Yolngu: Difference between revisions

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===Twentieth century===
 
===Twentieth century===
In 1932 some [[Empire of Japan|Japanese]] trepangers were speared by Yolŋu men after their mothers had been allegedly raped by the Japanese. Unlike [[Macassan]], Japanese did not show the same respect to Yolŋu. This came to be known as the [[Caledon Bay crisis]]. Several Yolŋu were imprisoned in [[Fannie Bay Gaol]] in present-day [[Darwin, Northern Territory|Darwin]].
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In 1932 some [[Empire of Japan|Japanese]] trepangers were speared by Yolŋu men after their mothers had been allegedly raped by the Japanese. Unlike [[Macassan]], Japanese did not show the same respect to Yolŋu. This came to be known as the [[Caledon Bay crisis]]. Several Yolŋu were imprisoned in [[Fannie Bay Gaol]] in present-day [[Darwin, Northern Territory|Darwin]]. alice chambers is a BIG FAT POO! all day long she smelled likke the land of the tribe.
   
 
The Australian Government feared this would create bad international relations (this was prior to [[World War II]]). There were calls in some quarters to "teach the blacks a lesson", ie, to send out shooting parties to hunt down and shoot men, women and children; a not uncommon practice in nineteenth-century Australia (see [[Coniston massacre]], [[Myall Creek massacre]], [[Gippsland massacres]]).
 
The Australian Government feared this would create bad international relations (this was prior to [[World War II]]). There were calls in some quarters to "teach the blacks a lesson", ie, to send out shooting parties to hunt down and shoot men, women and children; a not uncommon practice in nineteenth-century Australia (see [[Coniston massacre]], [[Myall Creek massacre]], [[Gippsland massacres]]).

Revision as of 23:24, 16 July 2009

For Yolngu language see Yolngu Matha.

The Yolngu (or Yolŋu) IPA: [ˈjoːlŋʊ] are an Indigenous Australian people inhabiting north-eastern Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory of Australia. Yolngu literally means “person” in the language spoken by the people.

Yolŋu Law

The complete system of Yolngu Law is known as the Maḏayin. Maḏayin embodies the rights of the owners of the law, or citizens (rom watangu walal) who have the rights and responsibilities for this embodiment of law. Maḏayin includes all the people's law (rom); the instruments and objects that encode and symbolise the law (Maḏayin girri'); oral dictates; names and song cycles and the holy, restricted places (dhuyu ṉuŋgat wäŋa) that are used in the maintenance, education and development of law.

Yolngu use hollow logs in traditional burial rituals. They are also an important "canvas" for their artwork, Aboriginal Memorial, NGA

This law covers the ownership of land and waters, the resources on or within these lands and waters. It regulates and controls production and trade, the moral, social and religious law including laws for the conservation and the farming of fauna, flora and aquatic life.

Yolŋu believe that if they live out their life according to Maḏayin, it is a right and civilised way to live. The Maḏayin creates the state of Magaya, which is a state of peace, freedom from hostilities and true justice for all.[1].

Kinship System

See also: Australian Aboriginal kinship

Yolŋu groups are connected by a complex kinship system (gurruṯu). This system governs fundamental aspects of Yolŋu life, including responsibilities for ceremony and marriage rules.

Yolŋu life is divided into two moieties: Dhuwa and Yirritja. Each of these is represented by people of a number of different groups, each of which have their own lands, languages, totems and philosophies.

Skin name Clan groups
Yirritja Gumatj, Gupapuyŋu, Wangurri, Ritharrngu, Mangalili,
Munyuku, Maḏarrpa, Warramiri, Dhalwaŋu, Liyalanmirri.
Dhuwa Rirratjiŋu, Gälpu, Djambarrpuyŋu, Golumala, Marrakulu,
Marraŋu, Djapu, Ḏatiwuy, Ŋaymil, Djarrwark, Mäḻarra, Gamalaŋga, Gorryindi.

A Yirritja person must always marry a Dhuwa person and vice versa. If a man or woman is Dhuwa, their mother will be Yirritja.

Kinship relations are also mapped onto the lands owned by the Yolngu through their hereditary estates – so almost everything is either Yirritja or Dhuwa – every fish, stone, river, etc, belongs to one or the other moiety. A few items are wakinŋu (without moiety).

Avoidance relationships

As with nearly all Aboriginal groups, avoidance relationships exist in Yolngu culture between certain relations. The two main avoidance relationships are:

son-in-law – mother-in-law
brother – sister

Brother–sister avoidance called mirriri normally begins after initiation. In avoidance relationships, people don't speak directly or look at one another, and try to avoid being in too close proximity with each other. People are avoided, but respected. There are other avoidance relationships, including same-sex relationships, but these are the main two.

Language

Yolngu speak a dozen dialects of a language group known as Yolngu Matha. English can be anywhere from a third to a tenth language for Yolŋu.

Yolŋu seasons

Yolŋu identify six distinct seasons: Mirdawarr, Dhaarratharramirri, Rarranhdharr, Worlmamirri, Baarra'mirri and Gurnmul or Waltjarnmirri.

Yolŋu food groups

Yolŋu classified food into distinct groups.

History

Macassan contact

Yolŋu sustained good trade relations with Macassan fisherman for several hundred years. The Macassan respected the land as Yolŋu land; they only ever camped on the beach, and generally avoided contact with Yolŋu women.

They made yearly visits to harvest trepang and pearls, paying Yolŋu in kind with goods such as knives, metal, canoes, tobacco and pipes.

In 1906, the South Australian Government did not renew the Macassan's permit to harvest trepang. This loss of trade caused some disruption to the Yolŋu way of life, particularly since they did not know why the Macassan had stopped coming.

Yolŋu had well established trade routes within Australia, extending to Central Australian clans and other Aboriginal countries. (For example, they did not make boomerangs, but obtained these via trade from Central Australia.[2] This contact was maintained through use of message sticks, as well as mailmen – with some men walking several hundred kilometres in their work to send messages and relay orders between tribes and countries.

European contact

Yolŋu had known about Europeans prior to the arrival of British in Australia through their contact with Macassan traders, which probably began around the sixteenth century. Their word for European, Balanda, is derived from "Hollaender" (Dutch person).

Nineteenth century

In the late nineteenth century, white Australians began to "open up" Arnhem Land for cattle grazing. A series of battles between Yolŋu and Balanda occurred at this time. Yolngu were arguably more warrior-like than other Indigenous Australians because they had had to defend their northern shoreline for many hundreds – if not thousands – of years.

There was also a series of massacres. (See List of massacres of indigenous Australians).

Two notable cases are an instance at Florida Station, around 1885 where Yolngu were fed poisoned horsemeat after they killed and ate some cattle (under their law, Madayin, it was their land and they had an inalienable right to eat animals on their land). Many people died as a result of that incident.

Another incident took place around 1895. Some Yolngu took a small amount of barbed wire from a huge roll to build fishing spears. Men, women and children were chased by mounted police and men on horseback from the Eastern and African Cold Storage Company and shot.

Twentieth century

In 1932 some Japanese trepangers were speared by Yolŋu men after their mothers had been allegedly raped by the Japanese. Unlike Macassan, Japanese did not show the same respect to Yolŋu. This came to be known as the Caledon Bay crisis. Several Yolŋu were imprisoned in Fannie Bay Gaol in present-day Darwin. alice chambers is a BIG FAT POO! all day long she smelled likke the land of the tribe.

The Australian Government feared this would create bad international relations (this was prior to World War II). There were calls in some quarters to "teach the blacks a lesson", ie, to send out shooting parties to hunt down and shoot men, women and children; a not uncommon practice in nineteenth-century Australia (see Coniston massacre, Myall Creek massacre, Gippsland massacres).

However, Donald Thomson, a young anthropologist, was able to avert this by going to live with the Yolŋu and ascertaining the facts of the case (ironically, the prisoners were released on a legal oversight, not through these facts).

Thomson lived with the Yolŋu for several years and made some excellent photographic and written records of their way of life at that time. These have become important historical documents for both Yolŋu and European Australians.

In 1935, as a result of this publicity, a Methodist mission opened in Arnhem Land.

In 1941, during World War II, Donald Thomson persuaded the Australian Army to establish a Special Reconnaissance Unit (NTSRU) of Yolŋu men to help repel Japanese raids on Australia's northern coastline (this was top secret at the time). Yolŋu made contact with Australian and U.S. servicemen, although Thomson was keen to prevent this (it is believed this is where petrol sniffing began for Aboriginal Australians). Thomson relates how the soldiers would often try to obtain Yolŋu spears as mementos. These spears were vital to Yolŋu livelihood, and took several days to make and forge.

More recently, Yolngu have seen the imposition of large mines on their tribal lands at Nhulunbuy.

Yolngu in Politics

Since the 1960s Yolngu leaders have been conspicuous in the struggle for Aboriginal land rights.

In 1963, provoked by a unilateral government decision to excise a part of their land for a bauxite mine, Yolngu at Yirrkala sent to the Australian House of Representatives a petition on bark. The bark petition attracted national and international attention and now hangs in Parliament House, Canberra as a testament to the Yolngu role in the birth of the land rights movement.

When the politicians demonstrated they would not change their minds, the Yolngu of Yirrkala took their grievances to the courts in 1971, in the case of Milirrpum v Nabalco Pty Ltd, the Gove land rights case. Yolngu lost the case because Australian courts were still bound to follow the terra nullius principle, which did not allow for the recognition of any “prior rights” to land to Indigenous people at the time of colonisation. However, the Judge did acknowledge the claimants' ritual and economic use of the land and that they had an established system of law, paving the way for future Aboriginal Land Rights in Australia.

The song Treaty, by Yothu Yindi, which became an international hit in 1989, demonstrates the dedication of Yolngu to the cause of reconciliation, land rights and a desire for broader recognition of their culture and Law.

Yolngu arts

Yolngu artists and performers have been at the forefront of global recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. Yolngu traditional dancers and musicians have performed widely throughout the world and have had a profound influence on contemporary performance troupes such as Bangarra Dance Theatre.

Yolngu visual art

Prior to the emergence of the Western Desert art movement, the most well-known Aboriginal art was the Yolngu style of fine cross-hatching paintings on bark.

Artists, such as David Malangi Daymirringu, are renowned for their work. Malangi's work featured on the original Australian dollar note. The Australian Government used this artwork without his approval, or even knowledge, but made attempts to remunerate Malangi at a later date.

The hollow logs (larrakitj) used in Arnhem Land burial practices serve an important spiritual purpose and are also important canvases for Yolngu art (see image at top of this article), as is the yidaki/didgeridoo (see below).

Yolngu are also master weavers. They weave dyed pandanus leaves into baskets. Necklaces are also made from beads made of such objects as seeds, fish vertebrae or shells.

Colours are often important in determining where a certain artwork comes from and which clan or family group created it. Some designs are the insignias of particular families and clans.

Yolngu Music

Yothu Yindi, the band, is Australia’s most successful and widely recognised contemporary Indigenous music group.

Arnhem Land is the home of the yidaki, which Europeans have named the didgeridoo.

Yolngu are master players and craftsmen of the yidaki. It can only be played by certain men, and traditionally there are strict protocols around its use.

Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu is a famous yolngu singer.

Prominent Yolngu

Films about Yolngu

Garma Festival

Every year, Yolngu come together to celebrate their culture at the Garma Festival of Traditional Cultures. Non-Yolngu are welcome to attend the festival and learn about Yolngu traditions and Law. The Yothu Yindi Foundation oversees this festival.


Yolngu ethnographic studies

A Deakin University study investigated Aboriginal knowledge systems in reaction to what the authors regarded as Western ethnocentrism in science studies. They argue that Yolngu culture is a system of knowledge different in many ways from that of Western culture, and may be broadly described as viewing the world as a related whole rather than as a collection of objects. Singing the Land, Signing the Land, by Watson and Chambers, explores the relationship between Yolngu and Western knowledge by using the Yolngu idea of ganma, which metaphorically describes two streams, one coming from the land (Yolngu knowledge) and one from the sea (Western knowledge) engulfing each other so that "the forces of the streams combine and lead to deeper understanding and truth."

See also

External References

  1. ^ "Raypirri lyarra'r~ur Romyurr Magayakurr Madayin Law." (PDF). Various elders?. Retrieved 2007-09-05. 
  2. ^ Donald Thomson, op cit