Bininj Kunwok pilot 2016

Bininj Kunwok pilot 2016

Introducing family

In this unit we will consider more about how Bininj talk about themselves and their families. Relationships are probably the most important aspect of life in Indigenous communities, so it is important to understand some of the language used to talk about these connections.

In his book Kunwinjku Kunwok, Steve Etherington makes an excellent point about skin groups and identity (p10):

Knowledge of people’s skin group is essential, but is still only a starting point. Identity is constructed and lived out in relationships. The venue for relationships is language. Skin group is only one of a cluster of features that Kunwinjku people use to define their own identity and that of others. Each Kunwinjku child grows up becoming aware of the place names of their mother’s and father’s countries, the animals and stories associated with those places, sacred places and other aspects of their individual and clan (Kunmokukurr) identities. Many Kunwinjku people have both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal names, and all learn the complex ways of referring to relatives by the appropriate polite indirect terminology, especially when dealing with people in relationships which involve special respect. Whilst it is not appropriate to “grill” people about these details, most Kunwinjku people will welcome genuine interest within a relationship between equals.

You will see that there are many different terms used in Indigenous languages to talk about kin (family) than are used in English, so there will be quite a lot of new vocabulary to learn. We will focus on just the close members of your family, but you will need to learn many more words. By the end of the unit you will be able to talk about some members of your family.

By way of introduction, watch this video of Ngalkangila Seraine explaining how she talks to and about her family members.


You will most likely need to revisit the concepts in this unit many times before you fully understand them. If you persist in you will have climbed a small but important hill on your way to grasping Bininj kinship which will surprise and delight your Bininj friends and colleagues. So it’s worth persisting!