The Aboriginal Family: Moieties & Marriage

On my tours I explain how Aboriginal culture and society ensured the survival of the clan, and central to this was keeping our bloodline strong. So when I was growing up and starting to look at girls, I had to learn who I could and couldn't marry. Although the final choice was mine, I needed guidance from my Guman-ga who would tell me who was balgan-gu - an appropriate match.

Choosing the right marriage partner
Guugu Yimithirr society is divided into two groups, or moieties, and it was thabul (taboo) to marry someone from the 'same side'. As children take the moiety of their birth father, I had to choose a marriage partner from my mother's side of the family - but not 'too close' and preferably from a distant geographic area.

To help us know which moiety people belong to, we have many, many different names for our extended family members, which immediately tell us whether they are 'same side' or 'other side'. As you can see in the picture above, my Dad would call his (same side) children yumurr regardless of sex, but for my Mum we were dyuway (other side son) or nguudhurr (other side daughter). All the way through the family tree there are different names for 'same side' and 'other side' relatives.

I also have a bloodline name, Ngamu Bungangu, which is like a surname passed on from a father to a chosen son to give him a position of responsibility within the family.This helps us map our relatedness to the different strands of our extended family. I share my Dad's totem too. 

The Marriage Ceremony
In traditional times, once an appropriate partner had been chosen, preparations culminated in the families gathering to witness the girl's mother hitting her future son-in-law on the head with the sharp side of a milbirr (throwing-stick) to draw blood. Once blood was drawn the couple was considered married. Today this sounds barbaric, but there was a reason for it. Girls married very young, so this ceremony was to ensure no sexual attraction developed between the young man and his mother-in-law who were of similar age.

The ceremony was forbidden after the arrival of the Mission, and around 1898 the first Guugu Yimithirr couples were married in church (photo below). Marriage partners were still chosen in old way, but slowly over the years this has changed, and now partners are usually chosen willy-nilly, much to the despair of the older generations who still honour and value the rules of thabul.

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