This is a guest post by the ever-entertaining Frank Jungarrayi Baarda from Yuendumu. I’m still hopeless at the wonderfully complex but at the same time simple and utterly sensible Warlpiri kinship relations but the following might assist. Or not.

Kirsty-Anne is Napanangka, her mother is Nampijimpa and Nampijimpa’s mother is Nungarrayi. Nungarrayi is Kirsty-Anne’s grandmother (jaja) Nungarrayi’s brother is Jungarrayi.

Hamilton Morris is Japaljarri. His father was Jungarrayi, Kirsty-Anne’s jaja’s brother.

Most non-Warlpiri residents of Warlpiri country, will sooner or later be assigned a ‘skin’ name. This is not a feather in the cap, but the cap itself. If the cap fits wear it.

Wendy was assigned Nangala, which automatically made me Jungarrayi, or was it the other way around? Hamilton Morris is our son.

All my relatives wherever they are, will probably not know it, but they have a ‘skin’ classification. Even my Dutch cousin who lives in the French Pyrenees is Napurrurla and her English Husband is Japanangka (Kirsty-Anne’s brother!)

My cousin in Gippsland’s mother was Nakamarra, the sister of my mother (Nakamarra), which is why my cousin is Nungarrayi (my sister), ad infinitum.

Everyone is related to everyone. All in a concurrently complex and simple system of social glue. A truly wonderful system of mathematical and social beauty.

Everyone has others one is obligated to (has to care for) and others who care for one. No man or woman is an Island. ‘Skin’ classification guides the nature and intensity of relationships. A feature of the system that appeals to many ‘westerners’ is “mother-in-law avoidance.”

In former stricter times it was absolutely forbidden for one’s mother-in-law to be addressed or to be in the same room. It still happens that someone might wait outside a shop because “there is no room”.

Decades ago I explained the system to a visiting professor from Beijing University. When the Professor asked what his ‘skin’ was, I jocularly suggested to Japanangka he should make him a Jampijimpa (and “because then I can marry his daughters” under my breath). When Japanangka duly declared to the professor he was a Jampijimpa, the professor jumped up, applauded, bowed, and said he was honoured.

We had thrown a pebble into a pond. Ripples radiated from Beijing like dominoes or tentacles and countless unaware Chinese had been assigned a ‘skin’. Incidentally, once he had been placed in it, the Professor took only minutes to get a grip on the system. Japanangka declared he’d never met a ‘foreigner’ who ‘got it’ so quickly. Which prompted the French DAA (Department of Aboriginal Affairs) worker who’d been given the task to show the Chinese Professor around Central Australia, to exclaim: “ But of coerrse, eesnot a proffesseur forr nutting! “ Ah, the joys of eclecticism. Yuendumu the place to be!

Assignment of ‘skin’ is not as frivolous as the above may suggest. From the moment a Warlpiri person is born they have a pre-determined ‘skin’. It is not who they are but what they are, how they relate to others, they just are.

‘Foreigners’ need to have a ’skin’ to make it more comfortable for locals to relate to them. When my niece (my sister Nungarrayi’s daughter) came to visit, introducing her as Mrs. Hunter would have been meaningless to locals, but when I introduced her as Nampijimpa, she was immediately accepted and everyone knew how she was related to me (and them) and her son who travelled with her was immediately identified as Japanangka (Kirsty-Anne’s brother)

For those ‘foreigners’ who don’t arrive with a derived ‘skin’, after some trust and mutual respect is gained someone will declare, sometimes with an aspect of ritual pomp and ceremony: “you are ………….. because………”. A bit like handing someone an acting award. This ‘skin’ quickly gains currency and all and sundry know it.

‘Skin’ forges bonds.

A few days ago Kirsty-Anne burst into the shop bearing a big grin and the big brass Best Actor award her “great uncle” Hamilton Morris had won at the Australian Academy of Cinema and Television Arts Awards in Sydney. Hamilton modestly followed out of the car Kirsty-Anne had extracted the award from. The award, he declared, was something we could all be proud of, all of us Yuendumu and Nyirrpi wardingki. He saw it as a Warlpiri achievement, not his own.

It is this communalism which makes being Warlpiri or amongst the Warlpiri special. It also makes the Warlpiri vulnerable, to be modest and generous in a world of greed and individualism and political and commercial opportunism, can be perilous.

To turn Warlpiri society from communalism to individualism (supposedly “for their own good”) is the imperative of the assimilationists. Neo-colonialism hasn’t yet reached its ultimate aim – ethnocide. I hope the bastards never do! We will all be the poorer for it.

If and when the assimilationists succeed, we will no longer be able to feel proud of such as Hamilton’s award. We may even be minmayi (jealous) of it. We will no longer have a sense of ownership of ‘Sweet Country.’

The film ‘Sweet Country’ is unusual in that it has a virtually music-free soundtrack.

The only song in the film which can be readily found on Youtube is Johnny Cash’s rendition of ‘Peace in the Valley’, so here it is.

I wish you all Peace in your valley.

Alsalam, Shalom