Kinship and Skin Names

The kinship system is a feature of Aboriginal social organisation and family relationships across Central Australia. It is a complex system that determines how people relate to each other and their roles, responsibilities and obligations in relation to one another, ceremonial business and land. The kinship system determines who marries who, ceremonial relationships, funeral roles and behaviour patterns with other kin.

Today there are increasing numbers of ‘wrong skin’ marriages, in which people who would traditionally be prevented from marrying become partners. A result is that families are attempting to accommodate the contradictions that this presents for the kinship system. However, there are some rules which are adhered to, in particular certain ‘avoidance relationships’, especially that between a mother-in-law and a son-in-law. This relationship requires a social distance, such that they may not be able to be in the same room or car. Be sensitive to the signals that alert one to this situation, for example being told that there is ‘no room’ in a car or a building when there appears to be sufficient ‘space’.

Aspects of this system of social organisation differ between regions. This is seen in the so-called ‘skin system’, a method of subdividing the society into named categories which are related to one another through the kinship system.

A moiety system (i.e. division into two groups: ‘sun side’ and ‘shade side’) exists across the region. Most language groups also use a section or subsection system with four to eight ‘skin names’. An individual gains a ‘skin name’ upon birth based on the skin names of his or her parents, to indicate the section/subsection that he/she belongs to.

Alternatively, the Pitjantjatjara, for example, are classified into moiety groups – ngana nt arka (lit. we-bone) ‘our side’, and tjanamilytjan (lit. they flesh) ‘their side’ (Goddard 1996) – but don’t use skin names.

You will notice in the chart below that the same skin names are spelled differently across different languages and dialects, eg. Warlpiri, Warumungu, Pintupi-Luritja and Pintupi.

This is simply because different symbols have been used in the different languages for writing particular sounds. So the spellings for skin names varies according to the region. If you are writing skin names, try to use the standardised spellings for the area concerned.

Notice that the skin names starting with the letter J (in Warlpiri) or Tj (in Western Desert dialects) denote males, and those starting with N denote females. These skin names can be used as personal identifiers like a first name in English. Skin names can also be used to refer to someone who is absent and whose identity is understood by the context.

Aboriginal people may have a number of names. For example, a person may have a European first name and surname, a bush name, a skin name and maybe even a nickname. Personal names are used less than by English speakers and people are often referred to indirectly or by reference to their skin names, for example ‘that Nangala’ (see Turpin 2000). In some community institutions such as clinics, skin names have been used in a manner similar to a surname. This can be a source of confusion if a range of ad hoc spellings is used.

If you want advice on these matters, then get the help of a local speaker who is literate, or a linguist or someone else who has made an effort to learn about these things.

Early contact relationships with non-Aboriginal people were rather uncomfortable for Aboriginal people since it was unheard of for a person not to be ‘something’ (i.e. not to have a skin classification).

Thus the practice emerged of non-Aboriginal being given skin names. Some non-Aboriginal people have mistakenly believed that this is a sign of acceptance by the people. It is truer to say that it is a mechanism Aboriginal people have employed to make their dealings with non-Aboriginal more comfortable for themselves, even though non-Aboriginal, through their ignorance, continually give offence under this system.

More recently, people have generally come to understand that non-Aboriginal have ‘nothing’ and are regarded as ‘free’ from any kinship commitments of the kind that govern Aboriginal society. (Heffernan and Heffernan 1999:160)
 

 

Eastern/
Central
Arrente

Kaytetye

Eastern Anmatyerr

Alyawarr

Warumungu

Warlpiri

Pintupi
Luritja

Pintupi

Ngaanyatjarra

Skin
Peltharre
Kapetye
Petyarr
Apetyarr
       
Purungu
male
 
Tyapalye
   
Jappaljarri
Japaljarri
Tjapaltjarri
Tjapaltjarri
 
female
 
Ngalyerre
   
Nappaljarri
Napaljarri
Napaltjarri
Napaltjarri
 
                   
Skin
Pengarte
Pengarte
Pengart
           
male
 
Tyapeyarte
   
Jappangardi
Japangardi
Tjapangati
Tjapangati
 
female
 
Ngampeyarte
   
Nappangardi
Napangardi
Napangati
Napangati
 
                   
Skin
Kemarre
Kemarre
Kemarr
Akemarr
       
Karimarra
male
 
Tyakerre
   
Jakkamarra
Jakamara
Tjakamarra
Tjakamarra
 
female
 
Watyale
   
Nakkamrra
Nakamarra
Nakamarra
Nakamarra
 
                   
Skin
Ampetyane
Ampetyane
Ampetyan
         
Milangka
male
 
Mpetyakwerte
   
Jamin
Jampijinpa
Tjampijtinpa
Tjampijtinpa
 
female
 
Tyamperlke
   
Nampin
Nampijinpa
Nampijtinpa
Nampijtinpa
 
                   
Skin
Penangke
Penangke
Penangk
           
male
 
Tyaname
   
Jappanangka
Japanangka
Tjapanangka
Tjapanangka
 
female
 
Ngamane
   
Nappanangka
Napanangka
Napanangka
Tjapanangka
 
                   
Skin
Kngwarraye
Kngwarraye
Kngwarray
Kngwarrey
       
Tjarurru
male
 
Tywekertaye
   
Jungarrayi
Jungarrayi
Tjungarrayi
Tjungarrayi
 
female
 
Ngapete
   
Namikili
Nungarrayi
Nungarrayi
Nungarrayi
 
                   
Skin
Perrurle
Pwerle
Pwerle
Apwerle
       
Panaka
male
 
Tywelame
   
Jupurla
Jupurrula
Tjupurrula
Tjupurrula
 
female
 
Ngamperle
   
Narurla
Napurrula
Napurrula
Napurrula
 
                   
Skin
Angale
Thangale
Ngal
         
Yiparrka
male
  Tyangkarle     Jangala Jangala Tjangala Tjangala  
female
 
Ngangkarle
/Ngale
   
Nangala
Nangala
Nangala
Nangala
 
  • Prepared by Inge Kral (2002) from Henderson and Dobson 1994:43; Heffernan and Heffernan 1999:159; Turpin 2000:121; Lizzie Ellis pers.comm.) 1 The male and female terms are mainly applied to children
Warumungu diminutives
Warlmanpa
Mudburra
Wambaya
Jingulu
Ngapita
Jukkurtayi
Namurlpa
Jungurra
Namija
Jimija
Ngabida
Nurlanyama
Nimi-nginju
Jimi-nginja
Ngalyirri
Japalyi/Japalya
Napaja
Japaja

Nalyirri
Jalyirri,(jabalyi

Balyarrinya
Balyarrinji
Naalyarri-nginju
Jaalyarri-nginja
Ngamana
Janama
Napanangka
japanangka
Ngamana (Nanaku)
Janama
Niyinama
Jiyinama
Naani-nginju
Jaani-nginja
Ngamparti
Japparti
Napangarti
Japangarti
Nangari
Jangari
Bangarinya
Bangarinji
Nangari-nginju
Jangari-nginju
Ngampija
Jampilka

Nampijinpa

Jampijinpa

Nambijinba
Jambijinba
Yakamarrina
Yakamarri
Nabijin-nginju
Jabijin-nginju
Ngangkala
Jangkarli, Jakkarla
Nangala
Jangala
Nangala
Jangala
Nangalama
Jangalama
Nangali-nginju
Jangali-nginju
Wajala
Jakarra
nakama
Jakama
Nimarra
Jabarda, (Jimarra)
Niyamarrama
Jiyamarrama
Nimrri-nginju
Jamirri-nginju
Ngampula
Julama, Jula
Napula
Jupula
Nawurla
Jula
Nurrulama
Juralama
Naali-nginju
jurli-nginju

(Part of a chart prepared by Rebecca Green, NT DEET linguist)

References

* Breen, G. (2000) Introductory Dictionary of Western Arrernte . Alice Springs : IAD Press.
* Collins B. (1999) Learning Lessons: an independent review of Indigenous education in the Northern Territory . Darwin : NT Department of Education.
* Goddard, C. (1996) Pitjantjatjara/Yankunytjatjara to English Dictionary . Alice Springs : IAD Press.
* Green, J.(1984) A Learner’s Guide to Eastern and Central Arrernte . Alice Springs : IAD Press.
* Hale, K. (1995) An Elementary Warlpiri Dictionary . Alice Springs : IAD Press.
* Hansen, K.C. and L.E. (1992, 3 rd Ed.) Pintupi/Luritja Dictionary . Alice Springs : IAD Press.
* Heffernan, J. and Heffernan, K. (1999) A Learner’s Guide to Pintupi-Luritja . Alice Springs : IAD Press.
* Henderson, J. and Dobson, V. (1994) Eastern and Central Arrernte to English Dictionary. Alice Springs : IAD Press.
* Hoogenraad, R. (2001) 'Critical reflections on the history of bilingual education in Central Australia '. In J. Simpson, D. Nash, M. Laughren, P. Austin and B. Alpher (Eds) Forty years on: Ken Hale and Australian Languages . Canberra : Pacific Linguistics.
* Hoogenraad, R. (2000) The history of Warlpiri education and literacy in the context of English and alphabetic writing. Unpublished manuscript.
* Hoogenraad, R. (1997) On writing and pronouncing Central Australian Aboriginal Languages. Unpublished manuscript.
* Hoogenraad, R and Thornley, B (2003) The jukurrpa pocket book of Aboriginal Languages of Central Australia and the places where they are spoken. IAD Press, Alice Springs
* IAD Language Map (2002), Alice Springs
* Kral, I. (2002) An Introduction to Indigenous Languages and Literacy in Central Australia Alice Springs: Central Australian Remote Health Development Services (CARHDS)
* Laughren, M., Hoogenraad, R., Hale, K., Granites, R.J. (1996) A Learner's Guide to Warlpiri . Alice Springs : IAD Press.
* Nathan, P. and Leichleitner Japanangka, D. (1983) Settle Down Country – Pmere Arlaltyewele. CAAC: Kibble Books.
* Papunya School (2001) Papunya School Book of Country and History . Sydney : Allen and Unwin.
* Richardson, Nicholas (2001) Public Schooling in the Sandover River Region of Central Australia during the Twentieth Century – A critical historical survey. Unpublished Masters Thesis – Flinders University of South Australia .
* Turpin, M (2000) A Learner's Guide to Kaytetye . Alice Springs : IAD Press.
* Yuendumu School Staff (2002) Yuendumu Two-Way Learning Policy 2002.