

The Yawuru people in Broome also include the Djugan and the two are distinguished only by minor dialectal differences.[5]

In Yawuru cosmology, the primordial time and its world (bugarrigarra) is still present in its creative force, governing social relations, informing the way one interacts with the maritime and continental landscape within their traditional territory, and securing the well-being (yanil) of the community (ngarrungunil).[6] The traditional kinship structure, typical also of other contiguous tribal groups such as the Karajarri, Nyikina and Mangala, is fourfold, consisting of the Banaga and the Burungu, the Garimba and the Barrjarri, the first two in each case form the binary unit of optimal marriage choice. Children assume their kin-tribal identity through the mother. Thus, a child born to a Banaga father and a Burungu woman is classified as Barrjarri, while a Garimba woman married to a Barrjarri man produces Banaga offspring.[7]


The Yawuru recognize five seasons in the year: bargarna, wirlburu, larjar, marol and mankala.[8] The drycold season (bargarna) coincides with a change of fishing from the open sea to the native salmon in creeks; after a brief transitional phase (wirlburu), the larjar period, encompassing September to November, kicks in, called "married turtle time" where abundance caches of eggs can be harvested from the beaches, and reef fishing feasible. The humid marol period follows, when one fishes for whiting, trevally, queenfish and mullet.[9]

Traditional food[edit]

The Yawuru are a coastal people whose basic diet consisted of seafood - fish, turtles, stingrays, dugong, crabs and mangrove shells - but also sand monitors, flying foxes, and bush food foraged in the semi-arid pindan scrub country, divided into edible bush fruits for which they have over 90 terms, covering such things as wattle seed and native tubers, to wallabies, goanna and varieties of birds from native hens and crested pigeons to the bush turkey.[10] Maritime fruits were prepared, after fermentation, by heating them in a baler shell over hot coals.

Maritime hunting technology consisted of fishing spears, fishing boomerangs, fish-stunning poisons (bunjuda), nets made of massed grass sheaves (marukutju:n) shoved through waters to corner fish.,[10] and by building rock ponds fenced with stakes fashioned from mangrove wood, whose base was woven with spinifex to trap fish in the tidal outflows. The timing for hunting stingrays was signaled by the onset of nyalnyala blossoms from a guardo tree, which corresponded seasonally with the period of stingray fattening.[11]

Prominent Yawuru[edit]

Notes and references[edit]