Organising knowledge

Yolŋu understand the world in terms of their relationship to it. Their whole universe is permeated by the fundamental social and spiritual division of two moieties: Dhuwa and Yirritja. Everything in the world is either Dhuwa or Yirritja, never both. The world is then further divided according to clan affiliations and relationships between clans, both within and across moieties. People thus have special relationships not only with their own clan's country but with their mother's country or their grandmother's country.

"Particular individuals and groups of people have special connections with particular areas of land and sea, animals, plants, ceremonies and creation stories." N. Munuŋgiritj [1]

The differentiation of the world into Dhuwa and Yirritja can be seen as the beginning point of Yolŋu classification. However Yolŋu also have complex ways of classifying the natural world that cross-cut moiety and clan divisions.

John Rudder's analysis [2] of Yolŋu ways of categorising species according their physical characteristics, use, and the environments in which they live, reflects the complexity of Yolŋu understandings of the world.

1. Munuŋgiritj, N., (1996) "Statement on the value of Biodiversity", Y'a'n, Number 7, May 1996, 4-6, Yirrkala Literature Production Centre.
2. John Rudder's work on the Yolŋu classification system, published in The Natural World of the Yolŋu - the Aboriginal people from North East Arnhem Land, goes into great detail about the way in which Yolŋu order the world. While his main research was based at the Yolŋu township of Galiwin'ku, his research applies broadly across the Yolŋu region with some local variations. A summary of John Rudder's analysis of Yolŋu classification.