In Aboriginal cultures family is everything. Who you are, what you do and how you relate to other people is all dependant upon your family connections. In Numbulwar, it wasn’t essential for us to be adopted into a family, and so, despite our close relationships with many people, it never happened.
Here on Elcho island, and amongst the Yolgnu people generally, adoption is a lot more important. Being adopted gives you a status, responsibility and most importantly a pathway into a complex web of relationships so that you can get to know people on a deeper level
Our adoption came about by a young man who has recently come to faith while in prison. Upon returning to his community, there is a lot of pressure on him to go back to his old ways and so he has often come by to visit us and the other MAF families for encouragement and guidance. As Jason spent more time with him, he began to talk of adopting us. We waited to see what would happen. Then one night this young man Cameron, his mum (Janet) and niece arrived at our home to formally adopt us and welcome us to the family. With adoption comes a number of new names and a whole list of kinship terms that need to be remembered.
Cameron has adopted Jason as his brother, so they call each other ‘wawa’ or brother. Cameron’s mum, becomes Jason’s ‘ηändi’ or mother. So she calls him ‘waku’ or mother’s child.
For me, Cameron becomes my ‘dhuway’, as he is the sibling of my husband. I should actually call Jason ‘dhuway’ also. Cameron and Jason both call me ‘galay’ as I am of the relationship group that is best to pick marriage partners from them. Janet, becomes my ‘mukul’ or mother in law.
For Sam, Cameron is his uncle in our way, but in indigenous kinship terms, he is ‘bäpa’ or father as he is Jason’s brother. And Cameron calls Sam ‘gäthu’ as he is the father’s child. Janet is Sam’s grandmother, on his father’s side, so Sam calls her ‘momu’ and she calls him ‘gaminyarr’.
Are you confused yet? This is just the simple close family relationships, with just five people involved. Are you beginning to see just how complex this kinship structure could be? Especially when you add aunts, uncles, remarriages, poison cousins and multiple generations into the picture.
As well as being identified by our kinship terms, we have also been given a clan name.
Jason has been adopted into the Guruwiwi family. His name is now Djayngung (Sounds like Jaykoong) which is a fresh water file snake. It’s okay its not venomous. 🙂 Sam’s new name is Barra which means the west wind. I haven’t been given my name yet, although i have been adopted into the Yunupingu clan, which is Janet’s (Cameron’s mother) clan. Clan groups here follow the father, so Jason and Sam are all Guruwiwi, but for Jason and i to be married, i need to be from a suitable clan too. The Yunupingu clan has some famous members including the former lead singer of Yothu Yindi (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7cbkxn4G8U) and Gurrumul, the blind indigenous guitarist that has become quite famous. http://www.gurrumul.com
As well as these other names, each person has mälk. A third way of classifying relationship and interactions, but I think i will leave this one for another day… it takes some explaining. 🙂