Bree vs Chapter 2: we all must suffer


Hello Chapter 2. It has been a long time. I was pretending you were all well polished a long time ago . . . .

There comes a time when one has read the same chapter so, so, so many times that it really does feel time to move on. Or make other people listen to you talk about it over and over again at least. Or parts thereof. Social organisation chapter.


I apologise for talking so fast in posts lately. It seems I am only capable of composing them thus of late.


. . . . I arrived in the field with an abstract understanding of the Yolŋu kinship system, the socio-political form of the bäpurru (patrifilial descent group) and the regional networks of interrelations between them. By the time I completed my fieldwork I had come to understand these social forms in a grounded, localized sense – as invoked (in talk) and implicated in everyday social relations.

The margin of difference between my earlier, abstract understanding and later sense of familiarity was not simply a matter of contextual detail, but of coming to understand local terms and concepts associated with personhood and relatedness – the self, others and the relationship between them.

In the Yolŋu case these draw heavily on metaphors of the body – e.g.  luku (‘foot, feet, footprint; anchor; base of tree’), rumbal (‘body, torso; stem, trunk; true, proper’), wana (‘arm; front leg; wing’), gurrkurr (‘vein, artery, tendon; branch, root; strength’), and likan (‘elbow, joint, corner; bay, inlet’) – as well as those of the (generic) botanical ‘body’ – e.g. luku, rumbal and gurrkurr (as above), and also raki’ (‘string, rope, root/s’).

My discussion of these concepts or metaphors is, in this chapter at least, centres around a series of five diagrams that my yapa Yethun and waku Gatjikin drew (or instructed me to draw, rather), on butcher paper that I had otherwise stored for genealogies. This particular conversation began in response to my having asked what raki’ were – “nhä ŋayi, ‘raki’-ndja’; nhä ŋayi mayali, ‘raki’-gu’?” – ‘what are raki’; what is the meaning of raki’?’. Yethun and Gatjikin took this to mean – interpreted this question as – my  having asked what “our” raki’ were – the raki’ of our bäpurru.

Throughout the thesis I suggest that raki’ (‘string, rope, root/s’) are strings of relatedness ‘that join, link, connect [people, and people and place] together to each other (manapan-mirri). Below is one context or instance that illustrates how or why this is so.

This was the last of the five drawings – and my favourite in the series. It is a picture of North East Arnhem Land – the socio-political landscape of NE Arnhem Land.


Fieldnote of sorts (2009)


The tree on the top left is “us” – our bäpurru. The other trees in the diagram are wiripu bäpurru (different, other bäpurru – of a different, other form or kind’) with their respective luku, (‘foot[-print], anchor, base’) impressed or imprinted in place on their respective, associated country. It is worth noting that these focal luku sites are ‘actual’, named geographic sites (one on each Country generally), referred to as luku wäŋa (‘foot, footprint, anchor, base place/country’), rumbal wäŋa (‘body, trunk, proper or ‘true’ place/country’), or dhuyu wäŋa (‘private, secret or sacred place/country’).

The roots and branches of each tree or bäpurru (multiple though not depicted so here in the diagram) are, of course, (in the generic sense) the aforementioned raki’ (‘string, rope, root/s’) are strings of relatedness. In the context of this particular diagram they were said to be laytju-warr’-yun – ‘spreading out, becoming separate [from the body]’. At various places each manapan-mirri – ‘join, link, connect together to each other’ with those of other bäpurru.

The description, exegesis and discussion is, of course, a lot longer and more detailed in full. However, I have time and brain only for one last ethnographic note of joy on this diagram before sleep – the circled cluster of roots densely ‘joined together to each other’ denotes or represents a riŋgitj group or ‘riŋgitj collective’ – these are significant socio-political (and ceremonial) forms, which act as ‘one’ in various contexts and are closely aligned or allied in many ways.

This term – riŋgitj – (this always has me rather excited this fact) shares the same origin or ‘root word’ as the Malaysian term ringgit – which these days refers to the official currency of Malaysia. Back in the 16th and 17th century the term ringgit meant ‘jagged’ in Malay when it was used to refer to the serrated edge of Spanish silver dollars, which were in circulation in the region at the time. Oceans of semantic shift and/or lexical change – and the term washes up on what could hardly be any more a’two disparate shores of meaning.

Oh – pre-colonial trade relations, of course, – the origin or source of shared history.





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Filed under Anthropology, Ethnography, Indigenous Australia, Thesis/Yolngu related writing

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