Warlpiri people

Warlpiri Country

The Warlpiri are a group of Indigenous Australians, many of whom speak the Warlpiri language. There are 5,0006,000 Warlpiri, living mostly in a few towns and settlements scattered through their traditional land in Australia's Northern Territory, north and west of Alice Springs. Their largest community is at Yuendumu and many live also at Willowra, Lajamanu, Nyirrpi, Mount Allen and smaller settlements. Many also live in Alice Springs and Tennant Creek. About 3,000 still speak the Warlpiri language. The word "Warlpiri" has also been romanised as Walpiri, Walbiri, Elpira, Ilpara and Wailbri.


Warlpiri country is located in the Tanami Desert, east of the NT-WA border, west of the Stuart Highway and Tennant Creek, and northwest of Alice Springs. The main communities in Warlpiri country are: Yuendumu, Lajamanu, Nyirrpi, and Willowra. Many Warlpiri live in Alice Springs, Tennant Creek, and the smaller towns of Central Australia.


Warlpiri are famous for their tribal dances. A number of Warlpiri have toured England, Japan, and most recently Russia, performing their dances.[1] Many indigenous artists, particularly in the Papunya Tula organization, are of Warlpiri descent.


Matrimoiety 1 (M1) Matrimoiety 2 (M2)
M1a M1b M1c M1d M2a M2b M2c M2d
P1a P2a P3a P4a P1b P2b P3b P4b
Semi-patrimoiety 1 (P1) Semi-patrimoiety 2 (P2) Semi-patrimoiety 3 (P3) Semi-patrimoiety 4 (P4)
P1a P1b P2a P2b P3a P3b P4a P4b
M1a M2a M1b M2b M1c M2c M1d M2d

Warlpiris divide their relatives, and by extension the entire population, into eight named groups or subsections. These subsections are related to kinship, and determine one's family rights and obligations. The following is a brief sketch of how the subsection system relates to genealogy.

The subsections are divided into four semi-patrimoieties, each consisting of two subsections. One always belongs to the same semi-patrimoiety as one's father, but to the opposite subsection, so that men in a patriline will alternate between those two subsections.

The subsections are also divided into two matrimoieties, each consisting of four subsections. One always belongs to the same matrimoiety as one's mother, and women in a matriline will cycle through the four subsections of that matrimoiety.

The two subsections in a semi-patrimoiety always belong to opposite matrimoieties, and similarly, the four subsections of each matrimoiety are distributed among the four semi-patrimoieties. Each subsection is uniquely determined by which semi-patrimoiety and which matrimoiety it belongs to.

Female lines of descent in the two matrimoieties cycle through the semi-patrimoieties in opposite directions. The result is that one's mother's father's mother's father (MFMF) is of the same subection as oneself.

Siblings always belong to the same subsection.

It follows from these rules that one must choose one's spouse from a particular subsection, and traditional Warlpiri disapprove of marriages that break this constraint. The correct subsection to marry from is that of one's maternal grandfather (though of course one seeks a spouse closer to one's own age).

The subsection system underlies all of traditional Warlpiri society, determining how Warlpiris address and regard each other. Two members of the same subsection refer to each other as siblings, whether or not they actually have the same parent. Men in the same subsection as one's father (for example, one's father's male siblings) are called "father", and this practice is often followed even when Warlpiris speak English. In the same way, most of the kinship terms in the Warlpiri language actually refer to subsection (or classificatory) relationships, not to literal genetic relationships.

Traditionally, the first thing one Warlpiri wants to know about another is their subsection. Warlpiris often address each other by subsection name rather than by personal name, and incorporate their subsection name into their English one, usually as a middle name. When Warlpiris marry Europeans, they tend to extend the subsection system to their inlaws, starting with the assumption that the European spouse is of the correct subsection. Rather distant European relatives may find themselves classified as honorary uncles, nieces, grandparents, and so on. Warlpiris will then try to make sure that further marriages with related Europeans will adhere to the marriage constraint.

The traditional taboo against familiarity between a man and his mother-in-law extends automatically to any man and woman whose subsections are those of man and mother-in-law.

The subsection system automatically prevents incest between siblings and any relatives closer than cousins. Cousins that are children of classificatory siblings (who may, by definition, also happen to be true siblings) of the same sex are themselves classificatory siblings, and may not marry; but children of classificatory siblings of the opposite sex are of the appropriate subsections for marriage, and marriage between so-called cross cousins is actually encouraged in traditional society. It should be noted that where a couple are not merely classificatory cross-cousins but are true cross-cousins (i.e. their parents are actual siblings), marriage is generally frowned upon.

The eight subsections are interrelated in a pattern known in group theory as the order 8 dihedral group, D4.

If a Warlpirri has a second choice marriage, then any children they have take on two skin names: First, The skinname they would adopt had the marriage been first choice. Second, the skinname the second choice marriage implied (though I'm not sure if the name is adopted from the father of the child, or from the mother of the child.) When asked what their skinname is, they often reply with the former, but may also additionally use the latter. (observation made from a discussion with a young 'Japananga-Jupurulla')


The Warlpiri language is a member of the group known as the Yapa languages, the name Yapa coming from the word for 'Aboriginal person' in most of the languages, its closest relative being Warlmanpa. Most Warlpiri-speakers are bilingual with English. Many also speak one or more of: Arrernte, Jaru, Western Desert Language, Warumungu, or other neighboring languages. Indigenous sign language is also an important component of Warlpiri communication; all of these languages had highly developed sign forms.

Famous Warlpiri


  1. , Anna Wolanin & Josh Zanker, retrieved February 2012
This article is issued from Wikipedia - version of the 10/17/2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.