A Yolŋu worldview and science

Full transcript of the interview with Dr R. Marika

In the Yolŋu worldview there are two moieties, one is Yirritja and the other is Dhuwa. They are two halves of one whole. Our view of the world is wholistic. All knowledge is interconnected. Art is connected to songs and songs are connected to people. People are also connected through song lines and stories. Stories are connected to art and art is connected to country and land through clans and totems. Everything in our world is linked to all these things. Our Yolŋu worldview consists of all these things.

Everything in the Yolŋu worldview is made up of two moieties. One is Yirritja and the other one is Dhuwa. Dhuwa and Yirritja make up our worldview. They are two halves of our wholistic worldview.

Yirritja and Dhuwa are a bit like ying and yang. They fit together perfectly. Everything in Yirritja and Dhuwa is connected. For example Yirritja and Dhuwa intermarry into each other and vice-versa. Everything in the Land is Yirritja and Dhuwa. Yothu-yindi and märi-gutharra are the two main relationships for Yirritj and Dhuwa. Märi and gutharra means grandmother and grandchild relationship. Yothu and yindi means mother and child relationship.

Everything in our world view is interrelated. For example, Yirritja land and can come together at a certain point and that land becomes Dhuwa and Yirritja. Also, Yirritja country being looked after by a Yirritja clan, that has a mari-gutharra connection (grandmother and grandchild). Yes, Yirritja and Dhuwa have these relationship terms, through yothu-yindi and märi-gutharra.

This world view is expressed through songs, through stories, through art, through rituals, and through paintings. Paintings consist of maps, abstract maps of the land, trees, the animals, the plants, the rocks and so on. All have meaning, they're either Yirritja or Dhuwa. So everything is integrated, science, language, culture, law, they're all integrated, whereas in the non-aboriginal worldview all these things are taught separately. Science is taught differently, language is taught differently, art is too, they are all taught in their own components. For Yolŋu, in the Yolŋu worldview everything is interconnected and interrelated in a wholistic way.

In Yolŋu science everything the Yolŋu world is observed and we learn through observation.

In Yolŋu science we learn through observation. For example we observe the seasons and we see the changes in time. We watch the land and see changes in the weather patterns. In space we observe the sun and the morning star. The different stars and the moon tell us different things. Yolŋu have been learning about how to read science though the moon. We've learnt to observe different cycles of the moon. It tells us when it's a good time for hunting. In different seasons different food items are ready to be eaten, like different plants. Yolŋu don't just hunt for everything at once, but they go according to the different seasons. There are four seasons and Yolŋu hunt according to these different seasons. Then each food source is found in abundance at the right time. We read the calendar to know for example when to go and get oysters, it also tells us when different fish is in season and when edible fruit and honey is available. Also Yolŋu sing about these different seasons. They sing about the different stars. They observe and see and learn. For generations and generations people have passed on this knowledge orally. It has never been written down. It has been orally passed down to the next generation through oral history; songs, chants and stories.

We have scientific names for different plants and different animals. Yolŋu use these different names in language. Sometimes deep language that is linked to country and linked to knowledge that is restricted and deep. Also some of these ideas we use for everyday language.

Like for example, we use the concept of gapu, water, for space. In space there's gapu. The big space that the morning star travels through and the sun travels through and the different constellations. Then we see the literal sea, which is like fresh water and salt water and then we see creatures travelling though that space also; animals.. sea animals ..sea creatures.. um and fresh water animals and creatures.

Yolŋu have their own knowledge that is regarded as a scientific knowledge. Yolŋu keep that knowledge because it is embedded in the land and Yolŋu pass these understandings on to the next generation. Some of the knowledge is explicit for use in classrooms and for example in the Saltwater Collection. The old people have made the knowledge explicit for these purposes.

1. Dr R. Marika talking about Indigenous Science, Video taped May 2002 at Yirrkala CEC