Explaining Aboriginal Matrilineal and other Cultural Activities


Moiety is a system of identifying kinship used by Indigenous societies throughout the world, aligning with either the mother or the father in their kinship. Strict cultural adhesion ensured bloodlines would not be intermixed through unions of the same moieties. This kinship also identified extended families, so individuals then knew who they had an obligation to care for within their own moiety.

“ … what they called Kilparra and Makwara, man or might be a woman. Well, they not to get married, not the two Makwara, they can’t get married, or not the two Kilparra if the two got together they would do away with them. it wouldn’t be right.”  [‘Granny’ Hannah Quayle, recording 1963 by Luise Hercus]

Cultural adherence to moiety bloodlines was strict.

Aboriginal culture also then referred to Meat, or totems, within their moieties. Similarities in Meat names are found throughout the Australian continent. These Meat names were animals and represented a strong spiritual connection between the person and the environment. You were forbidden to eat your own Meat.

The Yarli language group; Malyangapa, Wadigali, Gungadidji and Yardliyawara  have strong cultural and social ties. Aside from dialect, this group also have similarities, including language and cultural affiliation to moieties and meats, with nearby nations such as the Barkantji, further to the south and Wonkamurra to the north, even though they spoke a different language. This enabled these nations to communicate when they came together for ceremonies and trade, and also importantly, for unions through marriage.

  • Gnaamba
  • Boney Bream Fish                 
  • Kali
  • Dingo                                     
  • Makwara
  • Eagle                                      
  • Thalta
  • Kangaroo                               
  • Kulthi
  • Emu                                       
  • Kilparra
  • Crow

Source: Gail Hunt


While belonging to the same linguistic subgroup does not necessarily imply social and cultural uniformity the three sets of people – Malyangapa, Wadikali and Yardliyawara – were circumcising and, along with their westerly neighbours, they had a form of the Wilyaru secondary initiation ritual (see Beckett 1967).

Nevertheless it seems that the three groups did not perform joint ceremonies but joined in with their respective neighbours.

Wadikali and Malyangapa joined in with what was called ‘Milia’, a circumcision ceremony and myth shared with Wangkumara/Kungardutyi people and centred on Cobham Lake in Malyangapa country. Wadikali people also shared in Yandruwantha initiation ceremonies, according to the entry mentioned above by Tindale in his Diamantina notebook (1934). Yardliyawara people joined in ceremonies with the Adnyamathanha.

Mura (songlines)

There are numerous myths and song cycles traversing the whole area.

Some were shared by all, along with Paakantyi people, such as the story of the Two Snakes from the Paroo who travelled all the way to the Paralana Hot Springs in Yardliyawara country (Beckett 1958). The Kurlimuku song cycle was also shared widely, as Barney Coffin pointed out to us, “Four nations sings the same song,  Malyangapa, Wadikali and Kungardutyi and Wanyiwalku.

Source: Sarah Martin