No cheek is an island: Body parts in Yolŋu-matha




One of the things I love about living in Darwin (Northern Territory) is being surrounded by so many different languages on a daily basis. I’ve noticed over the past week, for example, that Kriol and Yolŋu-matha seem to be spoken almost as much as English on the buses. (It would be amazing to do an ethnography of the buses up here actually.) But with re-immersion has come self-consciousness about my own spoken Yolŋu-matha skills. I have been out of practice for so long! All this is to say that I’ve been doing some good old fashioned language practice, and along the way thought to share a few body parts.

Gaaaa ‘kum:


buku – ‘forehead, hill or peak.’ Buku is also associated with ‘will,’ as in individual ‘will power,’ which is not necessarily a positive or appropriate motivation or justification for social action. If a person appears to be ever thinking about money, for example, one could describe them as buku-rrupiya (literally, forehead + money).


mel, maŋutji – eye, [fresh-] waterhole; well, soak, entrance to [native] beehive, seed, nut or grain.’ These terms are also used to refer to one’s lover, as I’ve mentioned hereon before.


ŋurru –nose, tip, front, peninsula, cape, point – of land or spear,’ or, as in the point of a story or narrative.


dhä – ‘mouth, mouth of the river, opening.’ There are innumerable idioms based on this term, including for example,  dhäwaŋgany (literally mouth + one), which denotes agreement or consensus between people and/or bäpurru groups. It can also be used to refer to the point or site at which two or more tributaries of a river meet.


mayaŋ – ‘neck, front of the neck (throat), channel between two islands.’ Mayaŋ can also refer to a river or tributary. The hand-sign to refer to something secret or sacred is to hold one’s throat between one’s index finger and thumb (almost as if to pinch it, but not).


lambarr, garaŋa – ‘shoulder, middle of a canoe or boat.’ This part of the body is used to refer to the reciprocal relationship between bäpa and gäthu, by touching or ‘referring to it’ with an open palm or fist.


dhamunumun – ‘chin.’ This is the part of the body used to refer to the reciprocal relationship between gaminyarr (wSC, ZSC) and ŋapipi (MB)or momu (FM), again, by touching or referring to it with an open palm or fist.


wana ‘arm, wing, branch, tributary’ – not to be confused with wanha, which is ‘where?’


likan – ‘elbow, joint, bay, inlet.’ This is a particularly important conceptual term used to refer to the nature of the relationship between elements of the social world that are different and separate but nonetheless joined together to each other, often denoted by a shared likan name.


goŋ –hand.’ One of my favourite idioms, which refers to the quality of being looked after and cared for by one’s kin, is goŋ-mirri (lit. to have or possess the quality of hands).


gumurr –chest [sternum], open country, land on the horizon.’ As I’ve mentioned before hereon, gumurr is the part of the body associated with ŋayaŋu (‘state or sense of feeling [among and between people]’). It can also be quite an *ahem* sexy term when used in certain idioms.


gulun –belly, stomach, womb; palm (of the hand) or sole (of the foot).’ Gulun can also refer to a freshwater spring, pool or waterhole.


yaŋara’ – ‘lower leg, tail, stem of a plant, shaft of spear, handle (of a tool). This is the part of the body used to refer to the reciprocal relationship between yapa (Z) and wäwa (B).


luku foot, feet, footprint; base or ‘root’ (of tree). Also, ‘anchor, wheel or tyre.’


bun’kumu – ‘knee.‘  Bun’kumu is often used in the same way aslikan when talking about social interrelationships, when two entities are manapan-mirri (‘linked or joined together to each other’).


diltji – back or back-bone, inland or hinterland (as opposed to the beach or coastal area). Diltji is the part of the body that refers to the reciprocal relationship between gutharra (wDC, ZDC) and märi (MM, MMB) or märi mo (FF, FFB, FFZ).


rumbal, yuwalk – ‘body, trunk or torso,’ though one most often hears these terms used in the sense of meaning ‘true’ – as in it’s true, it’s not a lie.


runu, dhakal – ‘cheek.’ Both terms also mean ‘island.’







Filed under Thesis/Yolngu related writing

2 responses to “No cheek is an island: Body parts in Yolŋu-matha

  1. Beautiful the connotations that some of the idioms carry. One hesitates to say so “logical”, more like the making of a certain sensual sense.

  2. Thanks, I think so too Chris. It’s a really beautiful language in that sense.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s