The land and its people have always been linked. Caring for the land and its wildlife is fundamental to Aboriginal people’s culture.
Art, language, ceremonies, kinship and caring for country are all aspects of cultural responsibility that they have passed from one generation to the next, since the Creation time.
Clans and kinship
The Kakadu region is culturally diverse. The Aboriginal people in the region are from a number of different clans, often speaking different languages and in some cases upholding different traditions.
Clans consist of two or more family groups sharing ownership of an area of land. Clan boundaries are passed from one generation to the next, generally through the father. Kakadu has about 19 clan groups.
In the Kakadu area, the kinship system is very complex. All people, plants, animals, songs, dances, ceremonies and land are divided into two groups, or 'moieties': Duwa or Yirridja.
Each moiety is subdivided into eight 'skin' groups. A child's skin group is determined by their mother's skin group but they inherit their moiety from their father.
In simple terms, kinship can be described as a system that defines how people relate to each other. Through the use of 'skin' names we identify the people around us as mothers, fathers, uncles, aunts, cousins, potential marriage partners, and so on, and modify our behaviour accordingly. Almost every aspect of day-to-day communication with other Aboriginal people is governed by kinship ties.
In the time before non-Aboriginal settlement, 12 languages were spoken in the Kakadu area. Today, only three are spoken on a regular basis: Gun-djeihmi, Kun-winjku and Jawoyn.
Many Aboriginal people will speak two or more languages. Gun-djeihmi and Kun-winjku languages are regarded as dialects of one another because speakers can understand each other. Jawoyn is a separate language.
Gun-djeihmi is a living language. It is the language spoken in the central part of Kakadu. Unlike English, the spelling system is very consistent, so once you have learnt the rules it is quite easy to work out how to correctly pronounce words.
For more information about how to pronounce the Gun-djeihmi alphabet and a few key words download the Aboriginal language park note.
- Bo bo - good bye
- Andjeuk - raincloud
- Anme - fruit and vegetables
- Anmorlak - Kakadu plum
- Djeni - fish
- Gudjewg - Monsoon season
- Banggerreng - knock 'em down storm season
Language Audio Files
Listen to our language audio files to hear the aboriginal spoken word.
- Ad bininj arringeibun gunj - We Aboriginal people call Kangaroo 'gunj'
- Are awurlebme - I'm going to swim
- Aye amarnebolkdjare Ubirr - I like that place Ubirr
- Anang mulil ginga nawern - I saw many crocodiles, lots of them.
- Aye Cooinda are - I am going to Cooinda
- Aye djenj ngare - I am going fishing
- Aye gunbolk ngarduk Ngurrngurrudjba - My country is Yellow Waters
- Aye gure ngayo town camp - I live at town camp. (or substitute another place name for "town camp")
- Ayedgah arrire arriyo - Where can we go camping?
- Ayedgah yire - Where are you going?
- Banggerreng - Late wet season
- Bobo - Goodbye
- Bolkgime yekke - It's the cool dry season now.
- Galuk yimdurndeng Kakadu
- Gubehne gunyed adberre arrigukbulerri - This land belongs to us Aboriginal people.
- Gudjeuk - Middle wet season
- Gunumeleng - First rains season.
- Gurrung - Build-up late dry season.
- Ngaye Manabadduma gure ngayo
- Ngudda yiwokdi Gundjeihmi - Do you speak Gundjeihmi?
- Udda ayedgah yimdolkgang - Where are you from?
- Udda balanda ngurringeibun fish - You English speakers use the word 'fish' but we Aboriginal people say 'djenj'.
- Udda Balanda wurringeibun kangaroo - You English speakers use the word 'kangaroo' but we Aboriginal people say 'gunj'.
- Walakgih - A little bit
- Wudda baleh yiyo - Where are you staying?
- Wudda gamak - How are you? (literally: Are you well?)
- Yekke - Cool dry season.
- Yibolkmarnedjare gubehne guwadda - Do you like this country here?
- Wurrgeng - Cold dry season when burning takes place.
- Yiddok yinang ginga - Did you see any crocodiles?
- Yo gamak - Yes, I'm fine.
Want to learn more about Kakadu’s languages? Visit the Bininj Gunwok website
Respecting Indigenous culture
Aboriginal culture has a set of social behaviours and customs which are considered good manners.
- Traditionally, Aboriginal people (Bininj/Mungguy) do not greet each other every time they meet. However, they are used to non-Aboriginal people doing so and may expect a 'hello'
- Many Bininj/Mungguy do not use personal names as freely as non-Aboriginal people do. They often address each other by kinship terms
- Bininj/Mungguy appreciate privacy. It is good manners not to take photographs without permission
- Some Bininj/Mungguy find constant eye contact uncomfortable
- In Bininj/Mungguy culture it is important to listen carefully and consider the response carefully before giving an answer
- It is polite to say goodbye when leaving. The Bininj/Mungguy word for goodbye is 'Boh Boh' (pronounced bor bor)
- Show respect by not entering restricted areas. They may be sacred sites, ceremonial sites, burial grounds or even someone's home.